A Franklin, Ohio, woman appeared in court on March 18 after being charged with child endangering following the death of her four-year-old stepson.
Anna Ritchie, 25, admitted to police that she dipped Austin Cooper’s legs in scolding water as a punishment before sending him to bed on March 15, reports WXIX.
Austin’s father, Robert Ritchie III, returned home from work later that evening, but didn't discover his son was unresponsive until next morning. Robert called 911 and the child was rushed to the hospital.
According to Doyle Burke, chief investigator with the Warren County Corner's Office, the autopsy revealed severe burns on the boy's legs that ultimately led to his death.
“That whole day just seemed like a blur,” Robert said, according to WXIX. “It's like a nightmare on loop.”
Anna is likely to face more charges after Austin’s death was ruled a homicide March 17. According to police, Robert was in the apartment at the time of death, but investigators do not yet know if he was involved.
Austin’s death provoked a shocked response from the authorities.
“As a father and a grandfather, first what goes through my mind is that I can't imagine what a four-year-old could have done,” Franklin Police chief Russ Whitman said. “To deserve something like that, it affects us personally. It affects the officers.”
Robert is still trying to come to terms with what happened.
“That little boy would want me to keep going everyday,” Robert said. “He'd want me to go out and have fun for him and do everything I can for him.”
“He was a big R2-D2 guy and he loved Darth Vader,” he added. “I actually got him of those Kylo Ren's a few weeks ago. He loved it.”
The family’s neighbors also spoke of their sorrow.
“It’s heartbreaking," neighbor Maureen Wright told WLWT. "I can’t believe that baby lost its life. It's just disturbing how somebody could actually hurt a four-year-old like that, let alone any child and to just do it and be OK while they're doing it and to know that baby is just screaming for help and there was nobody there to help him"
Anna Ritchie’s bond has been increased to $350,000. Investigators are waiting for the coroner's final ruling on the cause of Austin's death before pressing further charges.