Mom charged in Pa. with salt poisoning infant

July 16, 2008 5:16:29 PM PDT
A Tennessee woman tried to poison her hospitalized infant son by repeatedly injecting salt water into his feeding tube in what she claimed were attempts to hasten the death of a sick and suffering child, police said. But police said the boy's ongoing medical problems appeared to have been caused by his mother, who also told them she was suffering from severe postpartum depression.

Amber Brewington, 21, was charged Wednesday with one count of attempted homicide after telling police she had injected her son with salt water five or six times in Tennessee and Pennsylvania hospitals.

A hospital worker called police late Tuesday after a nurse reported seeing Brewington disconnect the boy's feeding tube. Brewington was taken into custody at the hospital with a pink camouflage backpack that had a large container of Morton salt, two bottles filled with salt water and a plastic syringe, police said.

Her 4-month-old son, Noah King, remained in critical condition with sodium poisoning at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Brewington told police that her son was admitted to a hospital in Columbia, Tenn., in May and was later transferred to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where he suffered unexplained seizures and possible brain damage.

While at the Nashville hospital, Brewington "gave her infant son four to five full syringes of high volume salt water in attempts to speed up his death," police wrote in an affidavit. "Amber felt that she did not wish to see her son suffer."

King was transferred to the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh on July 9. Upon arrival, he had one of the highest recorded levels of sodium, even for an adult, according to the affidavit.

Brewington admitted giving him another syringe of salt water on Sunday, though she denied she was trying to do it again when she was caught by the nurse Tuesday, police said.

Pittsburgh Police Cmdr. Thomas Stangrecki, however, said Wednesday: "We believe last night was another attempt to deliver more salt water or sodium to her child."

Investigators believe Noah King's illnesses were "related to what she's done," Stangrecki said.

"But we have to follow up with all the medical facilities that he's been at ... and try to make that determination of whether he was sick as part of an illness or from ingesting sodium," he said. Stangrecki said the baby's health deteriorated after his mother visited him on Sunday and again on Tuesday night.

Brewington also was charged with aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of a child. She remained in custody Wednesday and she did not appear to have an attorney.

Paula Baker, Brewington's next-door neighbor in Duck River, Tenn., recalled that Noah got sick a few weeks after he was born in March. He was taken to a hospital suffering from dehydration and other related ailments.

"He was a healthy baby, a happy baby and then all of a sudden he got sick," Baker said.

The boy's father has been questioned, but is not suspected of wrongdoing and faces no charges, Stangrecki said. Brewington has two children with him and a third child by another man, Stangrecki said.

Authorities in Hickman County, Tenn., are aware of the case and Brewington's two other children are being cared for by a relative, said Rob Johnson, a spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Children's Services.

Officials at the Pittsburgh hospital called the incident tragic, saying the baby's problem was quickly diagnosed and police immediately notified. "Children's experts are continuing to work closely with police in this ongoing investigation," the hospital said in a statement.

A Vanderbilt University Medical Center spokesman, John Howser, declined to discuss the boy's care in detail. He said the boy was transferred to Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh due to its expertise in dealing with the symptoms he was showing.