Relates to:
Date: 1988-05-20

Author: United Press International

Dateline: SALEM

A Roanoke County couple charged with murder in the death of their adopted daughter, who died after apparently being forced to ingest a large amount of table salt, remained in jail yesterday under $100,000 bond each.

Charges were placed late Wednesday against Jack Francis Riggs, 39, and Beth Michelle Riggs, 35, after county authorities questioned the couple and their four sons.

At a hearing in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, an attorney was appointed for Beth Riggs. The court determined her husband, Jack Riggs, had the means to hire his own lawyer and ordered him to do so by June 1. A preliminary hearing for the couple was set for June 20.

Heather Allison Riggs, who would have been 5 today, was taken to a hospital Monday night and underwent treatment in a pediatric intensive care unit. Officials aren't sure how much salt she swallowed, but her blood pressure dropped Tuesday and she suffered a fatal heart attack.

"There was such a large level of sodium (chloride) in her body that it brought about heart failure," Commonwealth's Attorney Skip Burkart said.

Burkart said it was his understanding that Heather was forced to ingest the salt as a form of punishment for eating some sugar.

Authorities said they did not know how long Heather, who was born in Colombia on May 20, 1983, had been living with the Riggs family. She was among about 50 Roanoke Valley residents who became naturalized citizens Sept. 25 in a ceremony in U.S. District Court in Roanoke.

Sheriff Mike Kavanaugh said authorities believe the incident took place shortly before the child was taken to the hospital.

He declined to provide details or disclose what the couple said in their statements to police.

Kavanaugh said the case came to the sheriff's department's attention Wednesday morning when one of the Riggs boys reported to authorities at his school that his sister may have been abused. The four boys, aged 7 to 13, have been placed in protective custody.

The investigation is continuing, with authorities trying to determine whether Heather or the Riggs boys, the couple's natural children, showed signs of abuse.

Authorities also were reviewing a similar case in which a 3-year-old Buena Vista girl, Mary Pugh, suffocated after swallowing the contents of a 2-ounce can of pepper. The child's mother, Diana Pugh, was convicted of second-degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

"That's the sort of situation we're talking about here," Burkart said of the 8-year-old Pugh case.


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