Parents of boy stung to death disappear before arrest

Orlando Sentinel/May 11, 1999
By Lynne Bumpus-Hooper

Melbourne -- Police with arrest warrants were searching Monday for the parents of a 2-year-old-boy who died from 432 yellow jacket stings last fall.

Kelly and Wylie Johnson could not be found when deputy sheriffs went to the couple's Palm Bay home Friday to arrest them on charges of aggravated child abuse. A "For Sale" sign hung at the house on Matte Drive.

Hillsborough County prosecutors issued the warrants after an eight-month investigation into whether the parents had been negligent in failing to seek prompt medical care for young Harrison Johnson.

The Johnsons were visiting friends outside Tampa in late September when their child stumbled into a nest of yellow jackets.

Despite the hundreds of stings, the parents did not seek medical attention until the boy stopped breathing about seven hours after the accident.

Wylie and Kelly Johnson were members of a tiny religious group that distrusts doctors. They were arrested, tried and acquitted in 1998 for failing to report the death of a baby whose parents belonged to the same religious group.

Those parents, Rachel and Robert Aitcheson, are facing trial for failing to report the birth and death of their daughter in 1996, and for failing to get medical attention for the child.

The Johnsons, who had prayed with the Aitchesons after their month-old girl supposedly choked on milk, are scheduled to be witnesses at the trial.

Investigators said Monday that the Johnsons' group in Palm Bay apparently dissolved but that the couple was active in a similar group in Tampa.

The decision to file charges against the Johnsons was complicated and required a lot of investigation by deputies, medical examiners and prosecutors, officials said Monday.

"The nature of the injuries required extensive consultation and consuming lab work," said Pam Bondi, assistant state attorney in Tampa.

Doctors disagreed about whether anyone could survive the number of stings the child received.

In the 911 call Wylie Johnson placed seven hours after his child was injured, he told the dispatcher the boy had seemed to be okay and was in no pain before he became unconscious.

Once the warrants had been issued, deputies went to arrest the Johnsons, but they apparently had heard they were to be arrested, investigators said. According to neighbors, they left some time last week.

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