MUNCIE — A five-year-old girl whose parents have been accused of neglect of a dependent died from hypernatremia, extreme malnutrition and had physical trauma to nearly all of her body surfaces, police say.
Given the girl’s overall physical condition, including extreme malnutrition and injuries, the elevated salt levels “most likely” were the result of “administration of some form of salt, possibly as punishment,” medical authorities told police.
By the time of her death, the girl's weight had declined to the average weight for a two-and-a-half-year-old child
, according to the probable cause affidavit.
A physician at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, where Lauren McConniel died in March, told police the injuries to the child could not have occurred from reasonable discipline or accidental injury, and were considered to be inflicted trauma or child abuse, Muncie police Sgt. Jimmy Gibson said.
The suspects facing class A felony charges are Ryan McConniel, 33, the child’s father, and Brittany McConniel, 24, the stepmother, who lived at 2304 S. Ebright St. at the time. Both were arrested on Friday and held in the Delaware County jail over the weekend.
Ryan McConniel got custody of the girl after a divorce in Arkansas.
After Lauren’s death, the department of child services took custody of the girl’s nine-year-old sister and placed her in foster care. The sister told psychological evaluators that the parents would hit Lauren on the bottom of her feet with a stick, make her do jumping jacks and push-ups and for punishment she was made to hold heavy objects with her arms held out.
The natural mother, Amber Huggins of Knoxville, Tenn., filed an emergency petition for custody of the older daughter in Delaware County, reporting that Lauren died a suspicious death, and that she was emaciated, had elevated salt levels and was significantly bruised when she died.
According to a probable cause affidavit, the defendants told authorities that Lauren had acted bizarrely, climbing the walls like a cat, storing food in her cheeks, mutilating dolls, hearing blue bunnies telling her to do bad things, biting herself, hiding scissors in her diapers, eating her own vomit and feces, rocking, staring at the walls, eating out of trash cans and swearing.
Authorities accuse the defendants of a lack of medical care for the child.