06/21/13 — Airman charged in son's death

View Archive

Airman charged in son's death

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on June 21, 2013 1:46 PM

Full Size

Photo from Facebook

"Little Matthew" and his mother, Amy Jo.

Matthew Theurer

The Air Force officially charged a 21-year-old senior airman with murder late Thursday afternoon for his alleged role in the death of his 15-month-old son -- a case that rattled the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base community earlier this year.

Matthew Theurer -- who faces six charges, including providing a false official statement, murder by an act inherently dangerous to another, involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, child endangerment and obstruction of justice -- will now endure a court-martial, although a date for the proceedings has not yet been set.

The airman has been in custody since March when, during an interview with 4th Fighter Wing Security Forces personnel and members of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, he allegedly confessed to placing the body of his deceased namesake in a garbage bag and dumping it along a road on his way to the beach.

Within hours of that conversation, the toddler was discovered by Columbus County sheriff's deputies at a location sources close to the investigation said Theurer provided them with.

An autopsy report obtained by the News-Argus from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Chapel Hill this morning revealed more details about the investigation -- that the toddler died of "severe malnutrition as a result of neglect"; that in the final 10 months of the child's life, he dropped in weight from the 50th percentile to the 5th.

And the report also shed new light onto the conditions in which the 15-month-old was living -- how he was "left alone for approximately 12 hours every day and was provided with little food while his father was at work"; how "on at least two occasions, he was left alone overnight."

Another source with knowledge of the events that led to the airman's confinement told the News-Argus that the day lawmen made that find, March 12, Theurer failed to report for work -- that another airman went to check on him and that when he arrived at his comrade's residence, the 21-year-old threatened to commit suicide.

When asked about his son, he allegedly said the toddler was gone and that statement, along with the state of the airman's home, led the other airman to take action.

OSI and Security Forces personnel were contacted and Theurer was taken into custody, where he allegedly confessed to dumping the body outside of town after "finding young Matthew dead inside his base housing unit."

Less than 24 hours later, the news had spread across Seymour Johnson.

One woman -- she asked not to be identified for fear that speaking to the media would put her husband's military career in jeopardy -- said she was shocked that "a quiet young man who kept to himself" was at the center of such a tragic turn of events.

But she acknowledged that when, in her words, Theurer's wife, Amy Jo, left him and returned to their Indiana hometown, he became even more withdrawn.

"We knew she was gone and that he had to take care of little Matthew," she said then. "A lot of us wives asked if we could help and he would say, 'No.' He said he had it under control."

"I just can't believe he's dead. That poor, sweet baby. ... It didn't have to come to this."

The child's mother has not yet spoken to the media about the case.

But posts added to her Facebook page in the weeks leading up to her son's death suggest that she was aware that something wasn't right.

On Feb. 20, it was 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."

And when she learned, not long after writing that post, that her son was gone, Amy Jo was devastated, her aunt, Davene Steen, said.

"She loved him so much. Even after she came back to Indiana, she would call every day just to hear his little sounds," she said. "She just didn't have a job and didn't have a house and didn't have the means to provide for Matthew."

"When he was with Amy Jo, he was happy. He was loved and taken care of. When she came back home, she and her boyfriend started scraping together money -- anything they could put together to go get Matthew. ... Now they won't ever be able to."