For months, Shacara Foster and Kentae Todd kept toddler Cottrell Short confined to a St. Bonifacius home's basement that reeked with raw garbage, rotting food and dead animals, police say.
Now Foster, 27, the boy's mother, and Todd, 20, her boyfriend, are in the Hennepin County jail, charged in what Minnetrista Police Chief Paul Falls called Cottrell's "horrible death."
As Foster and Todd were charged with second-degree murder and neglect, new details emerged about the "very deplorable conditions" Cottrell lived in before his Feb. 11 death.
Falls said that in his 18 years in the job, it's "one of the most horrific things I have ever seen."
"We already knew this little boy died a horrible death," he said. "... Now with the criminal complaint, there is further information [and] the abuse is even worse than previously described."
On quiet Hillview Lane in St. Bonifacius, Todd's mother and stepfather rented a yellow duplex next to a small park. The couple lived there with Todd, his 11 siblings ages 2 to 19, Foster and her two toddlers.
According to the Sheriff's Office investigation, the other children told authorities they hadn't seen Cottrell for days before his death because he kept to the basement with Todd, where he had nonperishable food like ramen noodles. Cottrell and his sister slept there in portable cribs.
In February, Foster left the children with Todd, whom she'd been dating for almost a year. The couple dispute to police how long she was gone, but several other witnesses told police that Foster had left the children for a week and had a history of leaving her children with "just anyone" to get away from them.
While caring for the children Feb. 9, Cottrell burned his hand on a bowl of ramen noodles, so Todd put cold water on it and wrapped it, he told police. The next day, he gave Cottrell cold medicine for a high temperature. Todd told police he then left the sleeping children to go to a store and later smoked marijuana. Foster returned to St. Bonifacius and later found Cottrell not breathing. He was taken to a Waconia hospital, where he died.
The Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner's Office ruled the death a homicide due to complications of neglect, specifically a blood infection from his burned hand. The autopsy report listed numerous injuries such as a fractured skull, ribs and arm, broken leg, cigarette burns on his feet, bruises across his body and brain hemorrhages. Toxicology tests showed high levels of adult cold medicine. Autopsy photos, the medical examiner added, depict a "desperately ill, battered and injured child."
"As a parent, words fail me at this time," Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said. "I wonder how one little boy survived so much abuse. He must have been very brave -- brave beyond his years."
Foster, the boy's mother, was charged with neglect in March and hadn't been released because the neglect charge violated her probation on a previous robbery conviction. On Thursday, Todd was arrested in Coon Rapids, where the family had moved. He told police he "popped" Cottrell on his hand and leg once to discipline him.
Both are now in the Hennepin County jail.
Authorities said Cottrell's biological father lives in the metro area but didn't release details; Cottrell's sister, who turns 1 next month, didn't have any signs of abuse.
To Aaron Newsom, who lives near the duplex with his family, it's a disturbing case in an otherwise quiet community.
"It just makes you sick," he said as his 5- and 2-year-olds played at the park that Cottrell and the other children would play at from time to time.
Newsom said he never suspected any issues at his neighbor's house. "They all looked healthy," he said of the children. "[Cottrell] seemed to always be happy."
The toddler would have turned 2 years old this month.
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141