Wrightstown couple accused of starving adopted son, mentally abusing him
A Wrightstown couple has been charged in a case the Brown County Sheriff's Office describes as "mental and physical abuse and torture."
Bradley J. Fahrenkrug, 40, and Kimberly M. Fahrenkrug, 38, are accused of physically and mentally abusing their 5-year-old adopted child by denying him food, making him sleep in a crib, making him walk laps with a weighted backpack, among other allegations.
Charges against the couple were filed July 7 in Brown County Court. The parents each face counts of First Degree Reckless Injury, Mental Harm to a Child, First Degree Recklessly Endangering Safety, Child Neglect Resulting in Great Bodily Harm, and False Imprisonment.
The Fahrenkrugs appeared in court Monday via video. Each parent was given a $100,000 cash bond.
Criminal complaints obtained by Action 2 News show the crimes happened between Oct. 1, 2016, and April 12, 2017.
On Thursday, April 6, a 5-year-old child was taken to American Family Children's Hospital in Madison for what doctors said was a case of "severe malnutrition."
Doctors said they were concerned about the child's living environment, and concerned Kimberly Fahrenkrug was "intentionally starving" the child by controlling his food and restricting what he eats.
The criminal complaint states staff at the hospital said the Fahrenkrugs told them the boy was "controlling, demanding and abnormal in his refusal to eat and manipulate others."
However, the hospital staff described the child as "sweet, polite and very normal."
Child abuse expert Dr. Barbara Knox said the boy had lost
four pounds since his last weight check on March 2. He was 29 pounds when he was admitted to the hospital in Madison.
This was not the boy's first trip to a children's hospital for his weight. Knox noted that the boy had been admitted to Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in October 2016 for his inability to gain weight.
Knox said the boy was was currently at "risk of great bodily harm and/or death due to his medical condition." The hospital ordered he be given unrestricted access to food as they were monitoring him for a condition known as refeeding syndrome, which happens in cases of severe malnutrition.
Mrs. Fahrenkrug told officials that the boy had refused food at home, which led to his weight loss.
But doctors who saw the child in October said they were concerned by Kimberly's interactions with the child, saying she tried to control his food intake while he was at Children's Hospital.
When the boy said he was hungry, Kimberly Fahrenkrug told the staff to ignore him because he was "demanding food."
"On several occasions, Kimberly expressed anger toward staff when they gave [the boy] food," reads the criminal complaint.
Fahrenkrug also insisted that the boy be "swaddled in a sheet wrapped around his entire body to sleep such that he could not easily move his arms and/or legs."
Hospital staff said the woman yelled at the boy and was "verbally aggressive toward him."
Fahrenkrug also gave a helmet to staff at the hospital. She told them the boy banged his head when he was upset.
However, hospital staff never noticed the boy try to harm himself while he was at the hospital.
Kimberly Fahrenkrug also told staff that the boy could not watch TV, use electronics or enjoy any "fun activities."
She told staff she believed the boy was using manipulation to get a "vacation" at the hospital.
Kimberly Fahrenkrug told doctors that he would refuse food they gave him, but she would find him sneaking food. She also said that the boy "often goes to school and lies about not being fed at home." She claimed during violent outbursts that the boy would "make up stories" about how the family hurt him.
In April, the boy was interviewed by UW Child Protection Program. He told investigators that when he asks for more food, his mother denies him because she's concerned he'll get a "belly ache." The boy says additional food does not cause his stomach to be upset. He also told staff that the mother allows his older siblings to have additional food.
Dr. Knox also noticed a "significant area of bruising to his face."
During his hospitalization in Madison, he gained six pounds.
"There has been no documented medical reason for [the boy] to lose weight if being fed appropriately. Laboratory testing performed on [the boy] during his admission did show evidence of refeeding syndrome which occurs in malnourished individuals," reads the criminal complaint.
Doctors also said medical records show the mother was "over-medicalizing and fictionalizing issues for [the boy] which lead to unnecessary interventions for the child."
The Brown County Sheriff's Office was asked to assist with Child Protective Services in their investigation into the allegations of abuse against the Fahrenkrugs.
Two sergeants were sent to Madison to meet with doctors and family members.
Investigators met with Dr. Knox, a social worker, a CPS worker, and Kimberly Fahrenkrug.
The criminal complaint states hospital staff told the sergeants that they had observed Fahrenkrug withhold food from the child and they had never witnessed him throw tantrums or be fussy.
Fahrenkrug told investigators the boy had behavioral issues and refused to eat and was hurting himself. She said they swaddled him in a crib and that he wears a helmet and compression vest for his safety.
