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Toddler dies after parents allegedly strap mattress, salt bags on crib to keep him from escaping

Justin Joseph Dwyer and Courtney Stash were charged in their son’s murder.

LEBANON, Pa. — A Pennsylvania couple was jailed Wednesday on charges they strapped a mattress to the top of their 2-year-old son’s crib to prevent him from crawling out, causing his suffocation death four months ago.

Justin J. Dwyer, 29, and Courtney Stash, 28, were arraigned on charges that include involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault for the April 25 death of their son Eoin.

Eoin Dwyer at birth (Penn State Hershey Medical Center)

Police allege the two used bungee cords and heavy bags of ice melt in an effort to keep Eoin from getting out of his crib, but neither Dwyer nor Stash mentioned the ice melt or straps during initial interviews.

It was a few days after Eoin’s death that Stash’s 8-year-old son told detectives of the alleged practice, police said.

The couple’s lawyers did not return messages seeking comment.

A district judge in Lebanon set bail Wednesday at $250,000 each.

Courtney Stash and Justin Dwyer, proud parents of triplets born on Christmas Day 2014 at Penn State Hershey Medical Center.

Police said the Eoin was dead by the time emergency crews arrived at family home in Myerstown, summoned after Stash had found Eoin unresponsive and not breathing in his crib, located in the master bedroom. Myerstown is an agricultural area about 83 miles (133 kilometers) northwest of Philadelphia.

Stash told investigators she found her son that morning “standing/leaning and slumped over a top railing,” and took him to the living room where she performed CPR, according to the arrest affidavit.

Three days later, Stash’s 8-year-old told a detective that for about three weeks Stash and Dwyer had been placing a blue mattress over the top of the crib to keep Eoin from crawling out, police said. The 8-year-old also said that more recently they had begun to place what he called “ice bags” on top of that mattress, along with a red cord with hooks on the ends.

The 8-year-old said Eoin “was eventually able to push the mattress with the ‘ice bags’ up, so they started using the rope/bungee cord to secure the mattress to the crib,” wrote Lebanon County Detective Todd Hirsch.

During a search of the home, investigators said, they recovered the blue mattress, two 50-pound bags of ice melt driveway salt and a red bungee cord from the master bedroom. Authorities said wear patterns on the crib were consistent with the use of the bungee cord.

In a follow-up interview in May, the 8-year-old told police that on the morning Eoin died, and before emergency help arrived, Dwyer and Stash talked about how the mattress had trapped Eoin by the neck.

The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy said the cause of death was asphyxia due to “entrapment between crib and overlying twin mattress secured by bungee cording.”

Eoin was one of triplets born on Christmas 2014. His two sisters are living with Dwyer’s father, while the 8-year-old and another sibling are living with their biological father, said Lebanon County District Attorney Dave Arnold.

Arnold said Stash has worked as a nursing assistant, and Dwyer as a farm hand.