A Florida vegan couple who fed their children only raw fruit and vegetables, strictly banning all other food, were charged Wednesday with murder for the death of their severely malnourished 18-month-old son, authorities said.
Ryan Patrick O’Leary, 30, and Sheila O’Leary, 35, were indicted by a Lee County grand jury on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter, child abuse, and two counts of child neglect, State Attorney Amira Fox announced at a Wednesday press conference.
DailyBeast reports: Authorities said the toddler weighed only 17 pounds, the average weight of a 7-month-old, when he died in September.
“The evidence in this case is horrendous,” Fox said, alleging the diet was a form of “torture” and that the child died from “starvation and extreme lack of care.”
The 35-year-old mother called authorities on Sept. 27 after noticing her toddler was cold and not breathing, according to a probable cause affidavit obtained by The News-Press. Despite attempts to resuscitate the child, he was pronounced dead when Lee County Emergency Medical paramedics arrived at their home.
The medical examiner later determined he died from complications due to malnutrition—including dehydration, microvesicular steatosis of the liver, and slight swelling of hands, feet, and lower legs, the affidavit states.
When questioned by Cape Coral police, the couple stated they were vegan and fed their four children a raw fruit-and-vegetable diet, which mainly consisted of mangoes, rambutans, bananas, and avocados. The couple also stated the toddler’s diet was supplemented with breast milk, but admitted he hadn’t eaten solid food in the week before his death, the affidavit states.
The couple’s three other children, whose ages range from 3 to 11, also allegedly suffered from child abuse and extreme neglect similar to the toddler, authorities said.
“The evidence and crime scene in this case are gut-wrenching. These are images as a mother and State Attorney I will not be able to forget,” Fox said Wednesday.
In November, the couple was charged with aggravated manslaughter in the toddler’s death, but the charges were upgraded on Wednesday by a grand jury. Two children have been removed from the home by the Department of Children and Families for their safety, while the 11-year-old currently lives with her biological father.
The parents, who will be arraigned on Dec. 23, could face the death penalty if convicted.