Couple charged with son’s murder as child dies from strictly vegetable diet

Sheila and Ryan O'Leary
Sheila and Ryan O'Leary

A vegan couple have been charged with murder and child abuse after allegedly starving their one-year-old boy to death with a strict fruit and vegetable diet.

Ryan and Sheila O’Leary, from Florida, US, reportedly only gave their four children, aged one to 11, raw produce such as mangoes, bananas and avocados to eat.

Their 18-month-old son weighed just 17lbs when he passed away, the same weight as an average seven-month-old child.

Sheila, 35, told police that the child was born at home and had never seen a doctor before.

Their other three children, aged three, five and 11, also suffered child abuse and neglect, it is claimed.

The parents have now been charged with murder, child abuse, manslaughter and child neglect, Mail Online reports.

When he died, she said, he hadn’t eaten food in a week – she thought it was because he was teething – and he was being breastfed.

Police said the stay-at-home mum told a detective she was breastfeeding her son at about 4am when he began to have shallow breathing.

She was worried because it was the first time it had happened, but said she didn’t call for help because she fell asleep.

He was pronounced dead at the family home in Cape Coral, Florida, after his mum woke up and noticed he wasn’t breathing and was cold.

She dialled 911 as her 30-year-old husband tried to resuscitate the boy, police wrote in an affidavit obtained by the Fort Myers News-Press.

The boy’s death was caused by complications of malnutrition, including dehydration, liver problems and swelling of his hands, feet and lower legs, a post-mortem found.

Sheila told police her son’s feet had been swollen off and on for weeks and he wasn’t walking as much as he had been previously.

In the affidavit, police said the parents had three other children inside their van when they spoke to a detective.

Two of them – girls aged three and five – were extremely small and weighed below average for their ages and pale and yellowish in colour, said police.

One of the girls had blackened teeth from dental decay, which required surgery.

The third child, a girl, appeared healthier and was Sheila’s daughter from a previous relationship. That child was likely healthier because she stays with her father every two months.

During their initial court appearance, the O’Learys reportedly said their one-year-old was sick for six months before his death.

Based on jail records, the O’Learys appear close to the average height and weight for their ages, the News-Press reported.

Sheila is 5ft tall and 90lbs, while Ryan is 6ft and 160lbs.

The parents will next appear in court on December 23.

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