A Farmington mother is accused of suffocating her 3-month-old son more than four years ago and trying to do the same to her infant daughter last May in a case that may involve a mental illness that causes parents to seek attention by harming their children.
Ashleigh Jennifer Casey, 25, is jailed for second-degree murder in the 2009 death of her newborn son Alexander Casey, who stopped breathing in the home in St. Louis Park where she had been staying. She’s also charged with two counts of felony assault for trying to suffocate her daughter while the baby was a patient at University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital, according to charges filed in Hennepin County District Court.
Doctors became suspicious about the daughter’s health issues and the numerous times Casey brought her to emergency rooms when nothing appeared to be wrong with her. They contacted St. Louis Park police, who reopened the investigation into Alexander’s death, which resulted in the charges.
Although the cause of his death was undetermined in 2009, the complaint said Casey admitted last May that she’d placed a blanket over Alexander’s mouth for “a couple of minutes” until he stopped breathing. She also admitted to a child protection investigator that she may have unconsciously placed her hand over her daughter’s nose and mouth to cause her to stop breathing, and asked about having “the Munchausen thing,” according to a search warrant.
Casey’s case appears to be a textbook example of Munchausen by Proxy, when a caregiver fakes or causes an illness in another person for the attention or sympathy, said Dr. Marc Feldman, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Alabama and the author of “Playing Sick.” Infants and young children are the most common victims in Munchausen by Proxy, he said. Most often, mothers are responsible. In many cases, it isn’t recognized until another child displays the same symptoms.
“Had she not had another child or been able to control herself and never had done it again, the first case would never have been recognized,” he said.
What’s unique, he added, is that Casey confessed. Most mothers afflicted with Munchausen’s remain in denial.
Mom raised suspicion
Charges say St. Louis Park police suspected something was wrong when Casey didn’t seem distraught and checked her text messages while paramedics tried in vain to revive Alexander after he stopped breathing on March 12, 2009. It wasn’t the first time it had happened, she told investigators at the time. He’d been hospitalized for bowel surgery less than a week earlier, and earlier on the day he died she had taken him to the hospital because he had been crying all day.
Casey told investigators she returned home with Alexander that evening and laid him on the bed next to her while she watched TV. She reported her show ended at 9 p.m., which is when she noticed he was no longer breathing, and that she attempted CPR before calling for help. She said Alexander had stopped breathing a couple of weeks before. Casey’s grandmother, a registered nurse, told police that on March 3 she resuscitated the baby boy, while police and paramedics were called. Charges say Alexander’s medical records show doctors found nothing medically wrong with him that would have caused him to quit breathing.
The case was closed when a Hennepin County Medical Examiner could not determine why the baby had died, but it was reopened last May after Casey brought her daughter to the Children’s Hospital, where she was undergoing testing. Charges say Casey called a nurse to the room and said that her daughter wasn’t breathing. A nurse performed CPR and revived her. The baby was sitting up and smiling as she was wheeled to the Intensive Care Unit for monitoring. A suspicious doctor contacted child protection, who then notified St. Louis Park police.
During the interview with an investigator, Casey said the father of her daughter, who is not the father of her son, accused her of having “the Munchausen’s.” Asked why she had done this to her children, charges say Casey said she “wanted them to get more attention from the doctors she had been bringing them to.”
Casey remains in the Hennepin County jail in lieu of $50,000 bail. Her daughter is in the care of child protective services, and Alexander’s death will be reclassified as a homicide.
A 2009 online obituary for Alexander features him looking on from the arms of his smiling parents. Among the online comments are two signed by “Mommy” and “Mom” — one a month after his death, and a second the following June.
“i miss you little buddy! its been almost a month now and i still think of you every day. I LOVE YOU!”