Mercer County Child Homeschool Homicide Case Involved Starvation

One of the things that I often see in the homeschool homicide cases I write about is starvation. Starvation is a common tool of child torture. In just about every case on this blog, the children were starved. Erica Parsons was malnourished, underweight and fed dog food. Hana Alemu was underweight, forced to eat outside in the backyard in bad weather, and was given purposely disgusting food which had been altered to make it distasteful. Mary Crocker was starved and also given distasteful food that would be hard to eat, such as food covered in vinegar. When children are starved, they often are also fluid restricted. Denying children water is another torture tactic. The 13 Turpin children were all starved for many years, resulting in growth stunting that was so severe, law enforcement thought a 27-year-old was ten, as well as thinking the other adult children found in the home were minors. Children isolated in homeschools and kept away from other people undergo the worst of starvation cases. Often, no one knows about it until after the child is dead.

Mercer County, Pennsylvania

A recent homeschool homicide case comes out of Mercer County, Pennsylvania, as law enforcement arrested 33-year-old Antonio Juan Gonzalez and 29-year-old Paul Bacorn, a “family friend” who lived on the property, in the death of Antonio’s 14-year-old son. The child, Antonio Juan Gonzalez, Jr., weighed just 70 pounds. The child was found dead on October 24th, 2019, in the family home on the 500 block of District Road in rural Delaware Township, after his father called 911.  The child was not breathing and was unresponsive. EMS pronounced him dead at the scene. The boy was homeschooled, and was taking online classes.

Police reported that the conditions of the home were “squalid” and unsuitable for children. Photographs from the outside of the crime scene show broken windows, debris, and a small, hazardous looking porch with a padlocked refrigerator on it. The refrigerator was padlocked to restrict food access to the children. A four-year-old girl was also living at the house, but was reportedly in good health. She has since been placed in custody of child protective services. The children’s mother has been deceased for many years.

trailer

The squalid home where the body was found. [image of small brown modular home, crooked, not sitting on a solid foundation, with broken window and cheaply constructed wood board porch with junk stacked on it.]

Antonio Jr. died from hypovolemic shock, which occurs when a person loses more than one-fifth of their body fluid and the heart can no longer pump blood throughout the body. He had a skull fracture and a severe injury under his chin. Hypovolemic shock occurred as a result of blunt force trauma, although it is believed that starvation also contributed to his death. Mercer County Coroner John A. Libonati reported that the child was significantly malnourished and his condition exacerbated the affects of the injury he received to his skull. Police observed that Antonio Jr. was noticeably underweight, with protruding cheekbones and visible joints, and had “significant bruising”. The Coroner said it is the worst case he has seen in 36 years.

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Mercer County Coroner John Libonati  [image of man in brown suit, with brown dotted tie and glasses]

Antonio Gonzalez Sr. and Paul Bacorn have both been charged with criminal homicide, child abuse, aggravated assault, endangering the welfare of a child, concealing the death of a child, assault, reckless endangerment, tampering with evidence and conspiracy to commit the crimes. They are both being held without bail in the Mercer County jail.

From WKBN27 News: “He appeared to be of normal height. He was about 70 pounds. He was emaciated,” said Mercer County District Attorney Pete Acker. “Looked like a concentration camp victim. You could count every one of his ribs. They were protruding and his legs were like pencils.”

When initially asked about what happened, Antonio Sr. gave police a few different stories, first saying the boy had fallen and hit his head that day, after going outside on a break from online classes. He later changed his story to say that the boy had hit his head the night before. Antonio said he tried to revive his son by pouring a bucket of water on him, but his son was unresponsive. Two hours after pouring the water on him, Antonio said that his son was breathing, but still unresponsive. He delayed calling 911 for hours after his son was rendered unconscious. By the time EMS arrived, the child was dead.  Bacorn and Gonzalez were arrested at the scene.

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Juan Gonzalez, left, and Paul Bacorn, right; mugshot, in orange prison outfits

Once in custody, Gonzalez and Bacorn admitted to police that they abused Antonio Jr. quite frequently, including making him stand with his arms in the air for hours, denying him food for days in a row, spraying him with cold water from the garden hose (cold water baths are a common child torture method), and physically abusing him. A preliminary arraignment in Common Pleas Court will occur on February 11th, 2020, in which both men will appear. I will keep readers updated on this case by adding to this blog.

Patterns

Starvation that is so severe it results in death, where the victim looked like “a concentration camp victim” can only occur if the victim has been kept away from others and isolated for a significant amount of time. While there are certainly cases of hungry children going to public school and not being noticed, the most severe starvation cases occur in homeschools. If the child in the above case had been allowed to be around other people at all, someone would have noticed that he was severally emaciated. According to Gonzalez Sr., he could not stand on his own. He was also visibly bruised. Since he was homeschooled and isolated in a rural area with no one around, there was no one to notice he was abused and starving, and no one to make a report to police or child protective services.

Pennsylvania does have more stringent requirements for homeschool than many other states, but this child was still able to go unnoticed for some time, and it is hard to believe that he was passing standardized tests or anything else that the state required. Antonio Sr. would log his son into school so it would appear he was online. There was no oversight by the state to make sure Antonio was in good health and actually being educated.

It is also unclear how long Antonio Jr. was homeschooled for, if he had ever been in public school, and how long he was starved for. Since he was of a typical height for his age, he did not undergo growth stunting. It is likely that the starvation occurred in more recent years. Adolescent children often become victims of escalating abuse, which is so severe it results in homicide. In this blog, all of the homicide victims I have written about were adolescents.

As for the role of disability, when children are subjected to starvation, neglect, and abuse, it can cause disabilities. This type of severe treatment can lead to lifelong physical, emotional, and intellectual disabilities and also psychiatric disabilities, if a child survives the situation and is able to grow up. Starvation and neglect have different affects on children of different ages. If very young children are subjected to starvation, their development is severally delayed. If growth stunting occurs, it can never be reversed. Starving and abusing a child will also seriously interfere with their capacity to be educated. If a very young child is starving, they will not be ready for school at all. When someone like the child in the above case is starved later in life, they will not be able to focus on school, either.

There are many cases of homeschool related starvation that come across my desk every month. It is a common tool of torture. This is just one of many. It is another reason for better regulation and requirements around homeschool, and also for understanding homeschool as a disability issue in more ways than one. Children who are born with a disability are victimized, and victimization creates disability. In many cases, a child is disabled, and the torture exacerbates existing disability and also creates more disability, none of which are being treated in these homeschool cases, which leads to a heightened level of suffering. If the child is rescued from the home, they are going to need disability supports and services. For the child in the above case, he never got to grow up. This case needs to cause a spotlight to be turned on Pennsylvania homeschool law, and to advance understanding of the types of abuse that occur in a homeschool torture situation.