Toddler boy starves to death while on vegan parents’ raw food diet, police say

Two parents in Florida are facing criminal charges after their 18-month-old son reportedly died of malnutrition while in their care.

Sheila O’Leary called for help on September 27 after finding her son unresponsive and cold at their Cape Coral home. The toddler, who was pronounced dead at the scene, weighed 17 pounds at his time of death, according to the Fort Myers News-Press.

Detectives found Sheila and Ryan O’Leary standing near a minivan which had three other children inside. Sheila O’Leary allegedly told police that they are a vegan family—and that their children eat a raw food diet which largely consists of mangoes, rambutans, bananas, and avocados.

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According to the News-Press, Sheila O’Leary also told investigators that her 18-month-old son had not eaten in a week and was only being breastfed. She reportedly explained that she thought he was not eating because he was teething.

The night before his death, Sheila O’Leary reportedly said she noticed her son was having difficulty breathing while breastfeeding him. The couple allegedly went to sleep instead of getting their ailing son medical attention.

The news outlet reported that Sheila O’Leary revealed that her deceased son was born at home and had never seen a doctor. While she claimed her other children were homeschooled, police determined that they were not enrolled in an approved program.

The couple’s two surviving children, ages 3 and 5, were reportedly also severely malnourished. The third child, who is Sheila O’Leary’s daughter but has a different father, reportedly appeared to be the healthiest of the three children. Police wrote in their report that the girl stays with her biological father for two weeks every couple of months, possibly explaining her healthier appearance.

According to the news outlet, the girl was placed in her biological father’s custody in 2009 because she “failed to thrive” in Sheila O’Leary’s care.

Citing a Cape Coral probable cause statement, the News-Press also reported that an autopsy confirmed that the toddler died from complications of malnutrition, including microsteatosis of the liver and slight edema his of hands, feet, and lower legs.

Jail records stated that the O’Learys are close to a normal weight for their heights. The Department of Children and Families removed the surviving children from the home in light of the toddler’s death.

Sheila and Ryan O’Leary, who turned themselves in on November 7, are charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child due to neglect, child neglect causing great bodily harm, and child neglect without great bodily harm. They both remain jailed on a $250,000 bond.

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[Featured image: Sheila and Ryan O’Leary/Lee County Sheriff’s Office]