NEW YORK — After months of uncertainty, life seemed to be settling into a rhythm for Carlyle Williamson and his 19-month-old son, Cardell. Williamson had gained custody of the boy after a long legal battle, found a landscaping job after a lengthy search and begun dropping Cardell off every day at 6 a.m. with a licensed child care worker who lived on his block in the Mount Eden section of the Bronx.
But Williamson, 56, said Sunday that he soon began to see troubling signs when he picked Cardell up from the caregiver, Athena Skeeter, after work: bumps, bruises and once, about two weeks ago, a black eye and a fat lip.
“I said, ‘What happened to him now?’” Williamson said, recalling a conversation he had had with Skeeter. “She said, ‘Oh, he slipped on the kitchen floor.’” Williamson said he had begun to look for other child care options.
On Friday afternoon, police officers responding to a call placed by Skeeter rushed to her second-floor apartment at 1374 College Ave., where they found Cardell unresponsive. He was taken to Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center in a patrol car and pronounced dead there a short time later.
Late Saturday, the New York City medical examiner’s office ruled the death a homicide, saying that Cardell died of blunt force trauma to the head and torso. Detectives arrested Skeeter soon after.
On Sunday, the Bronx district attorney’s office charged Skeeter, 40, with manslaughter and reckless endangerment in a criminal complaint that describes in chilling detail the series of rough actions that preceded the boy’s death. She was arraigned Sunday in Bronx Criminal Court and remanded into custody. A lawyer representing Skeeter, who has no criminal record, could not be reached Sunday.
Skeeter, who also cared for her young son in her home, told the police that on Friday, just before noon, she had been wrestling with both boys, the complaint says. At one point, she tossed Cardell onto the hard wood floor and stepped on his stomach. “I then threw my son on top of Cardell and stepped on his stomach three times,” she said, according to the complaint. “Cardell acted different after that.”
The boy began vomiting and could not walk on his own, the complaint says, and Skeeter ran a bath to put cold water on him. She left the room briefly, and when she returned, it was full of steam and the boy’s head was in the water. “Cardell was unresponsive and had burns on his arm and face,” Skeeter told the police, according to the complaint. She sought help from her mother, who lives with her, then tried CPR before calling 911, the police said.
Williamson said he had not known there was anything wrong with Cardell until he got home Friday evening to find police cars on the block and neighbors all around. “They said, ‘That’s for your child,’” he said Sunday. “I thought maybe he broke his arm.” He rushed to the hospital, where he learned that his son was dead.
The police said Skeeter had a license to provide day care in her apartment, a permit that is typically issued by state authorities or the city’s Health Department. A spokesman for the department did not immediately respond to an email inquiry regarding Skeeter.
A spokesman for the city’s Administration for Children’s Services said the agency would investigate the matter.
Williamson said he had arranged for Skeeter to take care of Cardell about three months ago when, after getting the landscaping job through the city’s Human Resources Administration, he needed a day care provider.
Williamson said he had seen Skeeter “for years” taking care of children, and that is why he had approached her to watch his son. Williamson said Cardell was the youngest child he had seen in her care, adding that her son appeared to be about 3 or 4.
Lately, Cardell had begun to develop an outgoing personality, beaming smiles on the block and dancing to every sort of music, Williamson said, while explaining that his dispute with the boy’s mother over who would raise him had begun shortly after he was born on New Year’s Eve in 2012.
“I got full custody, everything, about two months ago,” Williamson said. “Now I have no child to go with it.”