More than five years after Nathaniel died, the police investigation is open. The Star’s own investigation examines numerous apparent flaws
|Toronto Star 20 Jun 2021 at 11:38|
Recap of the story so far: Unsealed police documents and social media posts reveal what was happening in the hours before Nathaniel was rushed to hospital. His mother goes on a hunt for answers, recording conversations with doctors who give their best guess as to when Nathaniel was most likely injured.
Rose-Anne and I are at the spot on the Strathroy street where in that heart-stopping moment in October 2015, she jammed on her brakes, got out of her SUV and scooped up Nathaniel from the babysitter’s arms. A few minutes before, Rose-Anne had been getting her students ready for a public health talk about dental hygiene and proper brushing habits.
“He was stiff and I couldn’t put him in the car seat and I couldn’t buckle him in, I couldn’t move his arms. His arms were stiff so I just put the car seat in the car and I drove to the hospital,” Rose-Anne recalls.
“When I looked at him I said, Oh Nate, Oh Nate, and I noticed this red scratch on the top of his ear that wasn’t there when I dropped him off,” Rose-Anne says, taking her mind back to that day.
The marks she is referring to were actually a cluster of three abrasions on the skin around Nathaniel’s left ear. One at the top, one at the bottom, one at the back, each just a few centimetres from the ear. The doctors involved in Nathaniel’s case made written note of them. In the pathology report, one is referred to as a “linear abrasion” and two are referred to as “curved linear abrasion.”
In her statement to police, Meggin Van Hoof, the babysitter, told Strathroy detectives that her cat scratched Nathaniel that morning. None of the medical reports identify the likely cause of the abrasions. Rose-Anne is adamant that Nathaniel had no marks like that when she dropped him off, nor did he have a bruise on the left temple, which doctors and the pathology report note as well. Meggin, in her statement to police, says that she “didn’t notice a bruise on his head until after he collapsed,” just before she took Nathaniel to meet Rose-Anne.
The police investigation into Nathaniel’s death has passed the five-and-a-half-year mark. The Star, in its probe, has found numerous apparent missteps in the case — including lack of focus on the ear scratches and the timing of the bruise on his left temple.
The Star has sought comment from all of the officers who have investigated Nathaniel’s case, but all have declined comment.
One of the officers the Star has reached out to is Det. Sgt. Todd Amlin, the primary OPP investigator for the first two years and also the officer assigned as the OPP’s “victim liaison officer.”
“Your questions to OPP Detective Sergeant Todd Amlin regarding the Nathaniel McLellan case have been forwarded to me. I am responding on his behalf,” said Bill Dickson, acting manager of media relations for the OPP. “We will not be granting any interviews at this time and there is no additional information the OPP can share with you.”
The veteran female officer told court in her victim impact statement that she was in her underwear, asleep on her bed when someone entered her room. “I believed I was about to be raped. Being a victim of rape is my biggest fear, as it is for most, if not all, women. As I was fighting to get free of my attacker, my attacker released me, and only then did I see it was you. What did you do at that moment? You stood there and laughed at me.”
Amlin is the officer who conducted many of the interviews, including the interrogation of Rose-Anne.
Today, the primary investigator on the case, according to the OPP, is Det. Insp. Pete Liptrott of the Criminal Investigation Branch.
Neither Liptrott nor his boss, OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique, would speak to the Star about Nathaniel’s case.
The Star’s own review of the case shows a series of what appear to be shortcomings in how the investigation was handled, first by Strathroy-Caradoc police, then by the OPP. Among them:
In the early days, both Strathroy and OPP detectives were told by top medical experts that, had Nathaniel been fatally injured the evening before he was rushed to hospital, he most likely would have shown severe symptoms within hours. And if he had gone to sleep afterward he would likely not have woken up that Tuesday morning and been normal at daycare. Still, police focused on the parents, who were not provided this forensic information for two years, and then only by doctors on the case.
Police identified the parents and the babysitter as persons of interest in all search warrant requests but they put more focus on the parents than the babysitter. For example, while the police searched the parents’ home three times, the single warrant executed at the babysitter’s home did not include the outdoors. Police also failed to interview people who were potential witnesses, including a neighbour (Al Azevedo) who saw Meggin holding Nathaniel and walking to meet Rose-Anne after Nathaniel collapsed.
The funeral for Nathaniel Wayne McLellan was held at Sacred Heart Church in Parkhill on Friday, Nov. 6, 2015.
Heather Jennings, a professional photographer turned funeral director, handled the arrangements. She knew the McLellan family well. Heather and Rose-Anne played basketball together as adults, she knew Kent and his family growing up, and their kids played hockey together. When the call came in at the funeral home she had a sharp intake of breath. In her former working life she had photographed the family.
It was standing-room only at Sacred Heart, with an overflow room. Before the tiny casket was closed at the earlier visitation, mourners saw pictures that Gabe, Luke and Noah had drawn tucked around his body. In Nathaniel’s clasped hands was a lock of Rose-Anne’s curls. The three boys recall how their little brother loved to lace his fingers through their mom’s hair, which soothed him and helped him sleep.
Before the “celebration of life” service began, Rose-Anne and the three boys took the stage. Kent stayed sitting with his parents and the rest of the family. It was just too much for him. The boys spoke first, comments that would later be replicated under a under a clear tablecloth at the McLellan home.