MURRIETTA, Calif. — Police say a U.S. Navy sailor father and his girlfriend face multiple possible charges, including torture, after an alleged case of child abuse in Murrieta left a 5-year-old boy hospitalized in grave condition, KTLA reported Wednesday.
Police and fire personnel were dispatched to an emergency call at 24001 Verdun Lane shortly after 10 a.m. Tuesday in reference to a child in medical distress, according to a Murrieta Police Department news release.
When first responders arrived, they located a 5-year-old boy with “severe” injuries, police said. He was rushed by ambulance to a local hospital before being airlifted to another medical facility in San Diego County.
A neighbor of the couple said she saw paramedics pressing on the boy’s chest, “trying to get him to breathe.”
As of noon Wednesday, the unidentified boy was listed in grave condition. Neighbors were planning a vigil outside the home at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Officers determined the boy received his injuries from an apparent case of child abuse, and detectives were called out to the home to investigate further, according to the release.
The biological father, 33-year-old Benjamin Whitten, and his live-in girlfriend, 25-year-old Jeryn Johnson, were both interviewed by police, the release stated. A search warrant was also issued for the home.
Based on the information gathered from the interviews and evidence obtained after the warrant was served, investigators determined Whitten and Johnson were responsible for the child’s “dire condition,” police said.
The search also revealed the boy had been living in “extremely unsanitary” conditions. Riverside County animal control responded and removed 11 dogs, four cats and two fish from the residence.
Whitten and Johnson were arrested and booked into jail on suspicion of willful harm to a child, infliction of great bodily injury and torture, according to police.
The U.S. Navy confirmed that Whitten serves a machinist’s mate nuclear first class stationed at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Detachment in San Diego. A biographical data sheet provided by the Navy indicated he enlisted in 2009; his home state of record was listed as Texas.
The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office has been called in to help with the investigation “due to the severity of the injuries sustained by the juvenile,” the release stated. A spokesman for the DA’s office said they had not been charged by midafternoon.
Both Whitten and Johnson are due to appear in court at 8 a.m. Thursday, county inmate records indicate.
Anyone with information about the case is urged to call police Detective Sgt. Spencer Parker at 951-461-6364.