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Officials: Parents in Toddler Death Have History of Neglect

VERMILION, Ohio — The investigation continues after a little boy died from malnutrition at his Risden Road home.

On Tuesday, the Erie County Prosecutor’s Office was still determining whether criminal charges would be filed following the death of the 18-month-old boy.  Pending the outcome of the investigation, FOX 8 News is not identifying the family.

According to the incident report, the child’s mother called 911 after a sibling discovered the unresponsive baby in a bedroom around 7 p.m. last Tuesday. The boy was declared dead shortly after paramedics arrived at the scene. 

“When the ambulance got there, the father met the ambulance near the road and it was determined at that point that the child was not breathing and appeared to be deceased,” said Sheriff Paul Sigsworth.

“The child appeared to be malnourished, the parents indicate there are a number of medical issues relating to this child but we also have the issue of the malnourishment, so the entire situation surrounding the death of that child is still under investigation,” said Sigsworth.

“They can’t even take the time to feed their children? The baby would die of something like that? That’s sad,” said Carolyn Campbell, a Sandusky resident.

According to authorities, six other children were living in the home.  Some of the siblings were grossly underweight and only ate with the help of feeding tubes.  According to the report from the Erie County Sheriff, “There were various medical and baby supplies, along with an IV pole consisting of two electronic pumps.  There was an empty IV solution bag hanging on the pole, with a tube running from the bag to a GRACO crib bed. There was an extraordinary amount of medical supplies about the room.”

“They’re not really saying anything, other than the fact that all of these children had medical issues, now our investigation relates to – if indeed they did have medical issues and what those issues were and are they treatable,” said Chief Deputy Jared Oliver.

FOX 8 News has uncovered new information about the family and their past with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services in both Erie and Cuyahoga County. According to officials in Cleveland, the family had two referrals for neglect, one in 2005 and a second in 2007. The county received an order for protective supervision to monitor the family, but they moved to Erie County in 2008.

According to Erie County DJFS officials, the parents were initially involved with the county after they were referred by Cuyahoga County.  But following a home visit in 2008, a Juvenile Court Judge ruled in 2009 that help was no longer needed.

“My first thoughts were with those poor children and the situations that they were in and the problems I’m sure they had for many, many years,” said Erie County Commissioner Bill Monaghan.  According to Monaghan, the Erie County Department of Job and Family Services has had three different directors in his six years on the job.

“Somewhere down the line here, it looks like the ball was dropped but who’s ball it was, whether it was Cuyahoga County or whether it was Erie County,” said Monaghan.

Officials in Columbus said they’re waiting for the results of the criminal investigation before deciding whether they need to investigate whether proper procedure was followed at the local level.

“I couldn’t believe it because I have two boys of my own,” said Michelle Harris, who lives in Sandusky. “I just couldn’t imagine not feeding my kids, you know? How can anybody do that?”

The child’s funeral was held on Monday.  Four of the other children are still hospitalized and being treated for malnourishment. Two are now in foster care.

FOX 8’s Mark Zinni did speak with the father who had no comment.  He directed all calls to a family attorney.

For more on the this continuing investigation, click here