Airman in custody; inquiry is ongoing
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on March 14, 2013 1:46 PM
The father of a 15-month-old found dead on the side of a Columbus County road has not yet officially been charged by the Air Force in connection with the child's death.
Reports Wednesday indicated that Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Senior Airman Matthew Theurer is currently being held in the Sampson County Pre-Confinement Facility for voluntary manslaughter, negligent homicide and murder.
But 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs officers said while there is enough evidence to hold the 21-year-old -- and the charges are on the table -- investigators are waiting for DNA identification of the body and the autopsy report, before determining what he will go on trial for.
Columbus County officials said Wednesday morning that the Air Force Office of Special Investigations had taken over the case after calling for assistance from the Columbus Sheriff's Department to locate the body, which sources close to the investigation said was wrapped in a plastic bag. OSI takes the lead on cases involving crimes that occur on Air Force installations and the child allegedly died in Theurer's Seymour Johnson housing unit.
Theurer has been described, by one woman who knew him -- she asked not to be identified for fear that speaking to the media would put her husband's military career in jeopardy -- as "a quiet young man who kept to himself."
But when his wife, Amy Jo, left him several months ago and returned to their Indiana hometown, he became even more withdrawn, she said.
"We knew she was gone and that he had to take care of little Matthew," she said. "A lot of us wives asked if we could help and he would say, 'No.' He said he had it under control."
The woman broke down.
"I just can't believe he's dead. That poor, sweet baby," she said. "I really just can't believe this has happened. We were so willing to help. It didn't have to come to this."
Another woman who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue said she, too, was among those who offered to help -- particularly when she "stopped seeing the baby" and "Matt said he had gone to live with Amy Jo in Indiana."
"Matt just didn't seem right," she said. "It was like when you know someone has a problem, but they won't let anyone help."
But she also said that she did not believe the young man meant to hurt the child, but that after his wife left him several months ago and returned to their Indiana hometown, Theurer did not know how to care for his son, also named Matthew, and left the toddler at home alone with little food while he was at work.
And then, in mid-February, when he discovered that the child had died, he allegedly wrapped him in a plastic bag and dropped the toddler off on the side of the road along a well-known route to the South Carolina coast, according to sources close to the investigation.
Facebook posts made by the child's mother substantiate the timeline -- and the claim that young Matthew's health was waning.
On Feb. 20, she posted, "All my facebook friends i need a huge favor. as you go to bed tonight could you say a prayer for my son. i don't know what is going on but he can't keep his pulse rate up and is losing weight. they did test on him today i will know more tomorrow."
Then, less than two weeks later, she wrote, "Really wishing matt would let me talk to matthew i haven't gotten too in forever. i miss my son so much. i am hoping the doctors would figure out what is wrong with him. also hope lil man gets to come in april."
OSI and Seymour Johnson officials have declined to comment on the alleged condition of the child during his last few weeks -- or to speculate about just when he died.
But sources in Columbus County said the county coroner has sent the remains to the Chief Medical Examiner's Office in Chapel Hill, where the autopsy will be performed.
4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Director Maj. Amber Millerchip did say, however, that the base is taking the matter "very seriously," but could not release details about the ongoing investigation.
"We are fully supporting local authorities' efforts and will do our best to find the truth for the Air Force and the individuals involved," she said. "As a matter of policy to protect the integrity of the case, the 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs office is unable to release details of an ongoing investigation."
And she offered, on behalf of the wing, condolences to the family.
"Any loss of life is a tragedy and our deepest condolences go out to the family members involved," Millerchip said. "Right now, our primary concern is the welfare of the family. The health and wellness of airmen and their families is a top priority for Air Force leaders, and we work hard to provide mental, emotional, and spiritual support to military members, civilian employees and their dependents."