Thursday, April 3
MCCANDLESS, Pa. (AP) — The 6-year-old brother of a boy who drowned in a bathtub has no brain activity and is on life support, according to the prosecutor's office that says their mother caused the injuries by sitting on them.
Laurel Michelle Schlemmer, 40, remained jailed without bond after a short video hearing to address the conditions of her incarceration on criminal homicide and other charges in the death of her 3-year-old son, Luke, and injuries suffered by his 6-year-old brother, Daniel.
Allegheny County district attorney's spokesman Mike Manko confirmed Daniel had no brain activity and was on life support at Pittsburgh hospital, two days after his mother allegedly submerged the boys by force inside their home in suburban McCandless.
Schlemmer didn't speak during the short video conference, where Deputy District Attorney Lisa Pellegrini updated Daniel's medical status. Schlemmer's attorney, Michael Machen, declined to comment after the hearing. The Rev. Dan Hendley, who is acting as the family spokesman, said he wasn't aware of the update on Daniel's medical condition.
Machen got court permission to have Schlemmer evaluated by a psychiatrist hired by her family. She appeared in a special vest that is designed to prevent inmates from tearing off their clothes and is on suicide watch at the jail.
County detectives said Schlemmer told them she tried to drown both boys after her 7-year-old son left for school that day.
Schlemmer told detectives she thought she could be a better mother to her oldest son "if the other two boys weren't around, and they would be better off in heaven," a police complaint said. She also told police she got into the tub, fully clothed, and sat on the boys because "'crazy voices' were telling her to push the boys down into the water." The boys' father, Mark Schlemmer, was at work at the time.
Thursday's hearing occurred as child welfare officials scrutinized the drowning and the family's contact with Allegheny County's Office of Children, Youth and Families.
The county agency first contacted the family last year, after Schlemmer backed her van into the same two boys, according to police and her pastor.
The county office determined that was an accident, Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare Kait Gillis said Thursday.
The county agency is now also required to review Luke's death, Gillis said, and must issue a report within 90 days. But the state is also reviewing whether the county agency might have prevented the drowning.
"We're concurrently running a review, a broader report on what transpired," Gillis said. "Were there gaps in service, were there any regulatory violations, and what can we do to prevent something like this from happening again?"
The van incident occurred last April 16 in the driveway of Laurel Schlemmer's parents in Marshall Township.
Northern Regional Police Chief Robert Amann said in an emailed statement Thursday that his officers did a "complete and thorough investigation" of the van accident, although he acknowledged to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Wednesday that his officers were unable to determine how badly Luke and Daniel were hurt by the van. That happened because the boys were in a Pittsburgh hospital, not a nearby one, he said.
Hendley, the pastor, previously told The Associated Press that Daniel suffered unspecified internal injuries and Luke was unable to walk for a time after being hit by the van. A Pittsburgh hospital alerted police and the county child welfare agency to the boys' injuries.
"Mrs. Schlemmer advised the doctors that she had accidently run over her two children while moving her vehicle at her parents' home in Marshall Township," Amann explained, referring all other questions to the district attorney's office.
Gillis said Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families workers "went to the hospital and did an assessment, but if it's determined to be accidental, there's no further need for investigation."
Gillis could not immediately say whether the broader report state welfare officials are doing will also include whether county caseworkers handled the van incident correctly.
"Obviously, this is a horrible, horrible situation that no family should have to endure," Gillis said.