‘This can’t be real:’ Man allegedly beats toddler to death and leaves body in gas station

California police have arrested a man accused of beating a 2-year-old boy to death, as reported by ABC30.

Cornell Jackson, 39, is accused of killing 2-year-old Emmanuel Burton and leaving his body in a gas station earlier this month.

The arrest, which occurred on Tuesday, comes after a lengthy investigation that began with Jackson calling police and telling them that the boy had drowned and that he was bringing him to the hospital.

That hospital visit never came, however, and Jackson is alleged to have simply left Burton’s body unattended at a BP station in Madera, along with two other children.

Upon examination, it was clear that the 2-year-old had suffered from severe physical abuse, with authorities noting that his chest had been caved in.

The victim’s stepmother, Jeanette Burton, spoke to reporters and could not contain her grief.

“It’s so surreal,” she said. “This isn’t happening, you know, this can’t be real.”

The victim’s uncle, Markus Johnson, echoed this sentiment.

“(Emmanuel) getting dropped off at a gas station like that, is really bad on my mind right now,” he said. “Him being beat up, is really bad on my mind, his chest being caved in.”

Police have not released information as to Jackson’s possible motive, nor have they noted a possible relationship with the child, simply noting that he is not the victim’s father.

Jackson has pleaded not guilty and is being held without bail. He faces charges of felony torture, felony assault of a child causing death and one misdemeanor count of possession of methamphetamine. A district attorney has noted that, if convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Additionally, his girlfriend, Monica Meza, was arrested and charged with child endangerment, as reported by Madera Tribune.

The other two children discovered at the gas station have been placed with child protective services.

[Featured Image: Chowchilla Police Department]