SEATTLE — A Washington state teenager who suffered life-long injuries when she was violently shaken as an infant has died, and a prosecutors’ office said on Wednesday her biological father could be charged in her death.
Baylee Duggins, 15, of Tacoma, died on Sunday from respiratory failure linked to pneumonia, according to her mother and the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Her death was ruled a homicide, a result of being “shaken as an infant,” the coroner’s office said.
Duggins’ biological father, Christopher Schwanz, was convicted in 2000 of second-degree child abuse for shaking the girl as an infant, leaving her severely physically and mentally impaired, according to Pierce County court records.
The Pierce County prosecutor’s office was investigating the death and said on Wednesday that a decision on whether to bring a homicide charge against Schwanz would be made in coming days or weeks.
Prosecutors were “still gathering reports and information at this time,” a spokeswoman said, adding that law enforcement officials were also examining whether there was any statute of limitations that could prevent a new charge in the case.
Duggins had been a normal, healthy baby before she was shaken, according to her mother, Shannon Stiles. The young girl spent her life confined to a wheelchair, was legally blind, and was never able to talk, she said.
“She was totally dependant,” Stiles said. “And when she got sick, it was harder for her to heal.”
Shaken baby syndrome, also known as abusive head trauma, is the leading cause of child abuse deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At least one in four babies violently shaken dies, the CDC said. Those who survive are at risk for lifelong brain damage and other complications.
Stiles said she wants prosecutors to bring murder charges against the child’s father.
“I want justice for Baylee,” she said. “That’s what it needs to be. She could never fight for herself, so we have to fight for her,” Stiles said.
Schwanz could not be reached for comment about his daughter’s death or the possible new charges.