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Minnesota boy died after parents refused him medical care — and left town while he was gravely ill

The adopted boy is believed to have died of acute pancreatitis and possible sepsis

A seven-year-old Minnesota boy was allegedly left to die a horrible, painful death despite showing clear signs to his adoptive parents that he was unwell.

Timothy and Sarah Johnson of Plymouth, Minnesota, are facing charges of gross misdemeanor child neglect after their son Seth died on a mattress covered in his own vomit after showing signs of ill health for weeks prior to his death. According to a criminal complaint, the Johnsons left Seth in the care of an older sibling in the days immediately preceding his death so they could attend an out-of-town wedding. The night they returned, their son was barely responsive and refusing to eat. They prayed for him and reportedly considered taking him to see a doctor the next morning, though they told police they “had issues with doctors.” But by the next morning he was completely unresponsive and not breathing, and his father’s efforts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.

 

Seth Johnson died in March 2015, but authorities were not made aware of the circumstances of his death until that December. They believe he died of acute pancreatitis and possible sepsis.

A statement from Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman indicates investigators believe the Johnsons, who adopted Seth when he was four after fostering him since infancy, may be guilty of more than misdemeanor neglect. It reads, in part:

Our office did not receive the case, or even hear about it, until almost nine months later 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. 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 medical examiner could not make the link between the cause of death and the actions of the parents,” Freeman’s statement continues.” As a result, we charged Timothy and Sarah Johnson with the most serious crime the law allows: neglect of a child resulting in substantial physical harm, which is a gross misdemeanor.

Still, that “serious” crime carries a maximum penalty of one year or a $3,000 fine. The Johnsons reportedly raised over $7,000 via a crowdfunding campaign to cover their child’s funeral expenses. They are not in custody at this time.