Abby Smart was still wearing her McDonald’s uniform as she cried over the body of her infant boy in a hospital room.
Her sister, Allicia Stapleton of Dayton, said she arrived minutes later the evening of June 8 to the emergency department at Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Walla Walla and heard her Abby wailing. Stapleton said she found her 17-year-old sister alone and clutching her 5-month-old baby, Dominic. He was in a little white blanket and was dead.
Stapleton, 28, said she spoke for her sister because talking about the death of her son was too hard for her. Abby was a good mother, even for someone so young, she said, and the boy was the center of her life.
“She’s broken,” Stapleton said. “Everybody’s kind of just broken.”
The boy’s father, Evan Freel, 16, of Milton-Freewater, faces charges of murder by abuse and first-degree criminal mistreatment for the baby’s death.
A Umatilla County grand jury on Wednesday indicted Freel, and the Umatilla County District Attorney’s Office arraigned the teen Friday morning in circuit court in Pendleton. The state accuses Freel of inflicting deadly physical injury to the baby.
Freel appeared via video from the juvenile jail at the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facilities in The Dalles. His court-appointed attorney, Herman Bylenga of Pendleton, entered an innocent plea for his client.
Circuit Judge Christopher Brauer set Freel’s bail at $5 million and July 8 for a bail hearing.
She’s broken. Everybody’s kind of just broken.
Allicia Stapleton about her sister
No one from Freel’s family was in the Pendleton courtroom. Barbara Freel, Evan Freel’s grandmother and legal guardian, said she only found out about the arraignment after the East Oregonian broke the news online.
“The DA, the police, or someone should have told us — he’s a minor,” she said.
Abby and her family were not there either, but Stapleton said they knew of the hearing and did not go.
She also said she first alerted her younger sister that something was wrong with the baby back on June 8.
A friend with a police scanner called Stapleton after hearing a report of an ambulance going to Abby’s apartment on North Elizabeth Street, Milton-Freewater, for a baby that was not breathing. Stapleton said she was on the phone moments later with her sister.
Abby was little more than an hour into her second day at work when she took that call. Abby uttered, “Oh my God,” her sister said, and got a ride to the Walla Walla hospital from her supervisor. Stapleton said she showed up 10 minutes later, but Dominic died before either arrived.
Stapleton said her sister was a little wild as a teen, until she became pregnant. Then she embraced the notion of motherhood, and was careful enough to ask her doctor about the safety of taking bronchitis medication while pregnant. Getting the job at McDonald’s was another step into her adult life and providing for her baby.
“She rose to the challenge with grace, she loved that baby,” Stapleton said. “I honestly believe that baby saved her life.”
Every mother fears losing a child, but having it come to reality? I can’t even imagine.
The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin reported Dominic arrived Jan. 1 at 12:14 a.m., making him the first baby born this year in the Walla Walla Valley. Dominic was perfect, his aunt said.
“He was just so easy and so happy. He would smile and snuggle and was happy and content all the time,” she said.
“Without a doubt this is a nightmare,” Stapleton said. “... this happens on TV cop shows or horror movies, not real life,” she said. “Every mother fears losing a child, but having it come to reality? I can’t even imagine.”
Her heart aches for her sister and nephew, she said, but the family is coping with their anguish. Abby had a counseling appointment Friday, and Stapleton said she has spoken to counselors. She also praised the caring and compassion of Walla Walla fire and police chaplain Cole Massey and his wife Lacey, who have helped the family with its grief and sorrow.
Stapleton, her husband and their two children, a son, 3, and a daughter, 9, as well as her two sisters, ages 14 and 25, and her mother recently moved in with them. Abby has recently taken sanctuary in their home, too.
Stapleton and her husband are the only breadwinners, she said, and while it is good to be with family at this time, the finances are thin.
“Right now, I can’t even make any funeral arrangements for Dominic,” she said. “I can’t even get him a casket to get that poor baby buried.”
Stapleton said she set up a donation account on behalf of Abby and Dominic at Washington Federal and on the fundraising website GoFundMe under the name Rest for Dominic Our Sweetest Angel. Friday night $600 was raise toward the $5,000 goal.