SURRY COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — Warrants are painting a clearer picture of the events that led up to the death of a toddler in Surry County.
Four-year-old Skyler Wilson died at Brenner Children’s Hospital in Winston-Salem on Jan. 9, days after he was admitted. His adoptive parents Joseph and Jodi Wilson were arrested on Friday, Jan. 13. Warrants show that doctors said that Skyler died of hypoxic brain injury.
While speaking with a doctor, Joseph Wilson said that his wife texted him around 5:30 p.m. that “something had happened” with Skyler being swaddled and that something was wrong with his arms. Wilson refers to “swaddling” as a parenting technique learned from a woman named “Nancy Thomas” in the warrant.
He told the doctor that they put Skyler to bed around 6:45 p.m. in a “wagon” that was Skyler’s bed. They said that a little while later they heard him “wiggling” around and attempted to move him. Skyler fell over and Joseph Wilson set Skyler on the couch, where he was “rigid and semi-responsive.”
Warrants say that they tried to give the boy some water, and he took a few sips before refusing.
“Joseph and Jodi then attempted to pour the water in Skyler’s mouth,” the documents state.
Joseph Wilson then called 911 and told them that a four-year-old was having a seizure. The call came into Surry County Communications around 8:19 p.m. and a female can be heard in the background saying “it’s my fault,” according to the warrants.
Surry County EMS found Skyler Wilson unresponsive and not breathing on his own, and he was taken to the hospital.
The day after Skyler was taken to the hospital Surry County Sheriff’s Office was contacted by the Department of Social Services.
A detective with the sheriff’s office spoke with a detective, who explained that Skyler had a hypoxic brain injury, which happens with a restriction that prevents oxygen to the brain.
The doctor who had previously spoken with Joseph Wilson told the detective that Skyler’s brain injuries were consistent with “too much restriction” used during a “swaddling” technique.
That day, they executed a search warrant at the home on Rosecrest Drive in Mount Airy. While in the home, they observed “wrist and ankle support strap/braces,” but those items were not seized. Investigators observed cameras in a tote in the basement of the home and the cameras were photographed but not seized during the search on Jan. 6.
An SBI agent and a detective with Surry County Sheriff’s Office interviewed Joseph Wilson, who told them that the wrist and ankle straps were used to “restrain” Skyler during the “swaddling” process.”
Wilson also told that he believed that sometime during or after the “incident” with Skyler, he believed that Jodi took the cameras down and that there had been SD cards in them, but officials didn’t find the SD cards upon inspection.
The two detectives searched the Rosecrest Drive home a second time, looking specifically for the SD cards in the cameras. They list the following items taken from the home:
- Three white surveillance-type cameras
- Mueller sport wraps
- Handwritten documents
- USB drives
- SD card from Wii
- Notebooks & binder
- Cameras containing SD cards
- 3 tablets from playroom
- Dell Optiplex 7020 tower with power cord
- Hitachi laptop
Joseph and Jodi Wilson were charged in Skyler Wilson’s murder and taken into custody with no bond. Their three biological children and one adopted child were taken into custody by social services, where they remain.
The SBI is assisting the sheriff’s office with the investigation, which is ongoing.
Neighbors, family react
Skyler’s former foster mother described him as a social butterfly with a big heart.
“He was so tiny and small but had a heart three times bigger than he was,” she said. “I want to love unconditionally and remember his smile and the little things.”
Community members were shocked by the news, with neighbors expressing their grief over no longer hearing the children playing in the yard. Local business owners said that Wilson’s business, Affordable Wellness, closed before his arrest, and said they didn’t even know the Wilsons had adopted children before the news broke.
Swaddling is a technique used to comfort and help babies sleep, with a blanket wrapped snuggly around the baby’s body. It has been correlated to an increased likelihood of SIDS deaths and is not encouraged for an infant that is old enough to roll over on its own.
The “swaddling” technique referenced in the warrant, associated with Nancy Thomas, does not bring back a lot of information.
Nancy Thomas describes herself as a “Professional Therapeutic Parent” on her website.
“Nancy Thomas is not a doctor, psychiatrist or therapist. She is an amazing mom who has, through years of search, study and experience, found solutions to parenting challenging children,” the site reads.
When reached for comment on the death of Skyler Wilson, she provided the following response: “I am shocked and saddened to hear the sad news of this little one passing away. Since I have no knowledge of the incident, I am unable to give a comment. I am willing to assist law enforcement if they have any questions.”
Her “therapies” were highlighted in the HBO documentary “Child of Rage” following her experiences with her daughter Beth Thomas.
Thomas advocates for “Attachment Therapy” as a treatment for “Reactive Attachment Disorder.”
The Mayo Clinic describes reactive attachment disorder as “a rare but serious condition in which an infant or young child doesn’t establish healthy attachments with parents or caregivers. Reactive attachment disorder may develop if the child’s basic needs for comfort, affection and nurturing aren’t met and loving, caring, stable attachments with others are not established.”
This rare disorder primarily impacts infants and toddlers, who will show symptoms like listlessness, not seeking comfort or unexplained withdrawal.
On her website, Nancy Thomas describes a child experiencing RAD like this: “Everyone becomes the enemy. They learn to manipulate and use and abuse people to get what they want. The true child may never been seen by anyone except the mother figure they unleash their deep-seeded rage on.”
Attachment-based therapy is described in Psychology Today as looking “at the connection between an infant’s early attachment experiences with primary caregivers, usually with parents, and the infant’s ability to develop normally and ultimately form healthy emotional and physical relationships as an adult.”
PsychologyToday also notes: “Attachment-based therapy as described here should not be confused with unconventional, unproven, and potentially harmful treatments referred to as “attachment therapy” that involve physical manipulation, restraint, deprivation, boot camp–like activities, or physical discomfort of any kind. These so-called “attachment therapies” were developed in the 1970s as interventions for children with behavioral challenges, particularly those with autism; they have since been investigated and rejected by mainstream psychology and medicine.”
This “attachment therapy” that Nancy Thomas is a proponent of involves “holding therapy” where a person or sometimes multiple people will forcibly restrain a child.
Nancy Thomas’s parenting advice was also at the center of the case of an Arkansas State Representative in 2015 who adopted and then gave up sisters with serious behavioral issues, at one point accusing the girls of being possessed.
The Daily Beast wrote that the treatments popularized by this so-called attachment therapy “revolve around asserting parents’ absolute control over their children, through strict regulations on children’s movements and eating habits. Sometimes children are put on extremely limited diets of bland, unappetizing food; assigned hours of pointless, repetitive chores; forced to sit in one location, facing the wall, for hours at a time; and endure “holding therapy,” wherein children may be forcibly held down by parents or therapists to induce first a feeling of rage and powerlessness, then catharsis and acceptance when they finally submit.”
In 2000, 10-year-old Candace Newmaker died under the care of attachment “therapists” in Colorado and two unlicensed therapists were found guilty in her death.
Newmaker died after she was “wrapped in a blanket meant to represent a womb, the little girl was sat on by four adults until she could no longer breathe,” during a process called ‘rebirthing’ according to a Guardian article published at the time.
The Wilsons will be back in court on Feb. 2.