US couple charged over death of son now attending church in Auckland

Seth Johnson died of acute pancreatitis and possible sepsis. Photo / Supplied
Seth Johnson died of acute pancreatitis and possible sepsis. Photo / Supplied

An American couple charged over the death of their adopted 7-year-old son are living in Auckland.

Timothy Johnson, 39, and Sarah Johnson, 38, of Minnesota, are accused of gross misdemeanour child neglect for failing to get medical help for their adopted son, Seth, who died on March 30, 2015.

Court documents reveal Seth had multiple bruises and breaks on his skin and large lesions on his heels consistent with pressure ulcers. He died of acute pancreatitis and possible sepsis.

The couple are now in Auckland and have been attending Hillside Community Church in the suburb of St Johns, ministry leader Kevin Robertson told Fairfax.

"We haven't got to know them very well yet because they're so new. They fluctuate between us and a couple of other [churches] I think - they've only moved here recently and are just trying to settle in.

"I don't know them very well but they are nice people - they've got six children I think."

Robertson was unaware of the case against the Johnsons in America.

The criminal complaint said Seth had been left in the care of the Johnson's 16-year-old son, who called his parents the day before Seth died and said the little boy would not eat and was lethargic and limp. But the couple decided to stay at a wedding, returning home later in the day.

The following morning Timothy found Seth unresponsive and covered in vomit and emergency services were called. The couple raised $9660 online for the boy's funeral.

The Johnsons didn't show up at their first court appearance on Thursday in Hennepin County.

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney John Halla told Judge Gina Brandt that the couple had moved to New Zealand. Brandt issued warrants for their arrests.

The Star Tribune reported the Johnsons told investigators they relied on their own research to deal with Seth's illness and didn't want him on any medication.

Authorities say the parents had issues with doctors and instead used "personal research" to diagnose Seth with post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury. They treated Seth with "medical honey", court document show.

The Johnsons adopted Seth at the age of 4, when medical records described him as a "thriving, conversant preschooler" who was "neurologically normal".

His death notice reveals he was one of seven children in the family. In a Facebook post after Seth died, the Johnsons wrote that their religious faith got them through their grief.

- Additional reporting AP

- NZ Herald

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