A Pennsylvania woman is behind bars this week for allegedly killing a 3-year-old child who choked to death on baby wipes, state police say.
Chelsea R. Cooley, 31, was taken into custody on Monday and charged with several felonies in connection with the child’s death, including criminal homicide, strangulation, and aggravated assault of a victim less than 6 years old.
According to police, Emergency Medical Services personnel on the evening of May 28 responded to a 911 call concerning a young boy who was not breathing at a home on East First Street. Upon arriving at the scene, first responders transported the child to UPMC Bedford hospital for medical treatment.
Troopers with the Pennsylvania State Police in Bedford at approximately 9:16 p.m. that evening responded to the home and the hospital after it was reported that the child had choked on baby wipes.
After arriving at UPMC Bedford, the child was subsequently airlifted to UPMC Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. The child succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced dead at approximately 4 p.m. on May 29.
A medical examiner performed an autopsy and determined that the child’s manner of death was a homicide and the cause of death was “manual strangulation and asphyxiation due to airway obstruction,” per the police report.
A copy of the arrest report obtained by WJAC-TV provided additional disturbing information about the circumstances of the 3-year-old’s death.
Per the report, Cooley placed the initial 911 call and told the emergency dispatcher that the boy was “cold to the touch, not breathing and had something lodged in his throat.” The call was allegedly placed approximately 25 minutes after Cooley found the victim in such dire straits.
In an interview with investigators at the hospital that evening, the WJAC-TV report said, Cooley emphasized repeatedly that the boy—whom she reportedly referred to as her “stepson”—had behavioral issues. She allegedly said he had thrown “a temper tantrum” and refused to eat his lunch earlier in the day. She allegedly claimed that she put the boy down to sleep in his room at approximately 7:30 p.m., then checked on him at approximately an hour later. She said the boy stopped breathing and had “something stuck in his throat, which appeared to be a wet wipe,” the report added.
Authorities said, however, that the only wet wipes in the home were stored in the bathroom, not in the boy’s bedroom.
EMS personnel reportedly clarified that medics had to remove four wet wipes from the victim’s throat, several of which were reportedly “soiled with blood.” Noting that the four wipes were tightly “packed together,” a medic reportedly told investigators that he “did not believe that the child would have been able to put the wipes down his own throat.”
The victim reportedly also showed “signs of petechia” on his neck—which are spots that appear as a result of bleeding—and “extensive bruising” on his chest and neck. Medics also reportedly found feces on one of the victim’s hands but noted that he was wearing a clean diaper.
In a follow-up interview on May 29, Cooley reportedly again reiterated that the victim had been acting out, allegedly telling police he needed to be put in a “group home.” When asked about why she took as long as she did to call for help after finding the boy not breathing, Cooley allegedly said that her phone was “acting up.” The interviewing trooper reportedly noted that Cooley had sustained what appeared to be bite marks on her hands.
Investigators went on to discover a photograph Cooley allegedly sent to the boy’s father on the night the child sustained his fatal injuries. The photo was timestamped 8:41 p.m. and reportedly “showed the boy lying on the bathroom floor with ‘visible marks’ around his neck and mouth,” per WJAC.
Investigators searched Cooley’s home and said they found a number of baby wipes that were allegedly covered in feces and others covered in blood.
A neighbor reportedly told police that on the night of the incident she heard a woman repeatedly yelling: “Shut up.” The child’s father, who was working the night shift from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. reportedly told investigators that Cooley had grown frustrated with his son’s behavior that evening.
Cooley appeared before Magisterial District Judge Tonya M. Osman on Monday evening and was denied bond, court records reviewed by Law&Crime show. She is currently being held in Bedford County Prison as she awaits her preliminary hearing at 9 a.m. on June 8 before District Judge Kathy S. Calhoun.
Cooley is also facing one count each of endangering the welfare of a child, reckless endangerment, aggravated assault causing extreme bodily injury, and simple assault.
[image via Bedford County Prison]
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