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Baby of N.C. airman died from 'severe malnutrition,' autopsy says

In final month of life, 14-month-old left alone 12 hours of day

Jul. 1, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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During the last month of his life, 14-month-old Matthew Theurer spent 12 hours a day alone in the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., home where he lived with his father.

At least twice, the tow-headed boy spent the night alone. He ate little. By the time of his death in mid-February, Matthew weighed around 14 pounds — less than he’d weighed at 4 months old.

Matthew’s body was found in plastic garbage bags on a roadside March 12 about 100 miles from base, some four weeks after he died from severe malnutrition, according to the report, obtained by the Goldsboro News-Argus.

The child’s father, Senior Airman Matthew Theurer, was charged June 20 with murder, involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, child endangerment, obstruction of justice and making a false official statement.

The autopsy report from the North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner provides a look into the final months of Matthew’s life.

In early May 2012, 5-month-old Matthew’s mother took him to Indiana to live with her. During a doctor’s visit a couple of weeks earlier, Matthew was weighed at 14 pounds and 9 ounces, putting him at about the 50th percentile for children his age.

In July 2012, his mother told Theurer she could no longer care for him and asked the senior airman to come get him. Theurer returned to Seymour Johnson with Matthew that month.

The baby went to an off-base day care from August to Nov. 15, 2012. On Nov. 20, Theurer attended orientation for base day care, where Matthew was scheduled to begin Dec. 3. But the boy never went, the report said. Instead, a friend of Theurer’s moved into his home to care for the baby. The friend was escorted off the base Jan. 5.

“After this date, no daycare was provided for this child, and he was left alone for approximately 12 hours every day and was provided with little food while his father was at work,” according to the medical examiner’s summary. “On at least two occasions, he was left alone overnight.”

Matthew was noticeably thin and less active by the end of January. On Feb. 15, he was found dead in his crib, the report said.

His body was removed from the home, placed in multiple garbage bags and left on the side of the road, where it was recovered, still in the bags, a month later. Matthew’s stomach was empty, he had scabs on his lower back, buttocks and groin, and there was feces on his feet, according to the document.

The medical examiner noted it was impossible to pinpoint how much the boy weighed when he died but that it was below the fifth percentile, “a drastic drop-off from the 50th percentile recorded 10 months prior to death,” the examiner wrote. Matthew weighed 14 pounds, 9 ounces at autopsy.

By then, he’d been dead for a month.

“In my opinion, the cause of death in this case was due to severe malnutrition as a result of neglect,” the report concluded. “Medical neglect contributed to his death.”

It is the second time in less than a year that an Air Force child has reportedly died from neglect while in the care of a parent. In August 2012, a 22-month-old at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, was found dead in her base home. The girl’s father was deployed at the time. Her mother, Tiffany Klapheke, is scheduled to stand trial in a civilian court Sept. 30 for allegedly causing the child’s death. A senior airman who lived at the Klapheke’s base residence at the time has been charged with failing to report the abuse

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