Police: W.Va. mother said she'd kill child

Son, 2, drowned in Green Tree hotel bathtub

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A West Virginia mother charged with drowning her 2-year-old son in a Green Tree hotel bathtub had threatened to kill the boy before, Allegheny County police wrote in court documents filed Monday.

Sharon Flanagan, 33, of Inwood, W. Va., has been in the Allegheny County Jail since July 3, two days after paramedics found her son, Steven, unconscious in their room at the Best Western on Greentree Road. A hotel guest and a security guard pulled the boy from the tub, where he had been facedown in the water.

Steven died July 6, but further tests by the county medical examiner's office delayed the filing of the homicide charge until Monday.

After the boy's death, the sheriff's department in Berkeley County, W.Va., told detectives "that Mrs. Flanagan was reported to have threatened to kill herself and Steven on a previous occasion," according to a criminal complaint. Detectives did not expound on the past incidents in their report, and Berkeley County sheriff's deputies were unable to answer questions Monday night. Berkeley County prosecutor Pamela Jean Games-Neely said Ms. Flanagan had no criminal record in that jurisdiction.

The image of Ms. Flanagan painted by police did not match the one described by her attorney, David J. DeFazio, who said she maintains her innocence and was known by relatives to be a loving and protective mother.

"She denies intentionally harming her child," Mr. DeFazio said. "This appears to be, based on her recollection, a tragic accident. ... She's known as vigilant in guarding her child's health and safety. I'm at a loss as to how this could occur."

The Flanagans are divorcing. Mr. DeFazio said it was his understanding that Ms. Flanagan's husband, Steven, told a family court judge she had threatened to kill her son in the past, and the judge nevertheless allowed her to have partial custody of the boy and travel with him alone.

Mr. Flanagan, who was at home in Inwood during the incident, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Police have said Ms. Flanagan's explanations of the incident were inconsistent and implausible. She was the lone caregiver for the boy, and the two had been at the hotel for less than two hours before the incident unfolded.

Ms. Flanagan told detectives she was unable to lift her 32-pound son from the tub; at one point she insisted "something was actually pulling him toward the bottom of the tub," according to the complaint. She said Steven's shoes must have gotten stuck in the drain, but detectives noted that the shoes "were placed neatly side by side in the back of the tub, or away from the drain," suggesting they could not have gotten stuck.

"I wanted to get him out of the tub, but I just couldn't do it," Ms. Flanagan told detectives, according to the complaint.

But county police cast doubt on her concern for the boy. A fellow hotel guest told police Ms. Flanagan ran down a hallway screaming "My baby!" but never mentioned that the boy was unconscious in the bathtub, even when the guest asked if she could help or call 911, the complaint says.

Mr. DeFazio said more details of the case could emerge at a preliminary hearing, which is scheduled for Friday.


Sadie Gurman: sgurman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878.


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