Official: Mom, not system, to blame in boys’ deaths

Associated Press

Bellefontaine, Ohio — Three young boys in Ohio died because their mother decided to suffocate them, not because children’s services or the legal system somehow failed, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

Brittany Pilkington, 23, is jailed on murder charges in all three deaths over the last 13 months, including a 3-month-old son who died Tuesday, less than a week after he was returned from protective custody on a judge’s order. Pilkington called 911 as her husband tried in vain to revive him at their home in Bellefontaine.

The mother confessed that she suffocated the boys because she wanted their father’s attention for herself and her 3-year-old daughter, whom she described as her best friend, Logan County Prosecutor William Goslee said.

“Everybody that is involved in this is truly emotionally distraught — including myself, quite honestly — and it isn’t because the system failed,” Goslee said. “It’s because this child is dead. This was not a foreseeable event.”

Investigators believe each child was suffocated in his crib or bed, with his own comfort blanket, Goslee said.

The cause of the first death, of 3-month-old Niall Pilkington in July 2014, had not been clear, and was attributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

After 4-year-old Gavin died in April, the couple’s remaining children — their daughter Hailey and the newborn boy, Noah, were taken into custody with Logan County Children’s Services pending an investigation.

Their mother’s uncle, Joe Skaggs, was furious that Judge Dan Bratka ordered the surviving children returned to the couple.

A message left with the judge Wednesday by The Associated Press was not immediately returned.

“Why would you give them back after a little boy just died and when you’re in the middle of an investigation?” Skaggs, standing in front of his niece’s apartment, told The Columbus Dispatch on Tuesday.

But Goslee said Wednesday they didn’t have any evidence of a crime in the earlier deaths, and no one could have predicted Pilkington would kill her remaining son.

The killings happened while her husband Joseph Pilkington, 43, was working a night shift job, and he is not a suspect, Police Chief Brandon Standley said.

No defense lawyer has been named for Brittany Pilkington, who hasn’t appeared in court yet.

Goslee said she confessed while being questioned by investigators, who noticed she didn’t react as they expected to her sons’ deaths, including when he saw her Tuesday.

“I clumsily said, ‘How are you today?’ I would’ve expected some other kind of reaction, and she looked at me and she said, ‘Fine,’” Goslee said.

Goslee said the judge feels devastated, and a staff attorney who had fought to keep the surviving children away from their parents was weeping at her desk Tuesday night.

That attorney, Natasha Wagner, said children’s services staff and others felt something was wrong in the family but couldn’t prove it. A doctor had testified that some genetic condition might be to blame for the deaths, and they had no clear sign of foul play to take to the judge.

“How do you prove a gut feeling when the evidence is not there?” Wagner asked Wednesday.

She said she feels terrible, but concluded that she had done everything she could.

“I fought very hard for this child,” she said. “Because of me and because of the agency, this child lived to be 3 months old.”