Munchausen’s by Proxy: A Primer by Mark J. Blotcky M.D.
A 22-year-old woman who told doctors that her baby daughter would stop breathing and turn blue has been jailed on accusations that she tried to suffocate her child.
Shawna Renae Bieber is accused of twice intentionally depriving her daughter of oxygen while the girl was hospitalized last month at Cook Children’s Medical Center.
One of the incidents was caught on video, according to an arrest warrant affidavit written by Mike Weber, an investigator with the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office.
The baby, now 8 months old, is in foster care and, though monitored, has had no apnea episodes since being removed from her mother, states the affidavit.
Bieber had another daughter, Annabelle Rose Davis, who died in February 2016 at 3 months from what was ruled as natural causes.
A woman whom Bieber lived with told Weber that when she confronted Bieber about the video of the alleged suffocation, Bieber told her that Anabelle had come back as a demon and was trying to take her new daughter away.
Bieber told the woman that she placed her hand over daughter’s mouth “in an attempt to get rid of the demon,” the affidavit states.
Bieber had never mentioned a demon to anyone else, the investigator points out in his affidavit, and had told the baby’s father that if she hurt her daughter, she didn’t remember doing it.
The woman and her husband took Bieber to a mental health facility in Cleburne. She was later transferred to John Peter Smith Hospital and arrested on Wednesday on two warrants accusing her of injury to a child with serious bodily injury.
It is the latest alleged case in Tarrant County of what’s frequently known as Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a disorder in which a person exaggerates or creates medical symptoms in another to gain attention.
Bieber remained held in the Tarrant County Jail Thursday. Her bail is set at a combined $30,000.
It was not clear Thursday whether Bieber has a defense attorney.
Christopher Cooke, a Cleburne attorney, said he represents the couple whom Bieber had been living with prior to her arrest.
Though the warrant described the couple as Bieber’s adoptive parents, Cooke said the couple had never adopted Bieber.
“She was a foster kid that kind of bounced around from home to home as a child because of CPS allegations against her own parents,” Cooke said. ”My clients took her kind of under their wing and let her live in the home but they never adopted her.”
Cooke said the couple had been managing conservators of Bieber’s daughter with plans to adopt the baby but, due to their ages, recently changed their minds.
“So they relinquished managing conservatorship back to the department in hopes they could find a younger set of parents to raise this child,” he said.
Since the allegations have been raised, he said the couple has ended their relationship with Bieber.
First alleged injury
Bieber had brought her daughter, then 7 months old, to the hospital in February complaining that the girl would stop breathing and turn blue.
Medical staff, however, could find nothing wrong with the baby.
On Feb. 7, Bieber emerged from the girl’s hospital room, claiming she’d found her daughter blue. Nurses entered to find the baby breathing again but “very blue” and “still limp and disturbingly lifeless.”
Bieber told a nurse she’d discovered her daughter that way after turning around for a second to get more baby food.
The nurse told Weber that Bieber “repeatedly said with a note of excitability, ‘I told you. This is exactly what happens at home. I told you guys.’”
But the extent of the baby’s condition was “very unlikely” to have developed in a matter of seconds, the nurse told Weber, and the time it took for the girl to recover indicated it was not a “short apneic event.”
The baby was transferred to the intensive care unit and moved on Feb. 9 to a hospital room with hidden cameras.
On Feb. 12, hospital staff alerted Weber to their suspicions that Bieber was depriving the baby of oxygen.
Second alleged injury
On the morning of Feb. 15, Bieber claimed her daughter had another apnea episode.
But according to the affidavit, video from the room — though blurry — showed the following:
Bieber held her daughter while seated in a rocking chair, then “appears to grip the victim tightly immediately before the victim’s right leg began to kick.”
It appears Bieber was either squeezing the baby or suffocating the child against her chest, Weber wrote.
After about 30 seconds, the baby’s right leg appears to go limp in the video.
Within seconds, audible alarms with blinking colored lights began to go off in the room, indicating the child has low oxygen levels, the affidavit states.
“The monitor goes through 2 cycles of audible alarms while the suspect maintains her position with the victim and the victim’s leg remains limp,” the affidavit states. “ After the alarm is sounding for 30 — 45 seconds, the suspect leans a lifeless victim back from her chest and places the victim on her back in the crib.”
Bieber can then be seen pushing the nurse call button and standing over her daughter for another four or five seconds before walking out of the room to retrieve a nurse.
Nurses told Weber they came into the room to find the baby pale and breathing rapidly with a respiration rate over 80 — consistent with “recovery from a suffocation event.”
When asked what happened by one of the nurses, Bieber claimed that her daughter was sitting upright in the crib, then threw herself back and started having breathing issues.
The incident, according to the affidavit, had occurred less than an hour after Bieber had been informed by a doctor that there was no reason for the baby to remain hospitalized and that the baby could be discharged with a monitor.
Previous daughter’s death
Bieber’s previous daughter, Anabelle, had come to Cook Children’s Medical Center unresponsive and not breathing. The 3 month old girl was placed on a respirator for four days but died.
The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s office ruled the girl’s death natural, caused by hypoxic encephalopathy (a brain injury caused by oxygen deprivation) because of pneumonia.
But according to the affidavit, Dr. Jamye Coffman, a child abuse pediatrician, pointed out to Weber that pneumonia could have been a by-product of being on a respirator for four days.