Lauren Michelle McConniel, 5, March 9, 2010, Huntington, Huntington County, Indiana
Ryan McConniel and Amber Huggins married in 2000 and lived in Indiana. They had two daughters together, one of them, Lauren who was born on October 3, 2004. The couple separated in 2006 and Amber moved with the children to Tennessee, and later, Ryan moved to Arkansas. They were divorced in 2007, and Ryan got custody of both children, with Amber being required to pay child support. In 2007 Ryan remarried Brittany, a certified nursing assistant who had a one-year-old son. Lauren went to stay with Ryan and Brittany from December 2007 until June 2008.
On December 27, 2008, Amber picked up her children at a gas statio in Arkansas, when she noticed that Lauren had bruises along her forehead and a couple on her cheek. The next morning she noticed that Lauren had additional bruising on her arm, her leg and her lower back, and that Lauren was no more withdrawn. She began peeing in her pants. Amber called child protective services. When Ryan confronted her, Amber admitted to calling them, and he then asked Amber for her to permanently take Lauren. A couple weeks later, Lauren was back to being potty trained.
Ryan and Brittany moved out to Indiana in March 2009 and stayed with her uncle Tony Rice, Robert Lee, Angela Lee, Samra Lee and Tony's children. Brittany had notified Ryan that her uncle Tony had molested her as a child. Months later, they moved to Farmland Indiana. Brittany then questioned Ryan on why he didn't have Lauren and why Lauren's mother was taking care of her.
Brittany decided one day to call 911 and randomly ask them to do a welfare check on Amber's residence for a check on Lauren, saying that Ryan was the custodial parent and that Amber refused to give the child back, which was all of course a fully fabricated story from Brittany. What she really wanted was the child support money from Amber.
August 20, 2009 Ryan and Brittany drove to Tennessee with custody order in hand, met with the police, drove to Amber's house and took Lauren without notification to Amber. Soon after, Ryan took his family and moved to Muncie, Indiana, which Amber remained unaware. He began to refuse any contact between the children and Amber. Amber warned him she would attempt to seek contempt charges if he didn't let her speak to both of her daughters.
Amber received a call from a restricted number and was able to speak to both of her daughters. The call lasted just over eight minutes, when Brittany was heard saying 'you'ved talked long enough' and heard a click.
By this point, Ryan was working in Muncie day time driving a minivan to work but took public transportation if Brittany needed the vehicle, even though Brittany was unemployed.
November 19, 2009 Brittany took Lauren to the emergency room for a 'red and painful eye'. Lauren by now had weighed 38 pounds and nothing wrong with her vital signs. She was given an antibiotic eye drops and Benadryl to easy discomfort. The physician did NOT indicate that the Benadryl could be used every night to assist with Lauren's sleep.Lauren did not have other physical problems and did not note any mental issues.
December 2009, it was reported that Lauren began calling people a 'f*** b**** and smearing 'poop on stuff' like refrigerators, televisions and floors. Lauren began seeing 'little blue bunnies that told her to do bad things'.
De3cember 8, 2009 Brittany took Laureen back to the emergency room stating that Lauren jumped off the bed and injured a finger on her right hand. The x-ray showed that she suffered a buckle fracture of her middle finger and that she had additional fractures in four other fingers on her right hand.
Mid December 2009, Brittany, Ryan, Robert and Angela took both of the girls to a church Christmas party, but when they got there, Lauren refused to exit the minivan and repeatedly said 'f*** b****'. Ryan asked the pastor for help, but when the pastor went to the minivan he witnessed Lauren rocking back and forth physically in her car seat repeatedly saying 'f*** b****' for about five minutes. He told them he felt that Lauren needed a child psychologist right away. Robert eventually took Lauren inside the church to the party. The pastor reported later that Lauren 'stood off to the side' and just stared, not interacting with other children, seemingly pale and frail.
