Parents charged in 7-year-old son's death
Michael and Nanette Craver's son died Aug. 25. Police detailed more than 80 external injuries to his body, 20 of which were to the boy's head.
BY LARA BRENCKLE, KARI ANDREN AND AMANDA PALLESCHI
A northern York County couple accused of beating and killing their 7-year-old adopted son in August had briefly lost custody of the boy and his twin sister two years earlier during an investigation by county children and youth workers, authorities said.
Around the same time as the investigation by county children and youth workers, Nanette and Michael Craver of Carroll Twp. began home-schooling the twins, arrest documents said.
The documents don't indicate further checks by county youth workers, but Michael Craver's mother is quoted in the affidavit telling investigators she was shocked at the bruises on Nathaniel a couple months before his death.
"[Craver's mother] Sandy said when she saw Nathaniel she just 'froze' and could not believe what she was seeing," the affidavit states. "Sandy said Nathaniel's eyes were completely swollen shut, like he had two slits in his eyes. She then saw Nathaniel had a lump on his forehead the size of an egg."
Police said Michael Craver, 45, drove his son to Holy Spirit Hospital when he found him unresponsive in his bed on the morning of Aug. 20. At the family's direction, Nathaniel was taken off life support Aug. 24 and died Aug. 25.
In a five-page arrest affidavit, police detailed the more than 80 external injuries to the boy's body, 20 of which were to the head.
The boy's sister is being cared for in a safe place, said Timothy Barker, York County chief deputy district attorney.
Nanette, 54, and Michael Craver are in York County Prison, charged with homicide, conspiracy and child endangerment. It was not clear Friday if they had an attorney.
Though the death occurred months ago, Baker said charges were being filed now because the autopsy report was finalized last week. The report lists Nathaniel's cause of death as complications of traumatic brain injuries. Severe failure to thrive, caused by depravation of nutrients, was listed as a contributing factor, he said.
The Cravers, who adopted the twins as babies, repeatedly attributed Nathaniel's injuries to what they said was his tendency to self-injure, including a fall into the family's wood-pellet stove, documents said.
The couple told investigators that they sought mental health treatment for both children repeatedly, but neither therapy nor medication had helped their son, documents state. The couple told police they'd taken their son off his most recent medication two weeks before the incident because "it wasn't working."
Though the Cravers, in the affidavit, painted a picture of a troubled boy who routinely pulled out his eyebrows and eyelashes and threw himself into walls, family members said they saw no indication Nathaniel tried to hurt himself.
The day Nathaniel was taken to the hospital, police said Michael Craver told officers he was outside mowing the lawn when his son, who had a table for school work near the pellet stove, fell against the stove, according to the affidavit. Michael Craver also said his son had thrown himself down the steps and struck his head on a post the week before.
Nanette Craver's statement in the same document states she heard Nathaniel and his sister running around and playing downstairs near the stove. She said she heard her son say "uh-oh," which Nanette Craver explained was what Nathaniel said before he would fall down, the affidavit said.
During initial questioning, Michael Craver blurted out "We had feared this day would come," the affidavit said.
Sandy Atkins, a relative, who according to the affidavit was the last person outside the immediate family to see Nathaniel alive, said what she remembered most about her mid-August visit was that "Nathaniel was hanging on to her and would not let go."
The document also stated police found no medical records of any kind for Nathaniel in 2009. His last medical appointment was in August 2008 and the last recorded visit with the family's local doctor was in January 2008.
Neighbors painted contrasting pictures of the family.
John Deibler lived behind Nanette and Michael Craver for four years.
"It's very shocking because he's always out in the yard with the kids, always doing stuff with them. Mike was with the kids all the time," Deibler said.
Deibler said the Cravers relocated to Carroll Twp. so Mike could take a job at the New Cumberland Army Depot.
He said Craver told him that Nathaniel fell and hit his head in their home in August, had to be taken to the hospital and died shortly after.
"Mike was devastated. He came back here a few times crying about it. What I've seen [of Nanette and Michael] has always been good," Deibler said.
Kyle Gochenaur, 24, lived next door to the Cravers until two years ago, when he moved out of his parents' home.
Gochenaur's parents are the Cravers neighbors.
He described the couple as distant, rarely acknowledging greetings from neighbors as they drove along the rural road where homes are staggered.
Every so often, Gochenaur said he saw Nathaniel and his sister playing outside.
What struck him was that the children seemed underweight, compared to others, he said.
"I pray they're not guilty," Gochenaur said. "Because it's unfathomable that someone can do that to their child. Right now, they're innocent until proven guilty."