W.Va. mom accused of trying to suffocate son

Police: 4-month-old suffered recurring breathing problems

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A West Virginia woman faces charges after police said she tried to suffocate her 4-month-old son at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and at her home in Boone County.

Pittsburgh police obtained an arrest warrant Wednesday for Rachel Nelson, 22, of Costa, W.Va., on charges of aggravated assault, endangering the welfare of a child and recklessly endangering another person. She had not been arrested late Wednesday.

Major Crimes Lt. Kevin Kraus said hospital personnel alerted police Tuesday that they worried someone had tried to suffocate the boy since he arrived at the hospital Oct. 18 because he was having trouble breathing.

Detectives interviewed Ms. Nelson and the boy's 43-year-old father, Shawn Nelson, and suspect the boy was smothered numerous times in West Virginia between August and October and at least twice since he was admitted to the hospital, police said.

Ms. Nelson was taken to Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic. The arrest warrant police obtained pertains only to the incidents alleged to have occurred inside Children's Hospital.

Police wrote in a criminal complaint that the boy was transferred to Children's Hospital on Oct. 18 for "repeated episodes of apnea and hypoxia and concerns of medical child abuse."

They wrote that on Oct. 19 Mr. Nelson awoke at the hospital to find the boy was not breathing and that Ms. Nelson had been awake at the time.

Medical staff revived the boy and transferred him to the intensive care unit, where he "again was discovered limp and breathing abnormally" on Oct. 20, according to the complaint. Doctors gave the boy oxygen for 30 minutes and then reviewed video surveillance, which showed that Ms. Nelson was alone in the room with him at the time and "blocking the view" of the boy, investigators wrote.

Police interviewed Ms. Nelson, who initially told them that she had "blacked out" during the events and then later admitted to being lucid and holding the boy tightly against her chest until he stopped breathing, according to the complaint.

The boy was in stable condition Wednesday and doctors are completing tests to see whether the alleged assaults caused any long-term damage. The boy has been placed into protective custody and his parents' visitations have been canceled indefinitely, Lt. Kraus said.

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Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1438.


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