Ryan observed Lauren abused several times. He watched her being hit by Brittany and Robert on her palms and on the bottom of her feet with a wooden stick. Lauren was first hit on the back of the hands, but then Robert said to hit her on the palms so as not to break the bones on the back of her hands. The stick was made from two wooden side railing pieces of a baby crib that were taped together. Ryan considered the hitting of Lauren to be abusive and argued with Brittany. At some point, Ryan said he took the stick and threw it out, but Brittany made another one. When Ryan asked her why she hit Lauren that way, Brittany said that is the only way she will feel pain. Lauren was then forced to do jumping jacks for about fie to ten minutes while Brittany or Robert kept track of the time. Lauren was forced to jump until she vomited. If she tried to quit, they would make her to start over. At one point she was forced to jump for fifty minutes. While jumping, Lauren would cry and ask to stop, with Brittany tapping the stick and telling Lauren not to stop.
Several times a night, Brittany forced Lauren to hold heavy objects such as a heavy book or canned goods out to her sides or in front of her for sixty to seventy seconds while Brittany would counth. If she stopped or dropped the object, she had to start over. When Ryan confronted her, she said Lauren needs to start being good 'or I'll break her'.
Lauren was hit with wet rags or hand towels on the back of her legs by Brittany and Robert, and when confronted by Ryan, she said she saw it on the show 'Criminal Minds' and it wouldn't leave any bruising. Brittany told Ryan that if Ryan told, she would take his children away from him and he would never see them again, because she had something Amber wanted (which was Lauren).
Brittany would force feed Lauren by making her stand in front of her and eat. Lauren would get sick and vomit, but when she did vomit, Brittany hit the bottom of Lauren's feet with the stick and forced her to do jumping jacks again, causing Lauren to vomit again. Each night, Brittany forced her to take Benadryl 'to sleep'.
Ryan came home from work to find Lauren with a hand full of feces as she attemted to wipe it on him, and the other children. Brittany said she needed the minivan to take Lauren to the Doctor.
January 2010 Ryan began attending classes and would come home later, and the children were already in bed. Near the end of January, Amber went from Tennessee to Indiana attempting to locate her daughters, only to find the address she had was empty. Ryan's uncle Ronald began to observe that Lauren's health was deteriorated and her demeanor had changed between December 2009 to January 2010. He noticed she began to swear and her behavior changed, and lost weight, and was only getting worse. By this time Ronald noticed Lauren was staying in the basement on a mattress and would not come upstairs. She wasn't allowed. Brittany told Ryan that Lauren had mental issues and took Lauren to a therapist.
February 4, 2010, Ryan and Brittany took Lauren to an urgent care clinic with a complaint of pain when she urinated, stating that her 'vaginal area doesn't look normal', apparently believing that Lauren may be a hermaphrodite. She had been potty trained and was no back in diapers. Lauren did not in fact have a urinary tract infection, and nothing indicated anything other than Lauren being a normal female. After the exam, however, Lauren 'retracted into a defensive position, curled up her armes, moved to the top of the examination table, and began to hit herself in the forehead with her fists.
When Lauren met with the primary physician, she went with Brittany and presented herself as Lauren's primary caregiver, saying that Lauren was not eating or sleeping well, smearing feces on things, seeing little blue rabbits which told her to do bad things, not interact with anyone, and stand for hours and not move, eating things out of the trash. She said Lauren hid a knife or sharp object under her mattress and threatened to hurt someone with the knife. She said Lauren exhibited sexual behavior and would 'stick a Barbie doll way up inside her'. She expressed the only persons living in the residence was Ryan, Brittany, and the kids, failing to mention the other adults Robert and Angela that lived there also. Brittany said that Lauren's mother abused Lauren in Tennessee.
That office contacted CPS in Tennessee and Indiana. Brittany, however, only told Ryan that the doctor said not to worry about it.
Sometime after Christmas Day in 2009, Linda Smith, Robert's mother visited the family in Muncie Indian. She saw what was happening with Lauren, and Brittany gave reason after reason, all untrue. She couldn't get in the basement where Lauren would stay, and noticed that Lauren was drastically treated differently then the other children in the house.
When Lauren met with a doctor, she was reserved, quiet, very unhappy and showed no emotion whatsoever. Lauren was miserable. The next appointment was only a week later, and Laureen looked worse with dark circles under her eyes and looked pale, 'exhausted, and frail, and fragile' like a child that wasn't eating or sleeping. The doctor said there may be a need to admit Lauren into a hospital because her health seemed to be deteriorating.
