FF12: Mystery remains in toddler’s death

Updated: Jun. 3, 2021 at 10:00 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - A two year old, found dead on the couch in the home of his soon-to-be adoptive parents and a strange chemical smell coming from his mouth is noted by emergency room nurses. The boy’s biological mother wants to know what went wrong, so she reached out to Factfinder 12 for answers.

William Lemens was just two years old when he died. His mother says he was a happy, fun little guy. He was born into challenges though. His mom says after she overdosed and wound up in the hospital, the state stepped in. William’s father was in prison at the time, and his mother agreed the best thing for him was to hand over custody.

Before long, the father’s family agreed to adopt the toddler. It was a process that wasn’t even complete when the worst that could happen did. According to the Kansas Department for Children and Families and an autopsy report, William’s foster parents laid him down for a nap on the couch and covered him with a weighted blanket. Thirty minutes later he was found not breathing, with his face facing the back of the couch.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Priya Banerjee is not connected to this case but agreed to review the original autopsy findings, which found the cause of death to be undetermined. She says, there’s no way of knowing for sure is William suffocated or if the weighted blanket played any role in his death.

“Being against the sofa, could he have had a suffocation type event? It’s quite possible,” Dr. Banerjee explained. “When we do an autopsy. The first and foremost thing is to rule out trauma. There’s absolutely no signs of trauma in this baby or this child.”

Though, there are some findings that William’s mother finds odd or, at the very least, confusing. Emergency room staff noted a “sweet/sour chemical” smell coming from William’s mouth. Dr. Banerjee says that clearly dictated some of the testing ordered by the pathologist who conducted the autopsy.

“We associate that sometimes with diabetes that’s undiagnosed. It causes a sweet smell if the sugars in your blood can’t be metabolized like diabetes, or sometimes with antifreeze poisoning,” Dr. Banerjee said.

Tests ordered by the original pathologist show William did not have diabetes. The doctor also ordered a test looking for antifreeze or other drugs that may have been present in William’s system. No antifreeze or drugs were found.

Another finding by the original examiner stood out to William’s mom. “Crystalline structures” were found on the toddler’s lung tissue, but Dr. Banerjee says it’s not necessarily unusual. Whatever those structures are, the doctor says they weren’t there when William was still alive. She believes something used during the testing process deposited the crystalline structures onto the lung tissue being examined because had they been there prior to William’s death the tissue would have shown some sort of reaction to the foreign structures. No reaction was noted in the autopsy.

“I can say with certainty based on everything that’s available to me for review and the testing provided. I don’t see any criminal activity related to his death. Now what causes death, I cannot be more specific,” Dr. Banerjee said.

Medically, the doctor says, there is no indication that anything about William’s death is criminal. Never-the-less, an investigation is underway. Department of Children and Families Deputy Secretary, Tanya Keys says that’s protocol.

“The Kansas State Child Death Review Board reviews all deaths,” Keys said. “If abuse or neglect is suspected, or perhaps unknown and not discovered yet, we’re required to do a joint investigation with law enforcement.”

Keys could not speak to William’s case specifically, but says all deaths are investigated in tandem with law enforcement. In a statement to Factfinder 12, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation says their investigation is ongoing and will be presented to a prosecutor for a decision soon.

William’s foster family that was in the process of adopting him did not respond to messages left by Factfinder 12. This Factfinder 12 investigation came at the request of William’s birth mother, who just wanted someone else to look at the case and help her find answers. She says she has been able to find some closure in Dr. Banerjee’s findings during her review of the case.

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