Authorities were working Monday to determine whether fatal injuries suffered by a 2-year-old child Thursday were accidental or intentional, St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Bruce Fleshren said in a press conference.
The toddler was fatally injured Thursday around 8:30 p.m. at 2622 Eastview Drive in Belleville, Fleshren said. The boy’s mother and her boyfriend — who is not the child’s father — took him to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville, where doctors determined he needed to be flown to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. The boy was pronounced dead around 11:30 p.m. Thursday.
“Anytime a 2-year-old child dies, it’s not normally a natural event,” Fleshren said. “This is clearly not a natural cause of death.”
At around 1:30 a.m. Friday, the Department of Children and Family Services contacted the sheriff’s department. Deputies then responded to the apartment where the child was injured and began an investigation. On Saturday, deputies detained a “person of interest” thought to be the “most involved with the child at the time,” Fleshren said, but that person was released Sunday. Officials have not released the identity of the person.
An autopsy performed Friday revealed preliminary information about the child’s death, Fleshren said, but the St. Louis Medical Examiner’s office is performing pathology tests to determine if the child’s injuries were accidental or intentional. Investigators will continue the investigation “based on the injuries the child received and whether or not those injuries are consistent with evidence and statements of those who were there,” Fleshren said in a statement Sunday.
The medical examiner’s office has not yet completed tests, which could take a matter of days or even weeks, Fleshren said. Once the tests are completed, the St. Clair County State’s Attorney’s Office will review the possibility of filing criminal charges.
Deputies have conducted interviews with individuals who were there when the child was injured, family members and people in contact with the child in the days before his death, the captain said.
“We’re starting from the time of the scene, the last person that was with the child and we’re working our way back out from them,” Fleshren said.
The mother and boyfriend had only lived at the Eastview Drive apartment for about three weeks, Fleshren said, and there have not been any serious police calls to the residence in that time. The two do not have a significant criminal history outside of traffic violations, he added.
Candice Cherry, an upstairs neighbor at the apartment building, told a Belleville News-Democrat reporter Friday that she heard what she described as hammering coming from the downstairs apartment Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning. The boy’s mother, her boyfriend, the toddler boy and an infant girl recently moved into the building, Cherry said, and she didn’t know them well.
“They mostly kept to themselves,” Cherry said.
St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson said the child’s death is “a tragic event.”
“Sometimes it almost gets to be personal,” Watson said. “We have to take these (cases) one step at a time and do them the right way. I have all the confidence in the world in the investigators that whatever happened, they’re going to figure it out.”