March 2, 2010 that same doctor called Brittany to direct her on referring Lauren to a pediatrician. CPS in Indiana contacted the police to schedule an interview with Lauren and her sister for March 3, CPS in Tennessee intended to conduct an investigation in to previous abuse allegations. When they called the residence, Angela answered and was given the information regarding the interview. On the same day, Brittany called Ryan and said that Lauren had fallen at the dentist office and was going to have a black eye. She insisted no one hit Lauren. Brittany called Ryan again that day saying that she had to take Lauren to the hospital because Lauren was holding her head and 'was screaming of a headache.' Ryan told her to bring Lauren to his work. When they got there, Lauren was screaming and he called an ambulance to take her directly to the hospital. Brittany went in the ambulance with Lauren and Ryan drove their vehicle to the hospital. One of the paramedics noted that Lauren appeared emaciated and was 'all skin and bones'. Lauren had an abrasion by her left eye and some bruising of the bridge of her nose and below her left eye. The bruises were not 'as fresh as what it should have been for a fall earlier that day'. Brittany explained that Lauren hits herself when she becomes angry.
At the hospital, the nurse also noted that Lauren appeared 'awful' and 'looked severly emaciated and pale'. Lauren's ribs and small wrists were something she explained has having 'never seen anything like it'. The bruises under her eye, lower legs and arms were old bruises, her lips were cracked and her hair was thin.
Both the paramedic and the nurse saw that there was no connection or emotional comfort by Brittany toward Lauren. They were discharged, and Ryan went back to work. About two hours later, Brittany called him again and said that Lauren was doing worse and was suffering a mental breakdown. They went to a psychiatric hospital but they were rerouted to the Riley Children's Hospital because her condition was a medical one not a mental one.
March 3, 2010 about 12:55 a.m. they arrived at the emergency room. She was malnourished and emaciated, dehydrated and extremely lethargic, weighing just 28 pounds. Her bones, ribs, and clavicle were pressing against her skin, her cheekbones were prominent and had little to no subcutaneous fat under her skin. Lauren cried with no tears, the mucus membranes in her mouth were dry and the capillary refill on the tips of her fingers were delayed, showing dehydration. She had multiple bruises on her face and extremities and a laceration to her thigh. Her sodium levels were extremely high. She had severe dehydration and hypernatremia. She was seizing and was unresponsive. She was put on a ventilator with bruises covering her body at various healing stages. Lauren was very ill and very close to death.
When asked about Lauren's capability of having access to table salt, they said she was unable to have access to it.
A relative of Ryan called Amber to alert her of Lauren being in the hospital. Amber drove out there with her husband and mother. Her hair was chopped off. Her foot was black. Her hands were swollen. Amber stayed with Lauren in her room by themselves until Lauren died.
March 4, 2010 Lauren was nonresponsive and developed multi-organ failure, and was likely brain dead.
A nurse observed Brittany and the family laughing, talking and interacting which was different than how they acted near Lauren's room minutes earlier. Ryan overheard Brittany say to Robert 'they don't have nothing. They can't prove anything'.
A subsequent search of McConniel's residence uncovered two partially-filled twenty-six ounce containers of salt, one full container of salt, and a large glass jar with holes poked in the top lid that contained salt.
The autopsy showed Lauren's cause of death as undetermined. Her death was caused by complications of hypernatremia, or high sodium and 'non-organic failure to thrive' or malnourishment as the contributing cause. The coroner believed that Lauren's malnourishment and malabsorption, the fact that she was not adequately taking in fluid and was eating poorly, contributed to Lauren's death and could have caused Lauren's salt level in her blood to rise.
June 11, 2010 Brittany was charged with neglect of a dependent resulting in death.
Lauren's father Ryan received a plea agreement where he pleaded guilty to neglect of a dependent, and was to aid in the investigation and prosecution of the others responsible in Lauren's death, including Brittany, Robert, Angela and Samra. He testified against Brittany and she was found guilty and sentenced to 50 years in prison.
Robert E Lee, Brittany's stepfather also living in the home at the time of Lauren's death was charged with Aiding, inducing or causing child abuse, three assault charges and a failure to immediately report child abuse. He was sentenced to 40 years.
Angela Rice Lee was sentenced to 30 years, and was denied a sentence reduction. Angela is Brittany's mother.
Lauren was buried at the Gardens of Memory in Huntington, Indiana.
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