LAYTON — Two-year-old James "JJ" Sieger Jr. left this world the same way he entered: surrounded by the love of his father, family and grandparents, his aunt said Monday.
But over the weekend — and possibly for several weeks — police say JJ lived in an abusive environment with his mother and her live-in boyfriend. The 2-year-old was pronounced dead at Primary Children's Hospital just before 4 a.m. Monday.
"We went into the ICU, and we were allowed to hold JJ's hand. We were there with him. We sang 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star' to him, that was his favorite song. He was just learning how to sing that. James held his hand. I placed my hand on JJ's heart, and we felt him take his last breath and felt his heart beat for the last time as he left this world and went on to be with his Heavenly Father," said Nicole Sieger, JJ's aunt.
Layton police say JJ was purposely dropped onto a bathroom floor and was then stepped on after feces had been smeared onto his face. After being on life support since Saturday, JJ died as a result of his extensive injuries.
The young boy's mother, Jasmine Bridgeman, 23, and her boyfriend, Joshua Schoenenberger, 34, were both arrested Saturday and booked into the Davis County Jail for investigation of felony child abuse. When police review the case with the Davis County Attorney's Office they are expected to seek stronger charges in light of the boy's death.
JJ had been in extremely critical condition since being taken to the hospital by the couple early Saturday. James was "unresponsive and not breathing" when he arrived at the hospital "and had a large amount of bruising on his body," according to a jail report.
Internal bleeding was detected by doctors and JJ was flown from Davis Hospital and Medical Center to Primary Children's Hospital, where doctors found a "perforated colon and surgeons removed about 10 inches of his colon," according to the report.
"Doctors also found bruising on his legs, groin, arms and head," the report states. "Following the surgery, (JJ) was placed on life support and listed in extremely critical condition."
Police say Bridgeman lied several times about what had happened at the Layton home, 224 E. 1450 North, before allegedly telling them that Schoenenberger had become upset with James over potty training.
The toddler had messed his diaper and Schoenenberger "smeared the poop from the diaper in (the boy's) face," police wrote in the report. When Schoenenberger took the boy to the shower to clean off, James' mother told officers she heard screaming and hitting.
Later, when questioned by police, Schoenenberger told detectives that he was in the bathroom holding JJ by the waist, talking to him face-to-face about potty training, when the boy urinated on him and defecated in the tub. Schoenenberger reacted by squeezing JJ's stomach tightly, then dropped the boy "outside of the tub, onto the tile floor, from eye level," the report states, and then stepped on the boy's stomach "out of frustration with how (he) treats his home."
Bridgeman told police that Schoenenberger asked her to lie to investigators about what happened as they drove to the hospital, police wrote. He then allegedly lied himself about what happened, blaming it on the mother.
Bridgeman also told detectives "that on at least two other occasions, she has witnessed Joshua punch and spank (the boy) hard enough to leave bruises, and has also witnessed him strike (him) with a belt," the report states.
"Jennifer has knowingly allowed (her son) to live in an abusive environment without taking any steps to protect him from the abuse," Layton police wrote.
JJ's father, James Sieger, who lives in Georgia, flew to Utah to say goodbye to his son at the hospital, calling it the "worst and most difficult day of my life" as he read a prepared statement on Monday in tears.
Nicole Sieger said she wants people to know that there was a family that loved JJ.
"He's not a statistic. He's a child who was brutalized," she said. "We just don't understand the brutality, the injuries, the extent of the injuries. There are no words. There are no words to describe what this baby went through, the pain he suffered.
"I don't think anyone can understand how it happened," she said.
The Siegers say Bridgeman, who is still legally married to James Sieger, took JJ and ran off about four months ago. Only recently did the family learn she was in Utah. The Siegers said they had been working to try to get JJ back and at one point even suspected abuse was occurring.
Layton Police Lt. Travis Lyman said there was another child in the house, Sieger and Bridgeman's 5-month-old daughter. The Division of Child and Family Services has opened an investigation into whether that child suffered any abuse, he said. Sieger said Monday he was told there were no immediate signs of abuse and he was working with DCFS to regain custody of his daughter.
Schoenenberger was arrested and booked into the Davis County Jail for investigation of felony child abuse and misdemeanor child abuse for alleged previous incidents.
Bridgeman was arrested for investigation of identical charges. She previously took a plea in abeyance to an amended charge of attempting to supply a minor with alcohol in 2013, according to Utah state court records.
Schoenenberger has several prior drug-related convictions, according to court records. In February, he was charged with felony drug possession after police found him in possession of heroin outside a Wal-Mart in 2014.
He also has a case pending where he was charged in Millard County with felony drug distribution in November. During a hearing in April for the case, the court noted that Schoenenberger was in residential treatment at that time.
Schoenenberger was found guilty of misdemeanor drug possession in 2013, court records indicate. He was also convicted of reckless endangerment in 2011. The case was originally filed as a second-degree felony, but he pleaded to a reduced class A misdemeanor. In that case, police say Schoenenberger became upset with a 15-year-old neighbor boy who had a water balloon fight with his son, pulled that teen off his bike, choked him and burned his elbow with a cigarette.
He was also convicted of misdemeanor drug possession in 2011 while a felony firearms charge was dismissed, and he was ordered to serve 120 days in jail.
The case appears sadly similar to the death of 4-year-old Ethan Stacy, who was abused and killed in 2010 in Layton by his mother's new husband shortly after he arrived in Utah under court order from West Virginia despite the protests of his biological father. Both Nathan and Stephanie Sloop avoided potential death penalty sentences by accepting plea deals and were each given lengthy prison terms.
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