Felony child abuse charges filed after boy found beaten, starved
December 14, 2023
RIVERTON — When law enforcement officials found the 13-year-old boy, his back reportedly had multiple healing fractures, his nose was broken, and he’d lost around 10 pounds, among other serious injuries.
Nearly his entire face was bruised and swollen, and he had bruises and lacerations across his body, according to federal charges filed last week.
The criminal affidavit alleges Truman Sittingeagle and Kandace Van Fleet starved, beat and locked the boy in a room for more than a month – punishment after he took some food to his room.
The couple have been charged with felony assault resulting in serious bodily injury and felony aggravated child abuse. They face up to life imprisonment and a $250,000 fine for each charge.
The investigation began when Arapahoe School Resource Officer Matt Lee attempted to locate the boy, who had been absent from school for about a month. He’d been to the boy’s home several times to check on him, but hadn’t been able to locate the victim.
On December 12, Lee wasn’t taking no for an answer, and when Sittingeagle again said the boy was not there, Lee demanded to see him.
According to the affidavit, the child had been hiding in a crawlspace under the residence, and when he emerged, Lee observed “significant bruising and swelling about [the victim’s] face,” state court documents.
The boy was transported by ambulance to SageWest in Riverton, then via air ambulance to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. FBI Special Agent Scott Jensen spoke with him before he departed for Salt Lake City.
“I saw that almost his entire face was bruised and swollen. I observed bruising on his ear, arms, chest, and back,” Jensen swore in a statement detailing the investigation. “He had lacerations on his fingers, face, ear and scalp. [The victim] moved very slowly and said that he was in pain and that his legs hurt and were also bruised … I heard [the victim] tell the treating nurse that he was very hungry.”
According to the affidavit, the boy had only eaten a sandwich, along with some chips on the way to the hospital, in the last several days.
In an interview, he told investigators that he had taken food into his bedroom, and Sittingeagle and Van Fleet had complained it was causing a problem with mice. The charging documents allege they first attempted to tie his bedroom door closed, but when he was able to escape at night, they put a lock on his door and screwed the window shut so he couldn’t get out.
The boy had been locked in the room for about two weeks; he hoped the couple would let him out for Thanksgiving, the affidavit alleges; they did not.
“When he was being kept in his room, [the victim] lost track of time and things became ‘foggy,’” the complaint describes. “[The victim] felt trapped like an animal. At some point he heard [Van Fleet] yell at him through the wall saying he had been in there for over a month and wouldn’t he like to be out having fun with the family. Sometimes they would give him food, usually leftovers.”
The child told investigators that when Sittingeagle and Van Fleet found food or wrappers in his room, they would hit him; one day, Sittingeagle put a “choke hold” on the victim, “causing him to go to sleep,” and this happened several times, according to the complaint.
The boy told investigators this made him feel like spaghetti and “‘numb.’ It gave him a ‘tingling feeling in [his] head,’” the affidavit alleges.
The boy also recounted Van Fleet hitting him with a stick and kneeing him between the legs. He said that a few days prior, Sittingeagle hit him with a stick, causing his hands to swell up like balloons, according to the criminal complaint.
A doctor at the Salt Lake City hospital outlined the victim’s injuries, including a fractured right nasal bone and healing lumbar fractures in his spine, among other serious injuries.
Several other children in the home told law enforcement officials they had observed the abuse, according to the affidavit: sometimes the couple would hurt the boy so badly he couldn’t walk. Sometimes they wouldn’t allow him food, and the victim would scream when Sittingeagle and Van Fleet would beat him, the children said.
This story was published on December 20, 2023.