Welfare agencies probing boy's bathtub drowning

Welfare agencies probing boy's bathtub drowning

MCCANDLESS, Pa. (AP) — Child welfare officials are scrutinizing the case of a woman accused of drowning one of her sons and critically injuring the other by sitting on them in a bathtub, including whether child protection agencies could have prevented the death.

Laurel Michelle Schlemmer, 40, of McCandless, remained jailed without bond Thursday on criminal homicide and other charges for allegedly killing her 3-year-old son, Luke, and injuring his 6-year-old brother, Daniel, in the family's bathtub on Tuesday morning. Daniel remained hospitalized in critical condition Thursday.

Last year, Schlemmer backed her van into the same two boys, according to police and her pastor. Allegheny County's Office of Children, Youth and Families determined it was an accident, Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare Kait Gillis said Thursday.

The county agency is required to review Luke's death, Gillis said, and must issue a report within 90 days. But the state is also reviewing whether the county agency might have prevented the drowning.

"We're concurrently running a review, a broader report on what transpired," Gillis said. "Were there gaps in service, were there any regulatory violations, and what can we do to prevent something like this from happening again?"

Schlemmer's attorney, Michael Machen, did not immediately return a call for comment on charges she tried to drown both boys after her 7-year-old son left for school that day.

Schlemmer told detectives she thought she could be a better mother to her oldest son "if the other two boys weren't around, and they would be better off in heaven," a police complaint said. She also told police she got into the tub, fully clothed, and sat on the boys because "'crazy voices' were telling her to push the boys down into the water." The boys' father, Mark Schlemmer, was at work at the time.

The van accident occurred last April 16 in the driveway of Laurel Schlemmer's parents in Marshall Township.

The Allegheny County district attorney's office confirmed it is reviewing the investigation of it, which was conducted by the Northern Regional Police Department. But prosecutors' spokesman Mike Manko otherwise declined to comment.

Northern Regional Police Chief Robert Amann said in an emailed statement Thursday that his officers did a "complete and thorough investigation," although he acknowledged to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Wednesday that his officers were unable to determine how badly Luke and Daniel were hurt by the van. That happened because the boys were in a Pittsburgh hospital, not a nearby one, he said.

The family's pastor, the Rev. Dan Hendley, has previously told The Associated Press that Daniel suffered unspecified internal injuries and Luke was unable to walk for a time after being hit by the van.

The Pittsburgh hospital alerted police and the county child welfare agency to the boys' injuries.

"Mrs. Schlemmer advised the doctors that she had accidently run over her two children while moving her vehicle at her parents' home in Marshall Township," Amann explained.

He referred questions to the district attorney's office.

Gillis said Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families workers "went to the hospital and did an assessment, but if it's determined to be accidental, there's no further need for investigation."

Gillis could not immediately say whether the broader report state welfare officials are doing will also include whether county caseworkers handled the van incident correctly.

"Obviously, this is a horrible, horrible situation that no family should have to endure," Gillis said.