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Austin Pettersson

OREM — It's been a trying time for David Pettersson and family, but they say they still love the man who was arrested Wednesday afternoon, accused of causing the death of their grandson.

"We love our daughter very much," said David Pettersson, the father of 19-year-old Whitney Pettersson and the grandfather of 13-month-old Austin Pettersson, who died Tuesday morning. "We also love Christopher very much and his family. It's a very tragic situation. Our family is grieving, but we're also healing."

Police say Christopher Scott Thunborg, 22, was watching Austin late Monday night while his girlfriend Whitney Pettersson was working a graveyard shift at the Utah State Developmental Center in American Fork.

She returned home early Tuesday, which is when Thunborg told her the baby wasn't breathing. Thunborg, who is not the baby's biological father, called 911, and paramedics arrived to find the baby was still warm in his crib.

The 911 tape will not be released because it may become part of the evidence, said Orem Police Lt. Doug Edwards.

"Scooping up" the baby, paramedics rushed the child to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center where he was pronounced dead, Edwards said.

Medical reports indicate that Austin had suffered bruising on his stomach and back, as well as ruptured bowels and a lacerated stomach, Edwards said.

The baby had been sick for several months and was under a doctor's care, Edwards said. The baby had recently lost weight and was not a large child.

A female roommate of the couple said she had heard the baby crying about midnight but knew he had been sick and fussy, so turned over and went back to sleep, Edwards said.

Thunborg agreed to talk with police Wednesday afternoon. He told police Austin's bruises were the result of him falling with Austin in his arms.

But when police asked more questions regarding the suspicious nature of the bruises, Thunborg stopped talking and asked for an attorney, Edwards said.

He was arrested and placed in an Orem police holding cell, where he spent the night. He was booked into the Utah County Jail for investigation of child abuse homicide just before 4:40 p.m. Thursday.

"It's just an awkward situation right now," David Pettersson said. "Our condolences go out to Christopher and his parents and brothers and sisters as well. We just hope we can all heal together as families."

The Pettersson family said they are thankful for the support they've received from family, friends and neighbors. They also expressed condolences for Erick Pierce, the biological father of the child.

A relative of Thunborg told the Deseret Morning News she did not want to comment.

Several months ago, Pleasant Grove police investigated another case of possible child abuse involving Austin, said Pleasant Grove Sgt. Mike Roberts.

Whitney Pettersson took Austin to a clinic, worried about what she thought was a sinus or upper respiratory infection. While there, the doctor noticed bruising along the inside of the Austin's earlobes, Roberts said.

The mother reported the concern to the Division of Child and Family Services who reported it to Pleasant Grove police, who opened a case.

Roberts said that after questioning Whitney Pettersson, Thunborg and another roommate who was living with the couple in their Pleasant Grove apartment, he was satisfied with their answers.

"We didn't get any signs about what may have happened ... didn't get any bad vibes," Roberts said. "(We told them) it would still be investigated, as it was criminal in nature."

Roberts said he also talked with the baby's father, Pierce, in Saratoga Springs, who had Austin at that time for his visitation rights.

Pierce was very cooperative and agreed to take Austin to the doctor again at the end of his visit, where Austin was said to be gaining weight and getting over the flu, Roberts said.

Police did several follow-ups but couldn't confirm if there was abuse or who was the alleged abuser. At that point, the case was essentially closed, Roberts said.

Both Whitney Pettersson and Thunborg work at the Utah State Developmental Center as developmentalists, helping adults with mental and physical disabilities learn life skills and prepare for a life of independence.

Thunborg is still employed, although he is on administrative leave, said Liz Sollis, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Human Services.

Police conducted a search warrant of the home and gathered evidence, which included a loaded .38 caliber revolver under the bed, Edwards said.

Thunborg has no violent criminal history, only minor traffic infractions, according to 4th District Court records.

E-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com