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Parents Charged After Two Toddlers Allegedly Die from Shaken Baby Syndrome, as Doctor Calls Injuries the ‘Worst He’d Seen in 20 Years’

Thomas W. Cunningham and Ciera N. Gillespie

Thomas W. Cunningham and Ciera N. Gillespie

The parents of two toddlers in West Virginia were arrested last week after both children died in apparent cases of shaken baby syndrome, authorities announcedThomas W. Cunningham and Ciera N. Gillespie were arrested and charged with multiple felonies in connection with the deaths of their 1-year-old and 2-year-old sons.

Cunningham, 27, faces one count of child abuse causing death and one count of child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury, jail records show. Gillespie, 25, was charged with one count each of child neglect resulting in death and child neglect creating risk of serious injury or death.

The children were both brought to the hospital in late November with severe injuries that appeared to be the result of abuse. The 2-year-old boy was pronounced dead upon arrival while the 1-year-old child remained in critical condition until he succumbed to his injuries over the weekend, the children’s grandmother reportedly told Portland Fox affiliate KPTV.

Upshur County Sheriff Virgil Miller reportedly told the station that authorities are expecting additional charges to be filed against both parents in light of the 1-year-old boy’s death.

A copy of the criminal complaint reportedly says that Gillespie went to the store on Nov. 28, leaving Cunningham at home with the two victims and their 6-year-old child. She reportedly told investigators that when she left the children in Cunningham’s care, she believed that he was “under the influence of a controlled substance.” Cunningham allegedly confirmed to police later that day that he had had “used Percocet to get high” before watching the children.

As Gillespie was pulling into the driveway, she reportedly said that she received a call from Cunningham, who told her that “something was wrong” with their 2-year-old.

Upon entering the house, Gillespie reportedly said that Cunningham put the boy in her arms and that the child was “limp with blood coming from his mouth and nose.” Cunningham reportedly called 911.

Frst responders reportedly made contact with Gillespie, who got in the ambulance with the 2-year-old at the scene. Before they left the home, however, Cunningham reportedly “came running out” of the residence carrying the couple’s 1-year-old child and said “there was something wrong with this baby also.”

Doctors reportedly pronounced the 2-year-old dead shortly after he arrived at J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, telling investigators they believed that his cause of death was shaken baby syndrome. One doctor reportedly said that the child’s retinal injuries were “the worst he’d seen in 20 years.” Retinal hemorrhaging is a typical indication of shaken baby syndrome.

The same doctor also reportedly told investigators that the 1-year-old sustained similarly “significant” injuries consistent with “violent trauma” likely caused by shaken baby syndrome.

The couple were taken into custody and held at the West Virginia Regional Jail following an investigation by the sheriff’s office, the West Virginia State Police, and the Mountain Lake Drug and Violent Crime Taskforce.

While Cunningham was held without bond, Gillespie was held on $200,000 cash-only bond.

[Images via Upshur County Sheriff’s Office]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.