Teens with rat-bit­ten in­fant quiet in court

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - JEANNIE ROBERTS

MAG­NO­LIA — The felony case against two teenagers whose 2-week-old baby suf­fered nearly 100 rat bites over her 5 pound body is on hold un­til men­tal eval­u­a­tions are com­pleted on the cou­ple, a judge ruled in cir­cuit court Thurs­day.

The baby’s mother, Erica Shry­ock, 19, wear­ing a red jail jump­suit with bright or­ange shack­les on her wrists, shuf­fled to the front of the court­room. Her eyes were wide as she tucked a ten­dril of hair away from her pale face.

She an­swered a ques­tion from the judge with a quiet “Yes” and a nod.

Charles El­liott, 18, the baby’s fa­ther, dressed in a redand-white-striped jail jump­suit and his hair buzzed, also was sub­dued and wide-eyed as the judge quickly or­dered the men­tal eval­u­a­tions re­quested by de­fense lawyer Joseph Church­well of Ben­ton.

Shry­ock and El­liott both waved to fam­ily mem­bers in the gal­ley as they left the court­room.

The cou­ple — each held in jail in lieu of $15,000 bond — are charged with Class B felony charges of per­mit­ting abuse of a mi­nor and Class D felony charges of first-de­gree en­dan­ger­ing the wel­fare of a mi­nor. They face up to 20 years in prison and up to $21,000 in fines, if con­victed.

Church­well did not re­turn mes­sages seek­ing com­ment as of late Thurs­day.

Calls to deputy pros­e­cu­tor Ryan Phillips were not re­turned.

Shry­ock and El­liott were liv­ing with a friend in a ram­shackle house on Cordelia Street in Mag­no­lia on May 14 when they awoke to find their 15-day-old daugh­ter cov­ered in blood and dozens of rat bites on her arms, hands, face and fin­gers.

A 1-inch wound on her fore­head where her skull was vis­i­ble re­quired ex­ten­sive re­con­struc­tive surgery.

Shry­ock and El­liott told con­flict­ing ac­counts to in­ves­ti­ga­tors, ac­cord­ing to the ar­rest af­fi­davit. Shry­ock said she put the baby to bed at 5:30 a.m. and woke up at 7:30 a.m. to the in­fant scream­ing. El­liott told in­ves­ti­ga­tors he woke up to the in­fant scream­ing at 5 a.m. and “saw blood ev­ery­where.”

El­liott said he got a rag to clean up the baby and saw bloody rat foot­prints in the crib. In­ves­ti­ga­tors found an in­fant tobog­gan “soaked in blood” on the floor of the home and a blood-soaked blan­ket.

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, El­liott’s mother, Regina Bar­ton, said her son told her the baby had been “bit­ten by a mouse,” and that she told the baby’s par­ents they needed to take the in­fant to the hos­pi­tal even though they were afraid they would lose cus­tody of her.

El­liott has two other chil­dren al­ready in state cus­tody, ac­cord­ing to his af­fi­davit of in­di­gency.

The cou­ple waited un­til Bar­ton ar­rived at the home be­fore they took the baby to the hos­pi­tal.

Dr. Karen Farst at Arkansas Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal in Lit­tle Rock told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that the “rat feed­ing” would’ve taken hours to oc­cur and the in­fant would have been in dis­tress dur­ing the process. The cou­ple were ei­ther “ab­sent or in­ca­pac­i­tated to not have re­sponded,” Farst told in­ves­ti­ga­tors, ac­cord­ing to the af­fi­davit.

The cou­ple told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that they knew rats were in the house but did not ad­dress the prob­lem.

The brown, wood­en­framed, 880-square-foot, one-story house sat Thurs­day with the doors re­moved and the win­dows knocked out. The in­te­rior was lit­tered with lay­ers of mag­a­zines, trash and chil­dren’s toys. Sev­eral mat­tresses with­out bed frames were in ev­ery room. Chil­dren’s draw­ings were pinned to the walls in some rooms.

The Mag­no­lia City Council voted June 26 to con­demn the house and de­mand that it be de­mol­ished. The owner, Jim Brew­ster — who owns sev­eral prop­er­ties in the city, has un­til Aug. 7 to ei­ther re­pair the house or re­move it, said Mag­no­lia City In­spec­tor David Nel­son.

“If noth­ing is done, then the city will sched­ule the home to be de­mol­ished,” Nel­son said. “The cost will go back to the prop­erty owner.”

Ac­cord­ing to real es­tate records, Brew­ster bought the house in 2000 for $5,000.

Mes­sages left for Brew­ster were not re­turned by late Thurs­day.

Betty Brown, who lives across the street, said the cou­ple were dropped off at the home a cou­ple of weeks be­fore the baby was in­jured. She didn’t know their re­la­tion­ship to the home’s oc­cu­pant, Margie Wil­liams.

Brown said Mag­no­lia as a whole has a large rat pop­u­la­tion.

“And they don’t take care of it,” she said.

She pointed to the tin skirt­ing on her mo­bile home.

“Dogs chase the rats un­der the houses,” she said. She mo­tioned to the fence sep­a­rat­ing the neigh­bor­hood from com­mer­cial prop­erty. Rats “line up at the bot­tom of the fence and run on top of it when it starts get­ting dark,” she said.

Nel­son, though, in­sisted that Mag­no­lia does not have a rat prob­lem.

“This is the only rat is­sue we are aware of,” he said. “There have been no is­sues in the past. This is an iso­lated case to our knowl­edge.”

Brown was quick to say that El­liott and Shry­ock should never have been ar­rested. The rat prob­lem was im­pos­si­ble to con­trol, and the cou­ple had nowhere else to go, she said.

“Nei­ther of them got a job,” she said. “You can’t find jobs around here. I hope they con­sider the fact that they’re just kids who don’t know bet­ter and let them go.”

The cou­ple told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that they knew rats were in the house but did not ad­dress the prob­lem.

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