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Woman whose 4-year-old son starved to death ‘genuinely believed’ things would improve

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Woman whose 4-year-old son starved to death ‘genuinely believed’ things would improve


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Estranged from her family, not wanting to bother neighbors and unwilling to contact social services after losing her income, court documents say Mercedes Ferguson told police she and her son lied around her Elsmere-area apartment starving.

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This went on for weeks, until the 4-year-old boy began spitting up a brown-like substance in the early hours of Aug. 18, according to court documents obtained by Delaware Online/The News Journal. The child, who she had doted over previously, died later that morning.

When a New Castle County Police investigator asked her if she had concerns that her son hadn’t been eating, court documents claim the 31-year-old woman “genuinely believed she could turn things around.”

“Mercedes stated she never thought things would go this far or get this bad,” the police detective said in court documents. “Mercedes advised she believed the child was fine until he began throwing up the brown-like substance.”

Police did not disclose the child’s name.

Despite medical providers and others previously making her aware of resources available to her and her son, court documents indicate Ferguson did not attempt to seek any help. Furthermore, when an investigator asked the woman if she considered a homeless shelter or going to the hospital, she told the detective that with no cellphone service she was unable to search things, adding she believed hospitals and 911 were for emergencies only.

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Ferguson now faces a charge of first-degree murder by abuse or neglect — a felony charge that carries a sentence of life in prison. Ferguson, whose preliminary hearing is scheduled for Tuesday morning, remains at Delores J. Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution after failing to pay a $1 million cash bail.

Once a ‘doting parent’

There was a time Ferguson had been viewed as a devoted mother.

Her son was a picky eater, staff at his preschool told police investigators, but noted Ferguson seemed over accommodating and described her as a “doting parent who often pacified her son’s needs.”

The only concern staff had, was that he had a developmental delay, specifically with his speech. But other than that, staff told investigators they had no concerns for his hygiene or nutrition and did not see any social issues in the well-groomed boy.

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No concerns were relayed to investigators by staff at Nemours Children’s Hospital, Delaware, where the boy had been treated for sickle cell anemia — a genetic disorder that attacks red blood cells, causing them to break down prematurely and interfere with how red blood cells carry oxygen to tissues in the body.

Hospital staff told investigators Ferguson had been compliant with the child’s speech-related services care up until March 27, 2023, where they had provided her with resources to assist her with social issues that were identified during his appointments. Staff there also told investigators that Ferguson knew the hospital could be used as a resource for social help.

The boy’s father, who’d been out of the child’s life for more than a year, told investigators he did not have concerns about Ferguson’s ability to care or provide for the child.

A downward spiral

Through a staffing agency, Ferguson was assigned a data entry position. That job, however, ended in November 2022.

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She’d saved up money to hold her and her son over, but she told investigators the money started running out in the early months of 2023.

Ferguson had lined up job interviews in April of that year, but her car brakes gave out leaving her with no transportation to search for jobs or take her son to school or other places.

“Mercedes advised she wouldn’t dare put herself or the child in the vehicle due to safety concerns,” the investigator said in court documents.

Ferguson made an online grocery order around July, before court documents said her cellphone and Wi-Fi services were cut off — further isolating her from the outside world.

She’d occasionally leave her second-story apartment to check her debit/Electronic Benefits Transfer card at a nearby service station, according to the court documents. She’d applied for unemployment in April and wanted to see if her claim had come through.

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Ferguson still had water and electricity, but she told police she now faced eviction from her Greenview at Chestnut Run apartment. Ferguson, according to court records, spoke to the apartment’s leasing office. While workers there were understanding, they could only do so much for her.

The workers informed Ferguson of resources she could reach out to, according to the investigator.

Management at Greenview at Chestnut Run did not respond to a Delaware Online/The News Journal attempt to speak about Ferguson’s matter.

As food ran out, medication was stopped

As food grew scarce, Ferguson stopped giving her son amoxicillin, a penicillin-type antibiotic that court documents said was prescribed to help with the boy’s sickle cell anemia.

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“Mercedes advised she did not want to give the child the medication on an empty stomach,” the investigator said, adding she did not know how long it had been since the boy did not have his medicine.

At one point, court records say Ferguson told investigators her son “had been without food for over a month.”

The child, who was 39.5 inches tall, weighed about 23 pounds by mid August — about 7 pounds below what is considered a healthy weight for a 4-year-old boy.

Ferguson, who said her last meal had been fruit snacks she found on the floor of her car, told the investigator she’d lost 10 to 20 pounds but did not know for sure.

The family of two had been receiving food stamps, but she told the investigator her benefits had been discontinued a few months prior. She did not know why.

