Last week, Karen Moore received a phone call about her 4-year-old grandson — a call no one ever wants to get.
“Mom, he’s on life support. He’s not going to make it,” her daughter said, Moore tells PEOPLE.
A 911 call had summoned paramedics to the home of young Benjamin Schmittle in Fort Irwin, California, about 5:30 p.m. June 7. “He was convulsing” when his father and stepmother — who is not Moore’s daughter — made that call, Moore says.
Authorities who found the child unresponsive took him to the base hospital, from which he was airlifted to Loma Linda University Medical Center “due to the severity of his injuries,” the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department said in a news release.
Doctors told Moore the boy’s brain had shifted, there was bruising on his ears and he required emergency surgery to relieve the bleeding from his brain, she says.
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
The next day, June 8, doctors pronounced Benjamin dead. He was preparing to celebrate his fifth birthday next month.
For days, law enforcement officials interviewed family members about how such a tragedy could have happened. During the investigation, “detectives received information that Benjamin’s injuries were not accidental,” according to the sheriff’s office.
On Tuesday, Benjamin’s stepmother was arrested and accused in his death, according to the sheriff’s office and online jail records.
Rose Marie Schmittle, 24, is charged with one count of murder and one count of causing injury to a child resulting in death. She is being held in lieu of $1 million bail.
During her arraignment, she pleaded not guilty, reports the San Bernardino Sun. An attorney who could speak for her was not immediately identified.
The boy’s biological mother, Jacqueline Brockman, lives in North Carolina and traveled across the country to be at her son’s side, Moore says. Brockman shares joint custody with the boy’s father.
Benjamin and Brockman used to text and video chat, but the mother’s access to her son began to lessen after the boy’s father met and married Schmittle, says Moore.
“There’s too many red flags here,” she says. “As a grandmother and mother, I knew instinctively who did this.”
The family agreed to cremate Benjamin and hold burial services at a later date when scattered family could convene. Moore created a GoFundMe page to help with travel expenses.
Before he died, Benjamin’s family donated his heart, kidneys and liver.
“Ben would’ve wanted that,” says Moore. “He was so kind and caring.”