Circus promoters starved 12-year-old son, chained him in bathtub before death, authorities say

Circus Promoters Starved Son, Chained Him in Bathtub Before Death, Authorities Said

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — A 12-year-old boy who weighed less than 55 pounds when he died at an Indiana hospital last week was restrained in a motel bathtub and shocked with a dog’s “shock collar” as punishment prior to his death, according to authorities.

Eduardo Posso was pronounced dead early Friday morning at Bloomington Hospital, where Monroe County Sheriff Brad Swain said the boy had been taken, unresponsive, by his father and stepmother. Doctors at the hospital found signs of long-term abuse and starvation in the boy, Swain said.

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Luis Eduardo Posso Jr., 33, and Dayana Sarahid Medina Flores, 25, are charged with multiple counts of felony child neglect, according to Swain. Posso is also charged with domestic battery and both he and his wife are charged with confinement.

Each is being held in the Monroe County Jail in lieu of $500,000 bond.

Additional charges against the couple are likely, including possible murder charges. Investigators await a determination on the manner and cause of the boy’s death.

Editor’s note: The following description of Eduardo Posso’s death contains graphic details. It may be too disturbing to some readers. 

Monroe County Coroner Joni Shield told reporters at a news conference Tuesday that Eduardo was "severely emaciated," weighing between 50 and 55 pounds when he died. A 12-year-old boy should weigh somewhere between 65 and 130 pounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"There were definitely signs of severe starvation and abuse, as well, Shield said. "Soft tissue abuse. There were no internal injuries found. No broken bones."

The bruises on Eduardo covered his entire body, Shield said. Though the coroner said she could not say definitively for how long the boy had been starved before he died, she said it was for quite a while.

"It's not been overnight. It's not been a month. It's been a long time that he's been without nourishment," she said.

Monroe County Detective Lt. Jennifer Allen said the forensic pathologist on the case found that Eduardo had 0% body fat when he died.

The sheriff said he has worked some “pretty horrendous” child homicide and abuse cases in his career, but none like this one.

"You don't even want to let your mind go to imagine what this child's thoughts were and what his prospects for his future were," Swain said during Tuesday's news conference. "I was told that the emergency room doctor had a pretty emotional experience as a result of having to do this examination and just seeing firsthand the results of the cruelty some people can place on another, especially a child that's defenseless."

Swain said detectives investigating Eduardo’s death went to the family’s room at the Economy Inn extended stay motel in Bloomington, where they were staying while doing promotional work for an upcoming circus. The family checked into the motel four days before Eduardo died.

"That's the way they made their living, going to different towns to do the advertising and put out fliers," Swain said.

Detectives who searched the family’s room found restraints, including chains and wrist and ankle shackles, that were used on Eduardo. They also found the dog shock collar.

At least one cellphone in the couple's belongings held photos and video footage that showed Eduardo restrained in the motel room's tub, Swain said. Flores and the other children are seen coming and going in the bathroom, paying no mind to the boy as they did so.

Posso had snapped a "selfie" of himself with a restrained Eduardo in the shot, the sheriff said.

Eduardo had the shock collar around his neck in the images, Allen said.

Watch Monroe County officials discuss the death of Eduardo Posso below.

Posted by Monroe County Sheriff's Department on Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Allen told reporters that investigators also found a web-based security system in the motel room with which Posso and Flores could keep an eye on Eduardo. The couple sometimes left the boy alone in the motel room while they and the other children went to hand out fliers for the circus.

The security camera was attached to a towel bar in the bathroom, Allen said.

Shield confirmed that Eduardo’s physical condition would have been apparent to outsiders if he had been observed. Allen said though Posso and Flores sometimes took him along when they and the other children passed out fliers, Eduardo was usually left in the family’s van.

Eduardo’s 9-year-old sister and two stepbrothers, ages 5 and 2, have been placed in the care of Indiana Child Protective Services.

"The other children seemed to be in relatively good health, but indications seem to be that this young man, Eduardo, lived a very sad life," Swain said.

The sheriff said preliminary findings indicate Eduardo starved to death, though the definitive cause and manner of death are pending. Shield told reporters she would release those findings as soon as she is able.

Allen said Posso and Flores told authorities Eduardo became ill the day before he died as the family passed out fliers for the circus. Flores suggested they return to the motel room, where the boy’s condition continued to decline.

When they checked on him Friday morning, they realized he had stopped breathing, Posso rushed him to the hospital, Allen said.

The Monroe County Sheriff's Office will be holding a press conference this afternoon at 2:30 PM in reference to a horrific child death investigation which resulted in arrests.

Posted by Monroe County Sheriff's Department on Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The ongoing criminal investigation will likely include multiple jurisdictions because the family traveled for their work, Swain said. Detectives are currently trying to determine where the family traveled in the weeks leading up to Eduardo’s death.

Allen said from what investigators have determined since Friday morning, the alleged abuse inflicted on Eduardo had been ongoing but had become more severe over the past year or so.

“We do have some photographs and some videos on some of the devices that show that he appeared to be somewhat of a normal, happy little boy approximately a year ago,” Allen said.

The detective said both Posso and Flores denied withholding food from Eduardo. Posso admitted to some of the physical abuse but denied using restraints on his son, Allen said.

Flores told investigators her husband physically abused and restrained his son.

"I was given the explanation that he was the child that acted up the most," Allen said. "He was the one they always had issues with. The other children behaved, just behaved better than he did."

A reporter asked Allen how she was affected by the abuse allegations.

“You can’t even put that into words,” Allen said. “There are no words for it.”