Richland Hills father accused of carving pentagram in young son's back

Posted Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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Audio: 911 call from Richland Hills father

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RICHLAND HILLS -- The father and son were alone in the house when police arrived, a freshly carved pentagram covering the young boy's back.

Blood, apparently from the child's wounds, had been smeared on the sides and the top of the home's door frame -- much as described in the Bible during Passover.

Richland Hills police say the father, Brent Troy Bartel, 39, committed the act against his 6-year-old son, then called 911 and calmly told a dispatcher that "I shed some innocent blood."

When asked by the dispatcher why he did it, Bartel replied, "It's a holy day."

Police arrested Bartel early Wednesday at the house in the older, middle-class neighborhood. Officers found the 6-year-old boy -- described by a neighbor as a "cute little booger" -- wearing pajama pants without a shirt.

The mother had fled to a neighboring home to get help.

"There was a large pentagram carved into his back which covered the majority of his back," Richland Hills police Sgt. Nathan Stringer said in a news release. "The child was .. shivering in the cold so officers wrapped him in a jacket."

The boy was transported to Cook Children's Medical Center, where he underwent treatment for the cuts and remained there Wednesday.

Bartel was in the North Richland Hills Jail in lieu of $500,000 bail. He faces a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon/family member.

His mother, in a telephone interview from Portland, Ore., said her son does not have a history of mental illness but has recently been under a tremendous amount of stress.

"Brent is not a demon," Lori Ponce said. "He is loving. He loves that boy. Something happened. Don't paint him as some crazy man. No, that's not him."

His stepfather said he had been searching for his spirituality.

"He is deep into the Old Testament," said John Ponce, his stepfather, in the telephone interview from Portland. "There's a possibility with all of this pain and marital strife and such, he may have resorted to Old Testament references and then convoluted them. If you know about the Old Testament, there's the Passover marks on the doorframe were done with a sacrificial lamb, definitely not sacrificial children."

'He's trying to hurt my son'

Richland Hills police first responded to the home about 12:10 a.m. after Bartel called 911. A neighbor also called for police after the child's mother had fled to the neighbor's home.

In the 911 call, Bartel told the dispatcher that, "I inscribed a pentagram on my son."

In the other 911 call from the neighbor, she passed along information to the dispatcher provided by the child's mother who can be heard crying in the background.

"Something is wrong with her husband," the neighbor told the dispatcher.

Seconds later, the dispatcher asked to talk to the child's mother.

"He's trying to hurt my son," the mother says to the dispatcher.

When officers arrived at the home, Bartel and his son were inside.

"He was ordered out of the house," Stringer said Wednesday. "I would say his demeanor was very flat. There were no indications that he was under the influence of any drugs."

While he referenced a "holy day" when talking to a dispatcher, police said there was no mention of Wednesday's once-in-a-century date of 12-12-12.

Investigators confiscated the box cutter that they believe was used to carve the pentagram, a religious symbol featuring a five-pointed star.

Officials with Child Protective Services and a crime victim liaison were notified and are working with the boy and his mother. CPS officials said they have not been involved with the family before.

Stringer said that police would not be releasing any photos showing the pentagram on the boy's back.

"It's disturbing to look at," Stringer said.

Police called to house before

Neighbors Bob and Joyce Pierce, who live across the street in the 3700 block of Ruth Road, said the Bartels had lived in the house about a year. They and other neighbors described the three-member family as private who mostly kept to themselves.

"I fixed them cookies once and they're not real sociable," Joyce Pierce said. "He comes over once in a while to borrow a yard tool."

Bob Pierce said Bartel "mows his yard and keeps good care of it."

But "they're so quiet that you forget they're over there most of the time," Joyce Pierce said.

Cecilia Lopez, who lives just down the street, said she "only ever saw the man. ... I never saw the lady. I didn't even know there was a child."

Joyce Pierce said the boy mostly "plays out in the back. She didn't let him play loose."

Richland Hills police have responded to several minor calls to the home, according to police records.

"Most of the calls have been arguments between mom and dad," Stringer said. "The calls have never involved the child."

The Pierces said they had called police on one occasion during one of their fights -- at the request of Bartel.

"He came over to call police because she wouldn't let him use the phone," Joyce Pierce said.

A 12-year-old boy who goes by the house every day as he walks home from school said he heard shouting in the house about three weeks ago.

"I heard the mom yell 'leave him alone, he's just a little boy,' " said the 12-year-old boy, who the Star-Telegram is not identifying. "The man was yelling and the boy was crying."

Bartel has also been in trouble before outside of Texas.

In 2007, after being found guilty for a turning violation in Lancaster County, Pa., Bartel walked across the courtroom toward Judge Dennis Reinaker and put down his driver's license on the bench, according to an article in the Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era.

"I officially resign as a truck driver," Bartel said, according to the newspaper, "and now I'm about to have a little fun."

Bartel was told to step away from the judge and he then walked toward the police officer who had given him the ticket and attempted to punch him.

Bartel was wrestled to the floor by several law enforcement officers and struggled violently before being handcuffed, according to the newspaper.

"It was unbelievable," Reinaker said.

His mother said her son, who worked as a long-haul trucker, was frustrated by a judicial system he judged unfair and that he served six months in jail for his actions.

'This is not him at all'

Lori Ponce said her son has recently been under stress because of marital and financial problems and excruciating physical pain from a hernia for which he had no health insurance to seek treatment.

Both his mother and stepfather wondered if that stress is what caused him to snap. They said he did not use drugs.

"This is not the man that I've come to know over the last dozen years," John Ponce said. "This is not him at all."

The Ponces said Bartel had met his wife, who is from the Philippines, over the Internet. After two years of communicating online and some visits, Bartel brought his wife to the United State and the two married in Portland in 2004.

The Ponces said Bartel strived to be a good father and in the last couple of years, he had begun studying the Bible and had even talked with his mother and stepfather about having a dragon tattoo removed from his back.

"He thought now that I'm studying Christianity and the Bible, maybe I have a sent a message to Satanists or demons that I'm one of them," John Ponce said. "He felt guilty."

John Ponce said his stepson called home about once a week, "questioning all sort of things, specifically Biblical references."

"He's been trying to, so to speak, find himself as to what he believes as far as a spirit center, faith center, and it's been a hard road for him," said John Ponce.

John Ponce said he hopes Bartel is evaluated medically, emotionally and psychologically to find out what drove him to this behavior.

"We want the answers on those questions," John Ponce said. "What we want most for our son is for him to be able to be happy with himself and to appreciate the child he's already created."

ramirez@star-telegram.com

tevans@star-telegram.com

dboyd@star-telegram.com

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