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17 lbs: Cape Coral vegan parents charged w/ starvation murder of 18 month old son

Sheila O'Leary and Ryan O'Leary Cape Coral parents
Pictured, Sheila O'Leary and Ryan O'Leary Cape Coral parents indicted.
Sheila O'Leary and Ryan O'Leary Cape Coral parents
Pictured, Sheila O’Leary and Ryan O’Leary Cape Coral parents indicted.

Sheila O’Leary and Ryan O’Leary Cape Coral parents charged w/ malnutrition starvation of 18 month old son after feeding child along w/ siblings only raw fruits and vegetables.

‘Why would anyone do this to their child?’ A vegan Florida couple have been charged with murder, child abuse and neglect after allegedly starving their 18-month-old son to death, along with feeding the boy’s siblings a raw diet that left them malnourished

The victim weighed only 17lbs at the time of his death, according to Cape Coral police. Experts said that is in line with what an average seven-month old should weigh. A typical 18 month old child weighs 24 pounds.

On Wednesday, a Lee County Grand Jury indicted Ryan O’Leary, 30, and Sheila O’Leary, 35, on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter, child abuse and two counts of child neglect. 

State Attorney Amira Fox said in a statement the indictment also includes three other children who also suffered from child abuse and extreme neglect. They are 3, 5 and 11 years old. 

‘The evidence and crime scene in this case are gut-wrenching. These are images as a mother and State Attorney I will not be able to forget,’ Fox said.  

According to a press release from the Cape Coral Police Department, on September 27, officers responded to a report of an 18-month-old who had stopped breathing at his family home. Responding paramedics pronounced the toddler dead at the scene.

The boy weighed just 17 pounds at the time of his death. An autopsy later found that the toddler succumbed to conditions associated with starvation, including dehydration, a liver disorder and swelling of the hands and feet, reported The News-Press.

NBC-2.com WBBH News for Fort Myers, Cape Coral & Naples, Florida

Community in shock: ‘Why would anyone do this to their child?’

Detectives with Major Crimes Unites arrived to find the deceased boy and two of his older siblings, ages three and five, appearing extremely malnourished and small for their age.

A probable cause affidavit stated that both children were pale and had yellowish skin, and one of them had blackened teeth caused by dental decay.

A third child, aged 11, was also present at the scene but appeared healthier than her younger siblings.

Documents reveal that the 11-year-old, who is Sheila O’Leary’s daughter from a previous relationship, visits her biological father in Virginia every two months, which could explain her better physical shape, compared to her emaciated half-siblings.

When interviewed by police, the mother-of-four said her youngest child had not eaten anything other than breast milk in the week leading up to his death. She said she thought he did not have appetite because he was teething.

On the morning of his death, the 18-month-old began to experience breathing problems after nursing for a minute. His mother conceded to police that she should have sought medical help for him, but instead she and her husband fell asleep.

But there’s more.

Sheila O'Leary and Ryan O'Leary Cape Coral parents
Pictured, Sheila O’Leary and Ryan O’Leary Cape Coral, Florida parents

Parents admit never taking children to doctor:

During questioning, Sheila said that the boy was delivered at home and had never seen a doctor, according to the probable cause affidavit. It remained unclear why the mother elected to not take her son to a doctor when it became apparent he was having issues.

Also not immediately clear is how the parents came to put their children on a strict eating regiment – best availed for adults, let alone children- without at the very least seeking the guidance of a doctor. How or why the parents even decided to put the children on a strict eating regiment also remained unclear. 

The O’Learys’ children were all fed a diet mainly consisting of mangoes, bananas, avocados and rambutans, and were home-schooled by their mother.

The couple’s two surviving biological children were removed from the home and placed in the custody of Child Services after their brother’s death, while their older half-sister was sent to live with her father in Virginia.

The state attorney’s office said that Sheila had a prior case out of Virginia, after her eldest daughter had been placed in state custody for failure to thrive and severe malnutrition.

The parents turned themselves in to police after their son’s cause of death was revealed on November 6. 

During the couple’s initial court appearances, Sheila’s defense lawyer argued that her 18-month-old son had been sick for six months prior to his death, reported Fox 4 Now.  

Attorney John Musca argued against claims that the couple’s children were malnourished, arguing that they were naturally small from birth but ‘perfectly healthy.’ 

The parents will be arraigned on the charges on December 23. 

If convicted the parents could spend life in prison or even the death sentence.