An "overwhelmed" Minneapolis home day-care provider shook a boy in her care until he suffered fatal brain injuries two days shy of his first birthday, according to charges filed Monday.
Sylwia M. Pawlak-Reynolds, 42, was charged by warrant in Hennepin County District Court with two counts of second-degree murder in the July 12 incident.
The boy, identified by his family as Gabriel Cooper, lost consciousness, was declared brain dead the next day and died July 16. A doctor concluded that the injuries "were consistent with severe shaking," according to the criminal complaint.
The boy was spending his third day in Pawlak-Reynolds' care when he was injured, the charges read.
Joe Cooper on Monday described his son as "a bundle of joy. He was always smiling, was happy and realistically was the light of our lives."
Cooper said authorities have shared little with him and his wife, Samantha, about Gabriel's death, leaving him unable to figure out Pawlak-Reynolds' role.
"All I know is that I left my son in her care, and a couple of hours later I was on the way to the hospital with him," said the Minneapolis father. He said they chose Pawlak-Reynolds to look after Gabriel because she did a fine job with one of the boy's older sisters.
The autopsy also found "traumatic injury to [Gabriel's] brain, neck and eyes that is consistent with an acceleration-deacceleration injury," the complaint read. The autopsy also detected a nonprescription antihistamine in the child's bloodstream that his parents did not give him, the charges added.
About a week after the findings, the county petitioned to terminate Pawlak-Reynolds' parental rights. Her attorney in that ongoing proceeding said Monday that Pawlak-Reynolds denies having anything to do with the boy's death.
Attorney Lucas Dawson said that "medical experts have opined [on behalf of Pawlak-Reynolds] that this is a natural cause [case] and not head trauma" and that the boy was found to have two blood clots.
The state Department of Human Services suspended Pawlak-Reynolds' day-care license right after the incident and made that action indefinite on Sept. 21.
She had been licensed to care for up to 12 children in her home in the 4900 block of 18th Avenue S., where she lived with her husband and two children. State records show no other day-care violations against her or her facility since she was licensed in 2014.
Pawlak-Reynolds is living in St. Louis Park with relatives, said county attorney's office spokesman Chuck Laszewski, explaining that authorities "got her removed from the house to protect her own children."
Pawlak-Reynolds' children, a 9-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy, are living with their father, her child-protection attorney said.
Boy was crying
According to the criminal complaint, Pawlak-Reynolds called 911 screaming late in the morning on July 12. A police officer went to the backyard and saw the boy lying on a patio table and Pawlak-Reynolds pressing on the child's chest. Further resuscitation efforts by police and emergency responders failed to revive the boy.
Examination at Hennepin County Medical Center revealed bleeding on the boy's brain and hemorrhages in both eyes "that were too numerous to count."
The parental termination filing concluded that the medical findings "are virtually definitive for abusive head trauma from shaking."
Pawlak-Reynolds told an officer that the boy was crying loudly that morning, so she put him in a highchair and gave him a snack before going to the backyard to check on the other children, which included his 6-year-old sister.
She said she returned to find the boy limp, his eyes partly closed and his tongue sticking out slightly. That's when she called 911.
Pawlak-Reynolds said the boy appeared fine up until then. His parents told police that their son was crying when he was left at his new day care.
The parents added that Pawlak-Reynolds was "overwhelmed, and they were contemplating moving their children to a different day-care provider," the charging document continued.
A fundraising page online has been raising money for the Coopers. More than $4,500 has been raised toward a goal of $10,000. The page's sponsor said the mission is to "relieve some of the financial burdens they face as a result of this heartbreaking situation so they can focus on honoring Gabriel's life and grieving."