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The Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, which administers the food benefits program, said reasons for a person losing their benefits could include a change in income or verification of information. A department spokesman said he could not explain how Ferguson lost her benefits.

“While DHSS cannot speak to specific cases,” Tim Mastro, a spokesperson for the department, said. “we encourage those who are facing food insecurity to apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).”

Mastro said more information on the program and eligibility is available on the agency’s website: https://dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dss/foodstamps.html. Delawareans can apply online through the Delaware Assist Portal or in person at one of 15 State Service Centers throughout the state.

Final days blurred together as boy’s condition deteriorated

Ferguson told police she could not remember when she and her son last left their apartment, and days began to “blend together,” according to court documents.

“She was concerned that she or the child were too weak and would pass out if they went somewhere,” the investigator said.

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With little to eat, she and her child were drinking water — the boy “from a sippy cup,” according to court documents.

The boy’s urine was getting darker with time, and his “stool was a rarity as the child was not consuming anything of substance,” Ferguson told police. She added her son’s last bowel movement, which was more like diarrhea, occurred a few days before he died.

In the boy’s final hours, Ferguson told the investigator she and her son were simply lying around the apartment.

Over the last few days, the boy complained of feeling ill and his stomach hurting. His stomach pains, however, seemed to last longer in the early hours of Aug. 18.

Ferguson felt an air pocket in his stomach area, which according to court documents she described as feeling hard in the boy’s bloated abdomen.

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With her son on her legs, court documents say Ferguson massaged her son’s stomach in a downward direction hoping he would pass the air pocket.

The boy had a look of relief when he passed it, she told the investigator. But he immediately started coughing up a substance the mother had never seen come from him.

“Mercedes described this substance as a brown in color liquid,” the inspector said. “Mercedes stated this substance came from the area of the child’s nose/mouth.”

She lifted her son, but court documents said the boy was unresponsive.

Although she had no cellphone service, her phone’s SOS mode was still working. The feature allows for automatic calls to a local emergency number and shares a caller’s location with the emergency service even if the device isn’t connected to a cellular network.

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Using this feature she called 911 operators about 1:25 a.m., according to court documents.

Ferguson was instructed over the phone to give her son CPR.

“She could hear the air going into the child’s lungs,” the court documents report. “After chest compressions, Mercedes advised that froth was coming from the child’s mouth.

Emergency responders soon arrived at her apartment. They removed the boy from the bed and placed him on the floor to better work on him.

But by 2:20 a.m., the boy had been declared dead and his body had been sent to the state Division of Forensic Science for an autopsy.

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Investigation confirmed starvation

An investigator searched Ferguson’s apartment and said, in court records, there was no food in the refrigerator or cabinets: “In fact, no food was observed in any area of the apartment.”

Ferguson had asked for a meal while at the police station because she was hungry, according to court records.

Following an interview with police, Ferguson was treated at an area hospital where court records said she was released in stable condition with hospital staff not concerned about her health or her wellbeing.

On Dec. 7, three months and 19 days after the boy’s death, the Delaware Division of Forensic Science ruled the child’s death to be a homicide with the cause being starvation. After consulting with the Delaware Attorney General’s Office, detectives obtained an arrest warrant for Ferguson on March 8.

She was arrested three days later at a home in Wilmington Manor.

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How to get help

People having a difficult time can access Delaware 211, a state telephone and text message line available in multiple languages that connect users with resources on a variety of issues, including mental health and substance use. The service can also be found online at delaware211.org.

For people who do not have phone or Internet service, the assistance can be accessed at Delaware Libraries, where people in need of a Chromebook, WiFi hotspot or both can borrow the technology for free.

Send tips or story ideas to Esteban Parra at (302) 324-2299 or eparra@delawareonline.com.



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Delaware

Delaware woman accused in sextortion plot to blackmail $6M from victims in US and UK

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Delaware woman accused in sextortion plot to blackmail $6M from victims in US and UK


A group including a woman from Delaware are accused of trying to blackmail young men and boys out of millions of dollars, after posing as young women and filming the victims engaging in sexual acts online.

The US Department of Justice announced Friday that Hadja Kone, 28, from Wilmington, had been arrested over her alleged role in the so-called sextortion scheme.

Ms Kone and other co-conspirators are accused of operating “an international, financially motivated” scheme which included cyberstalking, money laundering and wire fraud.

The group successfully blackmailed some of the thousands of victims across the United States, United Kingdom and Canada out of $1.7 million, but the goal was $6 million, the DOJ said.

