Sheila and Ryan O'Leary told police their family ate only fruits and vegetables, and the deceased toddler had been fed just breastmilk for a week while teething

By Jeff Truesdell
November 20, 2019 03:14 PM
Sheila and Ryan O’Leary
Lee County Sheriffs Office (2)

The death of an 18-month-old Florida boy from malnutrition has led to his vegan parents being charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child due to neglect.

Paramedics who answered Sheila O’Leary’s 911 call on Sept. 27 about her son not breathing found the toddler and his two siblings, ages 3 and 5, showing the effects of “extreme malnourishment,” said Cape Coral police.

The boy, who weighed 17 pounds, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Sheila, 35, and her husband, Ryan O’Leary, 30 — who told officers their diet comprised only raw fruits and veggies — turned themselves in Nov. 6 after the medical examiner ruled the boy’s cause of death to be complications of malnutrition, including dehydration, affecting the liver and swelling of the child’s hands, feet and lower legs, according to a probable cause statement, reports the Fort Myers News-Press.

“The child’s death, while tragic, was neither purposeful nor neglectful, but accidental, and is listed on the death certificate as such,” attorney John Musca, who is representing Sheila O’Leary, said in a statement to local TV station WFTX. “For that reason, I’m optimistic the evidence will reveal no neglectful causation of death whatsoever.”

A call by PEOPLE to Musca was not immediately returned.

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An attorney for Ryan O’Leary was not identified in records of the Lee County jail, where he and his wife both are being held on a $250,000 bond for the manslaughter charge, as well as  neglect of a child with great bodily harm and neglect of a child without great bodily harm affecting their other two children.

The 18-month old had been “struggling with illness for the past six months, making it difficult for him to eat,” the mother’s attorney posted on his law firm’s website. “The mother said that the little boy began to recuperate, but then started teething, causing him to have new struggles with eating.”

Sheila O’Leary breastfed the toddler hours prior to his death, Musca told reporters. He described his client as “a nurturing parent and a devout Christian,” and said she would plead not guilty.

According to the probable cause statement in the case, Sheila O’Leary told police her son hadn’t eaten in a week and was only being breastfed during that time. Around 4 a.m. he was briefly nursed before exhibiting shallow breathing, but rather than act on her concern and call someone, she and the child fell asleep, she said.

The 911 call followed when she awoke to find the child cold and his breathing stopped.

She told police that her children’s diets consist mainly of mangoes, rambutans, bananas and avocados, and the family only eats fruits and vegetables, according to the probable cause statement, reports the News-Press.

The parents told police the boy was born at home and had never seen a doctor, which Ryan O’Leary said was the parents’ preference.

The 3- and 5-year-old “were immediately removed from the home by the Department of Children and Families for their safety,” said police. When found, those two children appeared pale and yellowish, and one had blackened teeth that required surgery to repair dental decay, said the probable cause statement.

A fourth child found when officers arrived to speak with the parents was identified as Sheila O’Leary’s daughter with a man who lives in another state, where the girl regularly visits and which authorities said accounted for the girl’s healthier appearance.

Jail records show the parents are scheduled to be in court on Dec. 9.