Police have charged the boy's mother, Lisa Smith, 19, and her boyfriend, Keiff King, 26, with aggravated assault, attempted murder and other related charges.
Investigators said the pair repeatedly hit 4-year-old Tahjir Smith about the head and torso with their hands and a shoe after he spilled the cereal in his home on the 1800 block of Lukens Avenue.
According to court documents, Tahjir became unresponsive in the home and went in and out of consciousness. Police said that's when his mother called police and then began to walk down the street with the child.
Officials said around 6:10 p.m. they responded to a report of a respiratory emergency. According to an affidavit, Smith, who is currently pregnant, was found wandering around outside her house with the 4 year old lying nearby. Paramedics arrived to find the boy limp and unresponsive. The boy was taken to Abington Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The Montgomery County Coroner's Office said an autopsy conducted Tuesday revealed that in addition to fresh injuries on the boy's body, "Injuries inflicted from a sustained event," old rib fractures were also discovered. The office is awaiting further test results before determining an official cause of death.
According to Smith's confession, she and King were disciplining the boy for spilling his cereal and made him get into a push-up position. She said they then "laid the boy on the bed with his pants and underwear removed, grabbed a blue Levi's sandal and repeatedly struck him." She said King "punched Tahjir in the back of the head," before putting him in a scalding shower and burning him.
"This senseless death of a 4-year-old boy at the very hands of the adults who are supposed to care for him and keep him safe is a horrible tragedy," said Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele. "This is the face of domestic violence: a preschooler was beaten until he stopped breathing because he spilled his cereal."
Neighbors were shocked and saddened to learn of what had happened.
"I am heartbroken and to know that we live here and we couldn't do anything to protect the child," said neighbor Andrea Wurtzbacher. "Really makes me sick."
Several said they don't really know much about the people who live inside of the home.
"They usually keep to themselves," said neighbor Sam Evans. "They've never really talked to anybody."
Neighbors also said the house is quiet during the day, but there is a lot of activity at night, with people going in and out.
"You see people sporadically come in and out. It's never the same people," said Wurtzbacher.
Both Smith and King were arraigned before Magisterial District Judge John Kessler who set bail for each defendant at $500,000. They did not post bail and were remanded to the Montgomery County Correctional Facility.
A preliminary hearing is tentatively scheduled for January 31.
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