A woman is accused of beating her stepson while he was apparently already near death from an infection.
The boy was only 13 when he died.
News 2 has learned there were signs of possible abuse before his death.
But it was a different abuse case, involving the woman’s husband and one of his other children, that uncovered new information that led to the arrest of the boy’s step-mother.
The abuse allegedly happened at a home on Haynes Drive in Murfreesboro in 2016.
According to court documents, the 13-year old’s step-mother, Emily Hart, 40, is accused of pulling him from a top bunk, dragging and kicking him down a hallway and dropping him in a tub causing him to strike his head while he was near death from an infection to which he would soon succumb.
The teen died two days later, apparently from an infection he may have already had.
News 2 wants to point out, Hart is charged with felony aggravated child abuse, since the boy’s abuse that night may not have played a factor in his death, according to Murfreesboro police.
Neighbors News 2 spoke with Tuesday said they are baffled.
“I’m really shocked to hear this,” neighbor LeAnn Walker said. “I’m really surprised to hear this. You just don’t, you know, if you don’t see people outside, you have no idea what goes on inside.”
The boy’s father Christopher Hart, was also arrested for allegedly abusing one of his other teenage boys in March of this year.
While investigating the father’s case, police received new information that Emily Hart had abused the 13-year old back in 2016.
Police said the couple has a long history of abusing their children.
“The household was not a happy, nurturing environment,” said Murfreesboro Police Ofc. Amy Norville. “The children reported to school staff and officers situations of not being fed and of having severe restrictions of bathroom usage. So, the long-term effects of that are detrimental to a child.”
News 2 has obtained several abuse allegation reports dating back to 2014.
April of that year, one child told his elementary school staff that, “during spring break his father physically slammed him into a brick wall and scraped his hand down the corner of a brick scrapping skin from his hand.”
The boy also told teachers, “his older brother was thrown down on the floor causing scrapes and marks on his back.”
He later told school staff it “was a lie, but it really wasn’t because my dad said if I told you that then he’d stop but he didn’t, he tricked us – he said that he’d never stop until he died.”
Police said investigating child abuse cases, like this, tugs at your hearts.
“It breaks your heart to know a child has been mistreated,” Norville said. “It’s much better to ask for help than to act in anger towards a child who is smaller than you, you physically weaker than you, and a child that depends on you for guidance and care.”
News 2 reached out to the Department of Children Services to see if they ever recommended charges be filed against the couple.
“DCS is not law enforcement, so DCS does not file charges,” said DCS spokesman Rob Johnson. “That’s up to law enforcement and prosecutors. Serious abuse cases are handled through the team approach prescribed by the Child Protection Investigative Teams, as mandated by state law.
DCS officials said they will be following up with authorities.
“I know that our senior staff is reaching out to law enforcement, to follow up and see if there is anything additional needed from DCS, in light of the recent indictment,” Johnson said.
News 2 spoke with Emily Hart by phone, who could not comment.
She said she and her husband are seeking the advice of an attorney.
The couple is free on bond.