A Minnesota couple has been charged with neglect in the death of their 7-year-old boy after authorities say they did not get him medical treatment because they had “issues with going to doctors.”
Timothy Johnson, 39, and his wife, Sarah Johnson, 38, are facing a misdemeanor count of child neglect, KSTP-TV reports. Their son, Seth Johnson, died in March 2015. The charges were filed on January 3.
The county attorney’s office began investigating the case of the Plymouth boy’s death in December 2015.
“When we read the case reports, we approached it as a homicide case. After all, he had bruising all over his body. He had two large lesions on the back of his heels,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said in a statement. “The parents admitted to police that his behavior had changed, that he wasn’t sleeping, was throwing himself down stairs and was taking hours to eat. Yet, they refused to do what most parents would have done and take him to a doctor.”
The couple was not taken into custody, but were instead issued a summons to appear in court on January 31. According to the Associated Press, they failed to do so and warrants have now been issued for their arrests.
The AP reports that the couple and some of their minor children moved to New Zealand after the charges were filed against them. Authorities are now working to determine if the couple fled the country or if they didn’t know about the court hearing, the news station reports.
The judge in the case has held off on executing the warrants, because the summons was returned unopened. If it is determined enough was done to alert the couple about the summons, the warrant will be executed, meaning they can be arrested and extradited to the United States, the Star Tribune reports.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Johnsons Gave the Boy ‘Medical Honey’ & Prayed Over Him While He Died in His Vomit-Soaked Bed, the DA Says
Seth Johnson died the morning of March 30, 2015, at the Johnsons’ home in Plymouth, according to court documents.
Plymouth Police arrived about 7:41 a.m. for a report of a child not breathing, and found the 7-year-old boy on the bathroom floor. He was pronounced dead at the scene by EMS personnel about 8:05 a.m. His parents, Timothy and Sarah Johnson, were home at the time.
You can read the full criminal complaint above or by clicking here.
According to court documents, investigators found that Seth had “multiple bruises and breaks on his skin on the majority of his body,” including “bruising on his cheek, forearms, chest, buttocks and lower abdomen.” He also had “two large lesions on the back of each heal that were consistent with pressure ulcers. Pressure ulcers would not typically be present if a child is mobile.”
The medical examiner alter determined Seth died of acute pancreatitis and possible sepsis.
Tim and Sarah Johnson later told investigators they noticed changes in Seth’s behavior, including that he had been harming himself and was not eating, but they did not take him to the doctor, according to court documents:
The Johnsons acknowledge that, despite them myriad of concerning behavioral changes, they never took (Seth) to a doctor because they had ‘issues with going to doctors.’ They were concerned that a doctor would put (Seth) on medications and believed that they got better information from their own research.
According to court documents, the Johnsons used their “personal research” to diagnose Seth with post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury. They also said Seth, who was adopted, had previously been diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome and reactive attachment disorder, but authorities said they found no record of that.
They said they treated Seth’s wounds with Neosporin and “medical honey.”
According to court documents, Tim and Sarah Johnson were away at a wedding the weekend before Seth’s death, which occurred on a Monday. He had been left in the care of their 16-year-old son. Their son called them on Sunday to say Seth was not eating or interacting with him on Saturday, and he could not get him out of bed Sunday. Police said he told his parents Seth was “lethargic and limp.”
The parents were planning to leave the wedding on Sunday, but decided to stay after their son told them Seth ate some Cheerios. They came home alter that night and found Seth laying on the floor:
(Seth) did not react when they arrived home or when they prayed for his health. The Johnsons picked up (Seth) and brought him to the table for dinner. They fed (Seth) two bites of pizza by cutting the pizza into bite-sized portions and putting it in his mouth. After giving (Seth) a bath, they laid him down to sleep on a mattress in their room at about 10 p.m.
According to court documents, he did not have a blanket or pillow on the mattress. The parents told investigators they talked about seeking medical treatment, but decided to wait for the morning to determine if it was necessary.
In the morning, Tim woke up to a noise and found Seth “unresponsive on his mattress and covered in vomit.” He cleaned off the boy and began CPR while his wife called 911.
“We cannot comprehend how a parent would leave a very sick seven-year-old to the care of a 16-year-old so they can go away for a weekend,” Freeman said in his statement. “Nor can we comprehend how the parents refused to come home Sunday morning to care for their sick child when they were notified of his serious condition. Nor can we comprehend why the parents did not call an ambulance Sunday night to immediately obtain medical help when they finally got home.”
2. They Raised More Than $7,000 for Seth’s Funeral in an Online Fundraiser
More than $7,000 was raised for the Johnsons on a YouCaring page after Seth’s death. The page has since been deleted, but a cached version remains.
“This fund was created to help ease the financial burdens associated with the funeral costs and leave from work so that Tim and Sarah can focus on getting their family through this difficult time,” a friend wrote on the page.
