One of my favorite TV tropes from House is the diagnosis of Munchausen’s Syndrome, and its related partner Munchausen’s by proxy. It came up almost as commonly as the infamous Lupus suggestions, and its effects were discussed ad nauseum. Recently, I’ve caught wind of a developing story regarding Munchausen’s by proxy, a dead little boy, and an outraged “mommy blogosphere.”
Garnett Spears was only five years old when seizures left him brain dead in a hospital in upstate New York. After an exhaustive investigation by the medical examiner’s office, his death has finally been ruled a homicide, and his mother Lacey Spears is at the center of the investigation. It is important to note that as of now, she has not been charged with any crimes.
Lacey, a popular mommy blogger, spent the entirety of Garnett’s short life documenting his many health problems and various hospitalizations on her social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and her personal blog, Garnett’s Journey. While at one point she was a prolific blogger and user of Twitter, it seems that within the past month to month and a half, she has scrubbed all of her social media accounts. What remains is disturbing enough, however.
My Sweet Angel Is In The Hospital For The 23rd Time Please Pray He Gets To Come Home Soon…
— Lacey E Spears (@GarnettsMommy) November 11, 2009
According to Spears’ Twitter account, Garnett was hospitalized 23 times in his first year alone, something she documented at length as they moved from Decatur, GA to Florida and finally to the Fellowship Community located in Chestnut Ridge, NY where they sought long-term care for his “illness.” The Fellowship Community states on its website that it’s a place dedicated to providing a “healthy normalizing setting” for those who are chronically ill.
Since news of the investigation leaked, various media outlets have dug into the story. Lohud Journal News has documented the story and discovered that Garnett lived with a feeding tube from the time he was around 10 months old. His tube was installed because, as Spears claimed, he had “failure to thrive,” a catch-all medical term for babies that don’t eat normally and doesn’t really indicate a disorder. These tubes are usually installed on children only as a last and temporary resort. The fact that Garnett had his tube in for nearly all of his life, when there is no evidence to support his having a condition indicative of needing a feeding tube, is unsettling.
On January 19th, after being hospitalized for the seizures, doctors discovered that Garnett had extremely high levels of sodium in his system. While he was in the hospital, Spears phoned a neighbor at the Fellowship and asked them to throw away the empty bags used with Garnett’s feeding tubes. Detectives investigating the cause of death seized the feeding bag and found the contents contained high levels of sodium.
Lohud also researched Lacey’s strange past with a friend’s child, Jonathan. She began taking care of the infant, who she affectionately referred to as JonJon on her MySpace page, as a way to help out her friend. She was with him so often that many people assumed that JonJon was her son, a claim she reportedly didn’t dispute. Once confronted, Spears became contrite and confessed he wasn’t her son, but rather a child she watched over.
Jon Jon. Via Myspace
Another outlet dug into Spears’ claims regarding her “soul mate,” a mysterious man named Blake, whom Lacey named as Garnett’s father. USA Today discovered that a man named Chris Hill is the father of Garnett, not Blake. There is evidence that, if Blake exists, he never was involved with Garnett’s life. Hill notes that he began a sexual relationship with Spears who became pregnant shortly afterward.
At first, Spears was interested in marriage and co-parenting with Hill, but then suddenly cut Hill out of her life, demanding he stay away from her and her son. After Garnett’s death, Spears allegedly reached out to Hill, texting him and urging him to remain friends with her. The article is illuminating, especially given that at one point she dedicated a blog to “365 days of living without Blake.” She claimed that her hero-cop husband Blake died in a tragic car accident, leaving her to raise their chronically ill son alone.
Following the same trend of deletion from her MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter account, Spear’s own blog currently only has two posts remaining, one with photos documenting a year with Garnett, and a disturbing theme surfaces in the photos–a dog named Odie, who was adopted and then died only a few months later.
This pattern of death that follows Spears is disturbing. Obviously, people have tragic lives. There are many out there who see more than their fair share of tragedy. Children get sick and pass away due to unexplained circumstances all the time. The loss of a child is a horrific experience. However, the pattern of lies that also follows Spears, combined with her strange behaviors before and after Garnett’s death, is cause enough for an investigation.
Lacey Spears isn’t alone in exploiting a “sick child” in exchange for attention from strangers on the Internet. Take the case of Liam’s Little Lambs, the story of a little boy who may or may not have had a rare skin disorder, Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB), or the Butterfly Disease–the circumstances surrounding his death, and that of his mother, have left an online community of mothers scratching their heads over why law enforcement wouldn’t read the writing on the wall.
As social media increases, so do reports of frauds and people scamming others for money, goods and flat-out sympathy and attention. If we’re honest with ourselves, I think we can all cop to a time we’ve vaguebooked out of frustration or a need for empathy in our lives. Social media connects us to a circle of people who have the same sort of interests, making it a great outlet to share frustrations, get a level check on our feelings, or just make sure that we’re not the only people who think “The Wolf of Wall Street” wasn’t the most breathtaking movie made last year.
While social media isn’t the cause of a mental illness as serious as Munchausen’s by proxy, it certainly can make the things a patient craves–attention, sympathy, validation and emotional gains–much more accessible. The Spears case is interesting to watch as it unfolds. While I hope that the investigation will find no wrongdoing on her part and that she will be exonerated, my gut tells me that investigators are only beginning to discover the abuse that Garnett was put through at the hands of a parent who was supposed to protect him.
Updated information on Lacey Spears case, and her murder charge, is available here.