Bradley and Kimberly Fahrenkrug said their son refused to eat. But that’s not what the doctors saw.
As WBAY News reports, the couple from Wrightstown, Wisconsin, claimed that when their adopted son first arrived, he would overeat and then get sick. This was just part of the explanation for why the five-year-old was admitted to the hospital weighing only 29 pounds.Screenshot/WBAY News
The Fahrenkrugs told authorities that the boy had multiple behavioral and health issues; that he refused to eat; that he threw temper tantrums; and that he would injure himself and needed to wear a helmet.
They also said the boy’s food was carefully portioned to keep him from getting sick.
According to Fox 11 News, Bradley told investigators they weren’t trying to starve their child, but just rationing the food for his own good:
“I guess I don’t want to say that Kim and I began to withhold food away from [the child] but we began to portion it out so that he would not get sick. We did not want him to gag which is what he would do when he would overeat.”
Doctors, however, found that the child was dangerously malnourished and showed signs of starvation.
According to NBC 26 News, the boy told investigators he had recently been put on a diet of soup, which he disliked and avoided eating. His parents would then save the soup and force him to eat it for the next meal.
Sgt. Dave Poteat of the Brown County Sheriff’s Office told WBAY:
“It seemed like, basically, every meal it was this soup, until you eat it. And he was refusing to eat the soup.”
The boy’s siblings told authorities that he was required to do laps in the home while wearing a weighted backpack and flippers. But the parents claimed this was supposed to help straighten out the child’s legs and feet.
He was also made to sleep swaddled in a crib — which his parents say was to prevent him from falling out of bed or otherwise hurt himself.
Neither of the couple’s two biological children was given the same treatment.
After the Fahrenkrugs brought the child to the hospital for failure to thrive, investigators began looking into the boy’s living conditions and the parents’ claims. As Sgt. Poteat told WBAY, police quickly decided they weren’t looking at a child with problems, but rather a child who was being abused:
“As we looked into it, it did not seem like this was actually legitimate claims of the behavior problems and all this treatment or whatever you want to call it, being placed upon this child. This was, plain and simple, it was mental and physical abuse and torture.”
“The things they required this child to do. They were starving him, forced exercise and making it more difficult. Five years old, being locked into a crib basically, locked in the room and weights placed upon them. This is just, you can’t even imagine this stuff happening and then, here you sit it and you’re getting this information and going, this can’t be right. But, yet, it is.”
Even while the boy was in the hospital, his mother and father continued to try to control his food intake. Kimberly reportedly told medical staff to ignore his demands for food, declared that he was not allowed to enjoy television or other “fun activities” at the hospital, and suggested the boy was trying to have a “vacation.”
According to Fox 11, Bradley agreed with his wife that the child was manipulating hospital staff into feeding him. He reportedly told police:
“I believe that he may be manipulating the nurses now to get more food. He is really smart. I am not worried about him getting extra food now, I am worried about his behavior.”
Doctors and nurses, however, saw none of the claimed fits or behavior problems. Rather than refuse food, the boy gained six pounds while at the hospital. He contradicted his mother’s claim that eating too much gives him a stomach ache and pointed out that his siblings were allowed to eat more.
According to WBAY, doctors found that Kimberly had been “over-medicalizing and fictionalizing issues” for the child. The criminal complaint states that the child has no food or digestive problems other than starvation:
“There has been no documented medical reason for [the boy] to lose weight if being fed appropriately. Laboratory testing performed on [the boy] during his admission did show evidence of refeeding syndrome which occurs in malnourished individuals.”
The boy has since been placed in foster care, where he is doing well. His foster parents report that he has gained weight, doesn’t refuse food, and hasn’t had any tantrums. Authorities point to the fact that he is now thriving as further evidence of his adoptive parents’ abuse.
Sgt. Poteat told WBAY:
“None of the issues that were reported by the parents are being observed. So I think that’s pretty good evidence, in and of itself, that the conditions weren’t actually there and the treatment was abuse.”
The Fahrenkrugs have been charged with child neglect resulting in great bodily harm, false imprisonment, mental harm to a child, first-degree recklessly endangering safety, and first-degree reckless injury.