SURRY COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — Warrants are painting a clearer picture of the events that led up to the death of a young child in Surry County.
Four-year-old Skyler Wilson died at Brenner Children’s Hospital in Winston-Salem on Jan. 9, days after he was admitted. His adoptive parents Joseph and Jodi Wilson were arrested on Friday and are scheduled to be back in court on Feb. 2. Warrants show that doctors said Skyler died of hypoxic brain injury.
Joseph Wilson told a doctor that his wife texted him at about 5:30 p.m. and said that “something had happened” with Skyler being swaddled and that something was wrong with his arms, the warrant said. Wilson refers to “swaddling” as a parenting technique learned from a woman named “Nancy Thomas.”
He also told the doctor that they put Skyler to bed at about 6:45 p.m. in a “wagon” that was Skyler’s bed. They said that a little while later they heard him “wiggling” around. When they tried to move him, Skyler fell over and Joseph Wilson placed Skyler on the couch, where he was “rigid and semi-responsive.”
Warrants said that they tried to give the boy some water and that he took a few sips before refusing.
“Joseph and Jodi then attempted to pour the water in Skyler’s mouth,” the documents state.
Joseph Wilson then called 911 and said a 4-year-old was having a seizure. The call came into Surry County Communications at 8:19 p.m., and a female can be heard in the background saying “it’s my fault,” according to the warrants.
Surry County EMS found Skyler unresponsive and not breathing on his own, and he was taken to the hospital.
The day after Skyler was taken to the hospital, the Surry County Sheriff’s Office was contacted by the state Department of Social Services and it was explained that Skyler had a hypoxic brain injury, which happens when oxygen to the brain is restricted.
A doctor who had previously spoken with Joseph Wilson explained that Skyler’s brain injuries were consistent with “too much restriction” used during a “swaddling” technique.
Authorities executed a search warrant at the home on Rosecrest Drive in Mount Airy. While in the home, they observed “wrist and ankle support strap/braces,” but those items were not seized. Investigators also noticed cameras in a tote in the basement of the home; they were photographed but not seized during the search.
An SBI agent and a detective with Surry County Sheriff’s Office interviewed Joseph Wilson, who told them that the wrist and ankle straps were used to “restrain” Skyler during the “swaddling” process.”
Wilson also said that sometime during or after the “incident” with Skyler, he believed that Jodi took the cameras down and that there had been SD cards in them; officials did not find the SD cards.
The two detectives searched the Rosecrest Drive home a second time, looking specifically for the SD cards in the cameras. The following items were taken from the home during the search:
- Three white surveillance-type cameras
- Mueller sport wraps
- Handwritten documents
- USB drives
- SD card from Wii
- Notebooks & binder
- Cameras containing SD cards
- 3 tablets from playroom
- Dell Optiplex 7020 tower with power cord
- Hitachi laptop
Joseph and Jodi Wilson were charged in Skyler Wilson’s death and taken into custody with no bond. Their three biological children and an adopted child were taken into custody by social services, where they remain.
The SBI is assisting the sheriff’s office with the investigation, which is ongoing.
Neighbors, family react
Skyler’s former foster mother described him as a social butterfly with a big heart.
“He was so tiny and small but had a heart three times bigger than he was,” she said. “I want to love unconditionally and remember his smile and the little things.”
Community members were shocked by the news, with neighbors expressing their grief over no longer hearing the children playing in the yard. Local business owners said that Wilson’s business, Affordable Wellness, closed before his arrest, and said they didn’t even know the Wilsons had adopted children before the news broke.
What is swaddling?
Swaddling is a technique used to comfort and help babies sleep. It involves wrapping a blanket snugly around a baby’s body. It has been correlated to an increased likelihood of SIDS deaths and is not encouraged for an infant that is old enough to roll over on its own.
Nancy Thomas describes herself as a “Professional Therapeutic Parent” on her website.
“Nancy Thomas is not a doctor, psychiatrist or therapist. She is an amazing mom who has, through years of search, study and experience, found solutions to parenting challenging children,” the site reads.
When reached for comment on the death of Skyler Wilson, she provided the following response:
“I am shocked and saddened to hear the sad news of this little one passing away. Since I have no knowledge of the incident, I am unable to give a comment. I am willing to assist law enforcement if they have any questions.”
Her “therapies” were highlighted in the HBO documentary “Child of Rage” following her experiences with her daughter, Beth Thomas.
Thomas advocates for “attachment therapy” as a treatment for “reactive attachment disorder,” w which the Mayo Clinic describes as “a rare but serious condition in which an infant or young child doesn’t establish healthy attachments with parents or caregivers. Reactive attachment disorder may develop if the child’s basic needs for comfort, affection and nurturing aren’t met and loving, caring, stable attachments with others are not established.”
The rare disorder primarily impacts infants and toddlers, who will show symptoms like listlessness, not seeking comfort or unexplained withdrawal.
On her website, Thomas describes a child experiencing RAD like this:
“Everyone becomes the enemy. They learn to manipulate and use and abuse people to get what they want. The true child may never have been seen by anyone except the mother figure they unleash their deep-seated rage on.”
Attachment-based therapy is described in Psychology Today as looking “at the connection between an infant’s early attachment experiences with primary caregivers, usually with parents, and the infant’s ability to develop normally and ultimately form healthy emotional and physical relationships as an adult.”
PsychologyToday also notes: “Attachment-based therapy as described here should not be confused with unconventional, unproven, and potentially harmful treatments referred to as “attachment therapy” that involve physical manipulation, restraint, deprivation, boot camp–like activities, or physical discomfort of any kind. These so-called “attachment therapies” were developed in the 1970s as interventions for children with behavioral challenges, particularly those with autism; they have since been investigated and rejected by mainstream psychology and medicine.”
This “attachment therapy” that Thomas is a proponent of involves “holding therapy,” a technique in which a person or sometimes multiple people forcibly restrain a child.
Thomas’s parenting advice was also at the center of the 2015 case of an Arkansas state representative who adopted and then gave up sisters with serious behavioral issues, at one point accusing the girls of being possessed.
The Daily Beast wrote that the treatments popularized by this so-called attachment therapy “revolve around asserting parents’ absolute control over their children, through strict regulations on children’s movements and eating habits. Sometimes children are put on extremely limited diets of bland, unappetizing food; assigned hours of pointless, repetitive chores; forced to sit in one location, facing the wall, for hours at a time; and endure “holding therapy,” wherein children may be forcibly held down by parents or therapists to induce first a feeling of rage and powerlessness, then catharsis and acceptance when they finally submit.”
In 2000, 10-year-old Candace Newmaker died under the care of attachment “therapists” in Colorado, and two unlicensed therapists were found guilty in her death.
Newmaker died after she was “wrapped in a blanket meant to represent a womb, the little girl was sat on by four adults until she could no longer breathe,” during a process called ‘rebirthing’ according to a Guardian article published at the time.