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According to charging documents, Ms Kone and others, including Siaka Ouattara – a 22-year-old in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire – posed as young, attractive females online.

They promised their victims sexual photos, videos or live webcam sessions, even though they were the ones operating the accounts.

Then, when the victims either exposed their genitals or performed other sexual activity, Ms Kone and others allegedly secretly filmed them.

Victims were then sent copies of those images or videos, with threats that they would be sent to the victim’s friends, family or employers, as well as being shared widely on the internet, unless they handed over money.

The DOJ alleges that Kone, Ouattara and others had a framework in place to launder the cash to people in Côte d’Ivoire and elsewhere overseas.

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Victims are often targeted through social media, according to the FBI (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Ouattara was arrested in February on similar charges, with authorities in Côte d’Ivoire working with the FBI on the case.

Both are charged with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and to send interstate threats, conspiracy to engage in money laundering, money laundering, and wire fraud. If convicted, they face up to 20 years for each count.

In 2022, the FBI warned that sextortion cases affecting teenage boys had risen sharply, with some 3,000 reported victims that year alone.

Most victims were aged between 14 and 17, but could be as young as 10, the agency said.

One of those victims was Jordan DeMay, a 17-year-old in Michigan who took his own life after he was blackmailed by Nigerian men posing as a woman. They blackmailed him for $1,000.

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The boy only had $300 and was subjected to continued threats before he ended his life.

According to the FBI’s 2022 report, Jordan is not alone in feeling like this was his only option.

“Victims may feel like there is no way out—it is up to all of us to reassure them that they are not in trouble, there is hope, and they are not alone,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray in a statement at the time.

With much of this type of crime taking place on social media, Instagram owner Meta announced this week that it will test a nudity screening tool in its messaging apps.

The change would automatically blur nude photos for those under 18, with messages from the app reminding users they should not feel pressure to respond in kind.

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The option to message users who are under-age will also be removed for suspicious profiles, the company said.



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Delaware

Woman dies after being found 'fused' to soiled bedsheets in Delaware County home

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Woman dies after being found 'fused' to soiled bedsheets in Delaware County home


A bedridden woman who police say was found “fused” to her soiled bedsheets inside a Delaware County home has died, officials say. 

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The gruesome discovery was made earlier this week during a police wellness check at a disheveled home on Dresner Circle in Upper Chichester.

Officers were called to the home after a neighbor reported packages piling up on the home’s front porch and no answer at the front door. 

Police saw a “large amount of trash” inside the home when they looked through the sliding glass door and noticed flies inside the property. 

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When officers entered the home fearing someone inside was deceased or having a medical emergency, they were met by 51-year-old Daniel Klien, the woman’s son. 

He lead officers through the messy home to the master bedroom where police say the woman was sleeping with a visibly soiled blanket covering her lower body. 

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Medics were called to the home and removed the blanket to find Klien’s mother “covered in dried feces and maggots,” according to police. 

They soon found her to be “fused to the bedsheets” and removed her for further treatment at Crozer Chester Medical Center.

Klien was arrested and charged with abuse of care and endangering another person.

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After 40 dogs seized in Delaware County, charges filed against breeder

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After 40 dogs seized in Delaware County, charges filed against breeder


The Delaware County dog warden has filed 30 misdemeanor charges against a dog breeder after 40 dogs living chained outside were removed Sunday afternoon from his property near Sunbury.

The charges, filed Thursday in Delaware County Municipal Court, accuse the man of violating Ohio’s laws about companion animals and failing to register dog kennels at the property on the 7400 block of Kilbourne Road.

A warrant is pending on the complaint, court records state, and his bond is set at $2,500.

All of the charges are first-degree and second-degree misdemeanors. The former each carry a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, and the latter each carry up to 90 days in jail and a $750 fine.

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Delaware County Dog Warden Mitchell Garrett cannot comment on open cases, a spokesperson for the Delaware County Commissioners said in an email.

Garrett has previously said the 40 dogs were living outside on the property chained in wet and muddy conditions with plastic barrels for shelter against the weather, and that most of the dogs removed were underweight. Officials had received multiple complaints about the property since 2020, but were previously unable to act, according to Garrett.

Garrett said there were previously as few as six dogs living at the property and they were being taken care of within the standards of the law.

Read more: Delaware County dogs lived chained outside. Ohio doesn’t have a tether law, some cities do

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Authorities were able to secure a warrant after a witness came forward Friday willing to make a statement using their name, Garrett said.

Videos and images of the dogs chained outside went viral on social media on Saturday in between the recent complaint being made and authorities raiding the property.

jlaird@dispatch.com

@LairdWrites





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