Two Florida parents who allegedly kept their children on a vegan diet are facing manslaughter and child neglect charges after the death of their “very small” toddler.
A medical examiner ruled the child died of extreme malnourishment.
The child reportedly weighed 17 pounds when he died on Sept. 27. That’s approximately seven pounds below average for his age, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The parents are also facing child neglect charges after two of their other children, ages 3 and 5, were found to be “severely underweight,” according to a police affidavit filed in court. One of the children reportedly had decaying teeth that had to be surgically removed. Both were extremely short and underweight, and neither of them was enrolled in school, police said.
The O’Learys had been feeding their four children a diet of raw fruits and vegetables, according to police reports obtained by the Fort Myers News-Press. The deceased toddler’s diet was reportedly being supplemented with breast milk.
The boy was born at home and had never seen a doctor, police told the paper.
The toddler had not been eating for a week and was only being breastfed at the time of his death, Sheila O’Leary told police. She said she woke up to the child’s cries at about 4 a.m. on Sept. 27 and breastfed the child for about a minute before going back to bed. She said she was worried about the child’s health because of his “shallow breathing,” but she did not call for help before she went back to sleep, according to the affidavit.
The couple reportedly woke up later that morning and called 911 after finding the child unresponsive.
First responders pronounced the child dead shortly after 8 a.m.
Sheila O’Leary’s defence lawyer has denied allegations the children were malnourished.
“The children are of small stature. The family is of small stature,” O’Leary’s lawyer, John Musca, told Fox News. “That’s how they were born, but they were perfectly healthy.”
Musca added that the toddler had been sick six months prior and had not fully recuperated from his illness.
“The child had started eating better, and then the child began teething,” he said. “And the mother was concerned, very concerned that that was causing him not to eat as well.”
Arrest records show the suspects are facing charges of negligent manslaughter, child neglect with great bodily harm and child neglect without great bodily harm.
The O’Learys turned themselves in to police on Nov. 6. They remained in jail on Monday under $250,000 cash bonds.
All three victims were the couple’s biological children, police told the News-Press. The eldest child was Sheila O’Leary’s with another father. That child was deemed to be healthier than the others.
The Department of Children and Families has removed the surviving children from their family home, NBC News reports.
The O’Learys are due back in court on Dec. 9.