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4-year-old dies from lack of oxygen after excessive 'swaddling,' possible 'exorcism': Report

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Composite screenshot of WGHP-TV and CBS 19 videos

A North Carolina couple is in custody facing murder charges after their adoptive son died earlier this month.

On January 5, 41-year-old Joseph Wilson of Mount Airy, North Carolina, just south of the Virginia border, called 911, claiming that his son was having a seizure. When EMTs arrived, they determined that 4-year-old Skyler Wilson wasn't breathing and rushed him to Brenner Children's Hospital. Four days later, the boy died. An autopsy report indicated that Skyler had died of a hypoxic brain injury, which occurs when the brain has been deprived of oxygen.

The circumstances leading up to the boy's untimely death suggest a disturbing pattern of abuse in the Wilson home. On December 7, Skyler's former foster mother called the Surry County Department of Social Services to report her concerns about the safety of Skyler, his brother, whom the Wilsons had also adopted, and the Wilsons' biological children. According to the foster mom, Wilson's wife, 38-year-old Jodi Ann Wilson, had admitted to isolating her adopted sons, placing them on "food restrictions," and even performing "exorcisms," though the woman did not elaborate on what such alleged exorcisms entailed or whether they were at all connected to any religious beliefs the Wilsons may hold.

Additionally, investigators have determined that the Wilsons engaged in severe "swaddling" practices with Skyler. Swaddling involves tightly wrapping a child, usually a newborn, to limit mobility. Swaddling has been correlated with an increased likelihood of sudden infant death syndrome and is not recommended for children old enough to roll over.

According to police, Jodi Wilson texted her husband on the afternoon of January 5 to say that "something happened when swaddling Skyler," and she included a picture showing Skyler restrained under a blanket that had been secured to the floor with duct tape. During a search of the home after the boy died, investigators also discovered wrist and ankle restraints, which Joe Wilson allegedly told them were for swaddling purposes. A medical professional did confirm that Skyler's injuries were consistent with "too much restriction" during swaddling.

During the fateful 911 call on January 5, Jodi Wilson can allegedly be heard saying, "It's my fault."

Skyler and his brother were placed in the Wilson home in September 2021, though it is unclear when the boys were adopted. Their former foster mother claimed she is heartbroken over Skyler's death. "I want justice to be served," she said.

Joe and Jodi Wilson were booked into the Surry County Detention Center and charged with murder. They are being held without bond and are scheduled to appear in court again on February 2. Their children have been placed in the care of the state department of social services, the same agency which initially reported Skyler's medical trauma to police but which also apparently failed to act on the allegations made by the foster parent a month earlier.

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