Report details starved boy's ordeal

The 4-year-old who died in Durham showed scarring and other evidence of injury

Staff WriterJanuary 12, 2006 

The body of a little boy starved to death last fall showed evidence of previous injuries, malnutrition and dehydration, according to an autopsy report released this week.

Ultimately, Randolph Thomas, 4, died of malnutrition and complications from aspiration pneumonia, a forensic pathologist found.

The child died the night of Aug. 31, about nine hours after his parents flagged down a deputy sheriff on Miami Boulevard near Interstate 40 and said the boy was unresponsive.

Randolph's parents, Amber Dowen, 20, and Richard Dowen, 32, were driving through Durham in a tractor-trailer to make a delivery. The Dowens were from Riverside, Texas, and were traveling cross country in the truck with their 15-month-old daughter and Amber Dowen's son Randolph, police said.

The girl appeared healthy, local law enforcement officers said, and was put in the custody of Durham County Social Services.

Doctors and nurses were unable to save Randolph's life, and his body was examined Sept. 1 at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Chapel Hill. At the time his body was reviewed, officials estimated his weight at 12 pounds, the report said. Another forensic pathologist later said Randolph was 3 feet tall and weighed 19.5 pounds. Most 4-year-old boys weigh 35 to 45 pounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The boy had scars on his head and chest and extensive bruising on his scalp, the fronts of his legs and the tops of his feet, the report showed. There were also scars on his abdomen and another healed scar on his forehead, it said.

There was also plant material found in Randolph's lungs, the report showed, amid the bacteria, hemorrhages and inflammation associated with his case of pneumonia.

When doctors opened Randolph's stomach, they found that someone recently had fed him. The amount of food in his stomach was a lot, considering his emaciated state, the doctor noted. The boy was wrapped in a Spiderman blanket and was accompanied by a stuffed bear.

At the time of Randolph's death, the sheriff from the Dowens' hometown in Walker County, Texas, reported that one of his investigators went to the trailer where the Dowens lived on March 19 because of reports that the child had a large bruise on his face. When caseworkers from the county's child protective services tried to investigate, they couldn't locate the family, the sheriff said.

According to arrest warrants for the Dowens on charges of murder and felony child abuse, investigators think the couple started starving Randolph in April, five months before his death.

The Dowens were being held in the Durham County jail Wednesday. They have been denied bail while awaiting trial, according to jail records. Both have been indicted on first-degree murder charges, and the case has moved to Durham County Superior Court, according to court records. The couple are scheduled to appear in court Tuesday.

Staff writer Samiha Khanna can be reached at 956-2468 or skhanna@newsobserver.com.

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