3. The Johnsons Adopted Seth When He Was 3 & He Was One of 7 Children in the Family
Tim and Sarah Johnson adopted Seth when he was 3, along with his 2-year-old sister, according to his obituary. He was one of their seven children, along with his younger sister, another younger sister and four older brothers:
His family embraced him completely and loved him unconditionally, and slowly began to see growth and change. Seth was beginning to read and do basic math by the time he was 5. This year academically, Seth was working on long division and reading at a 5th grade level. It was quite normal to see him tucked into an oversized chair, his wise eyes blinking through his little glasses, with a substantial book on his lap. Not typical of most young boys, Seth actually loved helping his mom with chores, and took joy in a task well done. He also loved playing with legos. His older brothers taught Seth what it meant to be a boy, wild at heart. They played and wrestled, pushed him on the swing and jumped on the trampoline, shared jokes and laughter, shared bunk beds and snuggles. His little sisters taught him how to play house, how to rock plastic high heels and a princess dress, how to give amazing hugs and sing through an entire day. But most importantly, his parents taught him about God’s love. What it meant to be loved. What it meant to give love. To be a child of grace. A child of God. Our time with Seth was too short. We miss him. But we rejoice when we think of his new home, and we are comforted knowing we will see him again.
He was originally a foster child in the Johnsons’ home, and was later adopted by them.
According to court documents, Seth was homeschooled and his medical records “were limited.”
He received an exam when he was 3, and Sarah Johnson told the pediatrician Seth was a “broght child” and the doctor noted he was a “thriving, conversant preschooler,”
Seth was examined again at age 5, and the results were again “unremarkable,” according to court documents.
When interviewed by investigators after Seth’s death, the Johnsons said there had been “substantial changes” in his behavior in the weeks leading up to his death.
Seth “stopped sleeping sometime around the first week of March and would occasionally shake,” he also “developed the blisters and markings on his legs including the lesions on his heels.”
The Johnsons, couldn’t “advise law enforcement how those injuries developed except to say that (Seth) was always hurting himself. According to the Johnsons, (Seth) was throwing himself down the stairs and hitting his head. (Seth) started to slow his eating, and meals would take a couple hours.”
Mark Barrett, Sarah Johnson’s father, said Seth was born to a drug-addicted mother, the Star Tribune reports.
Barrett told the newspaper the couple believed the boy’s health and behavioral issues stemmed from “being a drug baby” and that contributed to their reluctance to having him seen by a doctor.
“They were pretty convinced of that,” Barrett said. “That makes a difference in how [parents] are going to approach things. When you read up on all this stuff, he’s going to just have fits.”
4. They Thanked Friends & Family for Coming Together ‘As the Body of Christ’ & Providing for Them ‘Spiritually, Emotionally, Physically & Financially’ After Seth’s Death
The Johnsons wrote a Facebook post on the YouCaring page set up to raise money for the family, addressing the help and support they received after Seth’s death:
You. Our dear friends & family. Have carried us through these last 2 weeks… We couldn’t walk, we didn’t know how to get out of bed… And you came. You stood by us, you took us by the hand, you fed us, watched over our children, loved them, cleaned our home, prayed for us & over us. you came together as the body of Christ and provided for us spiritually, emotionally, physically & financially. In this time of devastation, weakness, heartbrokenness… You came. we are thankful for you. We needed you. We need you. And our broken hearts are bursting with the love you have poured into us. Thank you
Mark Barrett, Sarah Johnson’s father, told the Star Tribune his daughter is originally form Yakima, Washington, and met Tim Johnson, a western Minnesota native, while they were studying at Bethany Global University, a bible college in Bloomington, Minnesota.
Barrett told the newspaper his daughter chose to “stay at home and take care of the kids 24/7,” while her husband worked in mechanical engineering with a focus on aeronautics.
Barrett said he saw the family about once every six months and never noticed anything wrong with Seth, but said he “would witness the quietness, where he would go play by himself.”
The couple has not commented about the case, and it is not clear if they have hired an attorney.
Friends of the Johnsons wrote in a Facbeook comment on the YouCaring page, “You are quite honestly the most selfless people we have ever had the privilege to know….. Always giving everything of yourself, from your time, to all you have, to helping those who need the most support in the community. You have been our walking angels. Every thought and prayer is with all of you as you grieve beautiful Seth. We miss him dearly and pray often for God’s constant watchful eye. We love you Johnsons!”
5. The County Attorney Says They Could Not Link the ‘Parents’ Actions or Inactions to Seth Developing Pancreatitis & Dying’
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said the charges came after an independent review by his office.
According to a statement issued by Freeman, his office didn’t learn about the case until nine months after Seth Johnson’s death.
Freeman said it took several months for the county medical examiner to complete an autopsy, which determined Seth died of acute pancreatitis and possible sepsis.
“But the medical examiner could not make the link between the cause of death and the actions of the parents,” Freeman said. “We spent a year reviewing all the evidence. We consulted with a child-abuse pediatrician who reviewed all of the medical information and investigative files to advise us on this one simple question: Could he link the parents’ actions, or inactions, to Seth developing pancreatitis and dying? He could not.”
Freeman said because they were not able to link his parents actions or inactions to his death, the charge of neglect of a child resulting in substantial physical harm was the most serious charge allowed under the law.
They each face up to 1 year in prison and a fine of up to $3,000 if convicted of the gross misdemeanor charge.
“The Johnsons, of course, are presumed innocent,” Freeman said in the statement. “But we are going to use all of our resources to prove them guilty of neglect of a child resulting in substantial physical harm and ask for the strongest penalty allowed under the statute and sentencing guidelines.”