(Editor’s Note: Many readers will find details in this article disturbing. Sensitive readers are cautioned.)
Charges against a Magnolia couple whose infant suffered up to 100 rat bites will be upgraded to a felony.
Ryan Phillips, deputy prosecuting attorney for Columbia County, said Tuesday that new charges of permitting abuse of a minor with serious physical injury will be filed against Erica Michelle Shryock, 19, and Charles Elliott, 18.
The couple is presently held at the Columbia County Justice and Detention Facility on charges of endangering the welfare of a minor-first degree. The upgraded charge is a Class B felony.
Elliott and Shryock are scheduled for their first court appearance on Wednesday, Phillips said.
Phillips said in a statement that at about 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Magnolia police were dispatched to the Magnolia Regional Medical Center. They were told that a 15-day-old female infant was being treated for rat bites to her arms, hands, fingers and face. One of the injuries was an inch-long wound across the child’s forehead that made her skull visible.
The child was transported by Columbia County Ambulance Service to Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock.
Magnolia police officers Capt. Todd Dew, Lt. Sam Kirby, Sgt. Colton Burks and Detective Dustin Cloud conducted the investigation.
Phillips’ statement said that Charles Elliott’s mother told police that Elliott told her that the child was bitten by a mouse, and that upon discovering the child’s injuries they were fearful that the child would be taken away from them if she was taken to the hospital.
Elliott’s mother saw the child and persuaded the couple to take her to MRMC.
The statement said that police interviewed both Shryock and Elliott. It said that Shryock put the child to bed in a bassinet at about 5:30 a.m., and that the child – with whom she was sleeping in the same room of a house -- woke up screaming about at 7:30 a.m. She noticed the child was covered in blood.
“Detectives told Erica that (the child) would had had to been screaming for a while due to the amount of bites. Erica stated that she knew there were rats in the house, but admitted that neither she or Charles did anything to address the rodent issue,” the statement said.
Elliott, interviewed by police separately, told them that the couple woke up to the infant’s screams at about 5 a.m. and that he “saw blood everywhere.” He cleaned up the blood with a rag and saw bloody rat footprints inside the crib. Elliott told police that the couple waited until his mother arrived at the house about 9 a.m. Sunday before heading to the hospital.
According to Phillips’ statement, Elliott also acknowledged that he knew rats were in the house, but that he did nothing about it.
Police received consent from Margie Williams, who lives with Elliott and Shryock at the residence, to search the house. They found a bassinet in the living room, where it had been moved Sunday morning from the bedroom in which the couple was staying. Investigators found the bloody bassinet with rodent footprints. In a bedroom, they found a blood-soaked infant toboggan, a baby blanket with blood, and a wooden cabinet with rodent droppings.
“Williams told Lt. Kirby that she woke up at around 5:30 a.m. to the baby crying. Williams also said that she noticed the hole in (the child’s) head. She said the blood was dry. Williams stated that she does not know how the parents did not wake up because the baby was sleeping right beside them,” Phillips’ statement said.
A doctor at Arkansas Children’s Hospital told Magnolia police on Tuesday that the child suffered “severe skin destruction from rat feedings, and states that it would have taken hours to occur and (the patient) would have been in distress during this process. (The doctor) expressed her opinion and said that the caregivers were either absent or incapacitated to not have responded,” the statement said.
The ACH doctor estimated that the child received 75-100 rat bites. The child had facial reconstruction surgery on Monday to address the open head wound.
In Arkansas, a Class B felony is punishable by no less than five years and up to 20 years in prison, with a maximum fine of $15,000.