For the second time in as many weeks, a little boy is dead and his mother’s boyfriend has been charged with his murder.
The toddler was identified Wednesday as 1-year-old Austin Smith of Springville. He would have celebrated his second birthday Saturday.
Authorities did not release the name of the 16-year-old charged with Austin’s murder, because he could qualify for youthful offender status.
The teen and Austin’s mother, Ashley Smith, 19, have been dating off and on for the past three years and recently moved into the upstairs of his family’s house on Cochran Avenue in Springville, said Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard.
Smith went to work Tuesday afternoon and left Austin and her 3-month-old baby in the care of the teen, Howard said.
“The subsequent investigation revealed that the mother’s 16-year-old boyfriend struck the child repeatedly about the face,” Howard said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
Why? Howard was asked.
“The child was crying,” Howard said.
“There’s no explanation for why anyone would strike a child like that,” he added.
“You can’t suggest any reason that would justify it, but there was some indication that the child was crying just before that.”
The tragedy began to unfold sometime around 4 p.m. Tuesday, after Smith left for work, Howard said.
The teen’s mother was in the downstairs part of the home Tuesday evening and at one point heard Austin laughing, investigators said.
A little later, she heard a small cry but assumed it was when the teen was washing the boy’s hair while giving him a bath.
At about 8:20 p.m., the teenager saw that Austin had stopped breathing and yelled to his mother, Howard said. The teen used his cell phone to call 911.
He was waiting on the front porch when Deputies Ben Pisa, Jason Bouton and Don Hoelscher arrived on the scene. The deputies found Austin in a bedroom and performed CPR on the toddler until paramedics arrived.
Austin was transported to Bertrand Chaffee Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at about 9 p.m.
When doctors saw the bruises on Austin’s body, investigators turned their attention to the teenager and charged him with first-degree assault.
The teen was arraigned early Wednesday morning in Springville Village Court.
Later in the day he was charged with second-degree murder when an autopsy showed Austin died from blunt force trauma to the head, Howard said.
The teen is being held without bail in the Erie County Holding Center and is scheduled to be arraigned on the murder charge in Springville later this week.
The sheriff Wednesday shot down a story circulating that the little boy had fallen down the stairs.
“It may or may not have happened, but it has nothing to do with the cause of death,” Howard said.
“It’s another one of those crimes that didn’t have to happen,” Howard said. “We’re not placing any blame on the 19-year-old mother. She actually left and went to work, leaving her child in the care of a 16-year-old person she trusted.”
Smith and her two children have been living with the teenager for about the past month, Howard said.
“It’s been suggested by others that this is only the second time he’s been with the children alone, but he and the mother have obviously been with them quite a bit over the last month,” Howard said.
Smith’s infant child was not injured.
Child Protective Services placed the baby with other family members.
It’s the second such tragedy in two weeks, Howard said.
Earlier this month, Justin Crouse, 30, of Salamanca, was charged in the death of 3-year-old Gage Seneca. The boy was found dead on the morning of March 5 in his home on Sulphur Springs Road on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation in Brant.
“There’s no excuses. There’s no explanation for this,” Howard said. “We just can’t let it happen.”