A California couple has been arrested and charged with torture and child abuse after their 5-year-old son was admitted to a hospital in critical condition.
The boy's biological father, Benjamin Matthew Whitten, and his live-in girlfriend, Jeryn Christine Johnson, were taken into police custody only 10 hours after Johnson made a 911 call on Aug. 15 to report that Whitten's child was in medical distress. KTLA reports that responding officers found the boy to be extremely frail and malnourished.
A neighbor witnessed paramedics performing chest compressions on the boy.
Police determined the home to be "extremely unsanitary," and found feces and urine as well as 11 dogs, four cats and two fish. The pets were later removed by animal control.
The boy was airlifted to a nearby hospital for malnutrition and severe injuries. He is currently comatose and is in grave condition.
Detectives plan to investigate the boy's "dire condition" by speaking to neighbors. Those who lived near the couple say that they rarely saw the family outside. Some say that they heard the father yelling at the boy, though neighbors reportedly said that the boy had not been seen since late December 2016.
Neighbor Kristine Hendrickson told KCAL that the story came as a major surprise to her: "I didn’t even know there was a child who lived in the house. Did not know. We’ve lived here for 21 years."
Whitten, 33, has been enlisted in the Navy since 2009. He is a Machinist’s Mate Nuclear 1st Class and works with the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Detachment in San Diego.
KTLA reports that Johnson, 25, once offered child care services out of her home.
"I'm a military wife and stay at home mom to a 4 year old boy," Johnson wrote in an ad posted on Facebook in 2016. "I'm not licensed but I am cpr and 1st aid certified. Please private message me if interested!"
Whitten and Johnson have each been charged with one count of torture and one count of child abuse; prosecutors allege that Whitten and Johnson caused the child to become comatose. The couple remains in custody on $1 million bail.
Neighbors gathered outside the boy's home on Aug. 16 for a candlelight vigil.
“It just touches home," said neighbor Claudia Vega-Romero. "He’s 5, and it’s just so sad. He’s helpless."
The exact nature and extent of the boy's injuries have not been disclosed.