The mother said the boy had a condition known as Reactive Attachment Disorder which makes him have overeating and choking incidents.
Fahrenkrug denied withholding food.
When asked if she wanted to "send [the boy] back, Fahrenkrug said "absolutely not" and that "she will fight for him."
On April 13, one of the victim's siblings was interviewed by Brown County investigators. The sibling said the boy was forced to wear a backpack with a weighted blanket and made to do laps before breakfast. The sibling said the boy was sometimes forced to wear flippers on his feet.
The sibling said the boy will drop to the ground and scream and needs to wear a helmet so he doesn't hit his head. The sibling said the boy refuses some foods like soup, which is put in the fridge for later.
The sibling said the child would sometimes eat the same food as the rest of the family until he was forced to eat only leftover soup.
"It seemed like, basically, every meal it was this soup, until you eat it," says Sgt. Dave Poteat, Brown County Sheriff's Office. "And he was refusing to eat the soup."
Another sibling confirmed that the child did laps with a weighted backpack.
Investigators spoke with Kimberly Fahrenkrug's aunt who praised her niece's parenting skills, but also said the child's behavior was abnormal for a five-year-old, and that she had not seen the boy refuse food or bang his head.
Investigators interviewed the victim on April 17. He told them he wasn't eating the soup because he didn't like it, and that's all his mother would feed him. Prior to the soup-only diet, he had been allowed foods like bananas, oatmeal, pancakes, noodles, and mac and cheese.
The boy said he would cry when he got only soup, and he would cry when his mother locked him inside his room.
He said the bruise happened when his mom hit him on the the wall when he was running around. He said his mother told him not to talk about the bruise.
The Brown County Sheriff's Office spoke with the boy's adoptive father, Brad Fahrenkrug. He told investigators that the child would have violent fits and run into walls and throw himself on the floor. He said the boy would fall out of his bed, and that is why they put him in a crib.
The father said the bruise was caused by him slipping and falling in the bath tub.
Brad Fahrenkrug also admitted that the parents portioned out the boy's food so "he wouldn't get sick." Fahrenkrug said the family has rules in the home about healthy eating, and the boy was asking for large portions. Fahrenkrug said the parents needed to monitor that behavior.
Mr. Fahrenkrug told investigators that they took him to Children's Hospital in October because he wasn't gaining weight. He said doctors there accused the parents of not feeding the boy enough, and referred them to the hospital in Madison.
"There were three to four days when he wouldn't eat anything," Brad Fahrenkrug is quoted as saying. "He really started to look bad. He was really skinny and pale, possibly dehydrated. I really don't think that he would have made it much longer if we would not have gotten to the hospital when we did."
Brad said he told Kimberly to offer the child anything he wanted, but the boy refused. That's when the Fahrenkrugs took him to the hospital in Madison.
According to the criminal complaint, Brad Fahrenkrug told investigators that the child was a liar who made up stories and snuck food. He said he thought the boy was manipulating doctors at the hospital to get more food.
"As we looked into it, it did not seem like this was actually legitimate claims of the behavior problems and all this treatment or whatever you want to call it, being placed upon this child," Poteat said. "This was, plain and simple, it was mental and physical abuse and torture.
"The things they required this child to do. They were starving him, forced exercise and making it more difficult. Five years old, being locked into a crib basically, locked in the room and weights placed upon them. This is just, you can't even imagine this stuff happening and then, here you sit it and you're getting this information and going, this can't be right. But, yet, it is."
The boy was placed in foster care. In June, investigators were informed that the boy told his foster parent that he once "didn't eat for three days at my other house... because they only gave me yucky soup."
The foster parent said his behavior had been normal and that he ate regularly with no tantrums. He had been gaining weight and not refusing food.
"The good thing is, even though the parents said the child was using this to control his food intake or refusal, but now being outside of that household, it's been about three months, the child is doing very well," Poteat said. "None of the issues that were reported by the parents are being observed. So I think that's pretty good evidence, in and of itself, that the conditions weren't actually there and the treatment was abuse."
On April 12, investigators searched the Fahrenkrug home and found a list of things the child could and could not eat. They went into the child's room and found the weighted blanket, two cameras and the crib. There were no toys or games in the room.
"That was one of the early indicators, too, where the other children's rooms certainly had toys and things of that nature and this one was pretty sparse in that regard," Poteat said. "So different treatment, if you will, was kind of a red flag as well."
The Fahrenkrugs are scheduled to return to court on July 25.
Action 2 News will continue to update this developing story.