Cops: Suspect kept child in closet
3-year-old had signs of severe abuse before her death, affidavit says
The Grand Junction woman charged with killing her 3-year-old niece told police she kept the child in a closet for two weeks in an effort to control her and hid her under a bed — rather than calling for help — after beating her two days before the girl was pronounced dead, according to an arrest affidavit.
The affidavit, unsealed by a judge over the weekend and released Monday, reveals 3-year-old Bethannie Johnson sustained severe injuries all over her body, and that some of those injuries were inflicted hours or days before medical help was sought.
Shanna Gossett, 29, was charged last week with first-degree murder, child abuse resulting in death, second-degree kidnapping and false imprisonment. She continues to be held without bail in the Mesa County Jail.
Paramedics were called to a home in the 3000 block of North 14th Street about 7:45 p.m. March 17 for a report of a 3-year-old girl not breathing. Medical crews arrived and found Bethannie lying in the middle of the living room floor unresponsive. They were unable to revive her, and she was pronounced dead at St. Mary’s Hospital just after 8 a.m., according to the affidavit.
Paramedics told Grand Junction police detectives Bethannie was severely bruised on her head and abdomen, and that when they attempted to clear out the girl’s airway they found dried blood — a possible indication of older injuries. Emergency responders also told police the child likely died during the night of March 16 or early on the morning of the 17th. Detectives discovered several bruises on the child’s forehead, abdomen and legs. An autopsy found she had multiple external head injuries and severe internal head injuries and concluded she died of blunt force trauma.
Gossett, who was at the address when paramedics arrived, told police she was the aunt and legal guardian of Bethannie. She said she temporarily stays at the 14th Street house because she provides child care for the resident of the house.
Gossett initially told detectives she met her sister — Bethannie’s biological mother — at a gas station two weeks earlier to give Bethannie to her mother, saying she needed a break from the child. About 10 p.m. March 16, she said her sister showed up at the house with Bethannie, handed over the child and walked away, according to the affidavit.
Gossett said she noticed Bethannie had a bloody nose, which she wiped clean before putting the child to bed. She said when she went to check on Bethannie the morning of the 17th, she found her unresponsive and called 911.
Gossett told detectives Bethannie often has bruises because she throws herself into things for what Gossett called reactive attachment disorder.
Police contacted Bethannie’s mother, who contradicted Gossett’s story, saying she was in Texas for two weeks prior to Bethannie’s death. In a follow-up interview, Gossett changed her story.
She told police she was having trouble controlling Bethannie, who was throwing herself down and hurting herself, so Gossett strapped her in a high chair and placed the child in a closet for two weeks. She said she continued to feed and periodically bathe Bethannie during the time she kept the girl in the closet. At the same time, she said she told the resident of the house that Bethannie’s mother had picked the girl up and had her during those two weeks, according to the affidavit.
“We believe (Bethannie) was pretty consistently confined to the closet, but was given food and occasionally bathed throughout the course of this,” Detective Brandon Ludwig told The Daily Sentinel on Monday.
Gossett told police that Bethannie threw a temper tantrum while she was out of the closet on March 15 and Gossett pushed her down, causing her to hit her head on a vacuum cleaner. She said after the child got up, she pushed Bethannie’s head into a wall. After that, the child didn’t get up and quit breathing, according to the affidavit.
Gossett said she performed CPR on Bethannie, and after some rescue breaths, the girl began breathing on her own again but was otherwise unresponsive. She said she then hid the child under a bed until about 10 p.m. March 16, when she took Bethannie out and placed her in a crib. Gossett said the resident of the house where Gossett was living didn’t know about the injuries to Bethannie, or that Gossett had hidden the child in the closet or under the bed.
Ludwig said Gossett was in the house when 911 was called but that it was another person at the house who called for help on March 17. He declined to identify the caller.
Asked how a 3-year-old child could be kept in a closet for two weeks without anybody knowing, Ludwig said, “That’s still under investigation.”
He said police are waiting on toxicology results on Bethannie — which would determine whether she had any alcohol or drugs in her system — “to see if that possibly played a role.” He noted that toxicology tests are routinely conducted in conjunction with autopsies.
“We’re certainly looking into that still,” Ludwig said. “The details of (the case) are rather disturbing.”
Gossett is scheduled to return to court May 31.