Police say 8-year-old boy from Mercer County was 'a couple of weeks from death'

In his 35-year career in law enforcement, Mercer County Detective John J. Piatek had seen it all.

Or so he thought.

Then came 8-year-old Antonio Rader of Greenville.

Police: Boy beaten, starved, ate insects

Police say the alleged abuse happened inside this house in Greenville, Pennsylvania. That's where investigators say they found a 7-year-old boy weighing just 25 pounds, looking like a human skeleton. (Reuters)

“The only way I can describe him is to say, ‘Picture a Holocaust victim.’ That was Antonio,” Detective Piatek, 59, said Sunday in an interview. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my career. I’ve handled everything from bad checks to homicide, and this is about the worst. His life was torture.”

The Rader boy came to the attention of law enforcement June 6 when the child somehow escaped from his North Second Street home, a virtual prison, and ran into the street because he wanted to pet a dog a woman was walking, said Detective Piatek, who investigates child abuse for the Mercer County district attorney’s office.

“The woman was shocked. She called Children and Youth [Services] right away and told them she had seen a [living] skeleton. She said there was a skeleton living in that house [that the boy had run from],” he recounted.

CYS caseworkers were dispatched almost immediately, and all four children who were living there were removed. Antonio, whose eighth birthday was two days later, was near death, the detective said. The boy was taken to UPMC Greenville then was transferred to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. The other three children were placed in foster care.

Antonio’s mother, Mary C. Rader, 28; Ms. Rader’s mother, Deana Beighley, 47; and Mrs. Beighley’s husband, Dennis C. Beighley, 58, were the adults living in the home. Each was charged with aggravated assault, aggravated assault of a child under the age of 13, false imprisonment, unlawful restraint of a child, endangering the welfare of a child, and conspiracy. Each charge stems from Antonio as the victim. No charges have been filed in connection with any of the siblings, Detective Piatek said.

What the detective said he has learned since is the stuff of his nightmares:

• Antonio was literally starving, weighing about 24 pounds, which is half of what’s considered average for a boy his age.

• He was beaten regularly with belts. Among his infractions: sneaking food.

• He was allowed to shower only occasionally, and the showers were doled out in ice-cold doses as punishment.

• A cyber-schooled student, he spent almost all his time indoors, restricted from seeing visitors. When he was allowed to go into the backyard or onto the back porch, he occupied himself with catching insects and eating them, his siblings told Detective Piatek.

• He was forced to sleep on the floor, barred from a bed because of night-time urination. The problem with wetting himself was so bad that his feet were irritated and red from urine infection as he was not allowed to wash.

• His teeth were so abscessed they were life-threatening, and at least two had to be removed.

“What it comes down to was that he was a couple of weeks from death. That’s what Dr. Wolford said,” Detective Piatek recounted, referring to Jennifer Wolford, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital. Dr. Wolford had no comment on the case when contacted Sunday.

Detective Piatek said he believes Antonio’s maternal grandmother was the ringleader of a concerted effort to torture Antonio.

“She ran the house, and I think it came down to the simple fact that she didn’t like the boy,” the detective said.

Antonio’‍s siblings were healthy, though a 9-year-old brother was underweight.

“He was in the 1 percentile [on the growth charts] for his age, but he was OK. His sisters were fine,” the detective said.

The ages of the sisters are 4 and 12, he said.

Within a month of Antonio’‍s removal from the home, he had gained 20 pounds: 5 pounds during a one-week stay at Children’s Hospital and another 15 within a few weeks at a foster home. He is not residing with his other siblings, Detective Piatek said.

“We were advised it was better this way,” he said.

As for whether Antonio has any medical conditions that would account for his brush with death, the detective responded: “Dr. Wolford said the only medicine he needed was food.”

Detective Piatek said Antonio attended an elementary school in the Greenville Area School District until last fall, at which time his mother enrolled him in a home-based cyberschool.

The detective said school officials have told him Antonio appeared “normal” through the end of the previous school year in June 2013.

“We think that’s when they started starving him,” he said.

It is unclear whether the other school-aged children were taught at home.

Detective Piatek said Antonio was sustained primarily on small amounts of tuna and eggs — and the peanut butter and bread he was able to sneak and the bugs he was able to capture and eat.

The detective said Antonio’s father had not been involved in the child’s life the past year. He said the child’s paternal grandparents had attempted to visit but were denied the opportunity on the basis that Antonio was “too ill for visitors.” Detective Piatek said he believes Ms. Rader’s four children were from two or three different fathers. He believes that Antonio has one full-blooded sibling, but he could not recall whom.

In summarizing the situation, Detective Piatek said his impression is that “[the adults] didn’t like the boys. The girls were OK.” He said the 12-year-old girl was “brainwashed by the grandmother. She said they didn’t feed Antonio because he’d get sick if he ate. Really, we didn’t get a good answer from any of them. I think they’re pretty much in shock.”

The detective said he has been unable to interview any of the adults in the household. The law firm Stranahan Stranahan & Cline of Mercer represented at least one of them during a CYS hearing. He said a letter from the firm informed him the suspects have invoked their Fifth Amendment right not to submit to police interview. No one from the firm could be reached Sunday.

Despite his ordeal, Antonio seems to be rebounding. “I saw him June 27 [when he was in the Mercer County Courthouse], and he was smiling and pleasant, a friendly little boy,” Detective Piatek recalled.

Still, the skeletal vision is never far from the detective’s mind.

The accused are free on bond. None could be reached for comment Sunday. They face preliminary hearings July 30. An electronic search of digital court records revealed no past criminal history for any of the suspects.

Correction appended: A previous version of this story's headline and text gave Anthony Rader's age as 7. He is now 8 years old.

Karen Kane: kkane@post-gazette.com or at 724-772-9180.


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