Child's death gets new scrutiny

Mother of boy who died in 1989 is the secretary of the Church of God, which figures into a current manslaughter investigation; newspaper queries prompted case to be reopened.

Note: This church is independent and not affiliated with the Church of God congregations.

LA Times/April 6, 2002
By Gene Maddaus


Rancho Cucamonga -- The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department has reopened a 13-year-old homicide investigation involving the Church of God in Upland, according to a letter from county attorneys.

Eight-year-old Ryan Phillip Kissling died at a friend's house on Feb. 7, 1989, of a ruptured appendix, according to a San Bernardino County coroner's report. He had not been taken to the doctor, and the appendix ruptured days before he died, the report stated.

Ryan's mother, Diana Kissling, is the secretary of the Church of God, according to Franchise Tax Board and Sheriff's Department documents. The church shuns medical treatment and prefers to trust God for healing. That is the same church attended by Richard and Agnes Wiebe, who have been charged with involuntary manslaughter and cruelty to a child in the death of their 11-month-old daughter, Julia. The parents are accused of failing to get medical care for Julia, who died last summer of meningitis. Both could face 10 years in prison if convicted.

No one was ever charged in the Kissling case, which was reopened after queries about it from Inland Valley Times, but the investigation was referred to the district attorney's office for consideration of homicide charges against Diana Kissling and Ryan's father, Ricky Kissling.

Neither parent was present at the time of the boy's illness, according to the coroner's report.

Ryan was staying with adult friends of his parents for a couple of weeks, while Diana Kissling attended a church meeting outside the country.

Ryan developed flu-like symptoms, including vomiting, fever and pain in his lower abdomen, a few days before he died.

He was put to bed the night of Feb. 6, 1989, and was checked about midnight and found to be OK, according to the report. At 2:45 a.m. he was checked again and was unconscious.

When paramedics arrived at the Fernwood Drive home in Rancho Cucamonga at 3 a.m., Ryan was dead.

Ryan had no significant medical history and was not under a doctor's care, according to the report.

An autopsy performed by Dr. Irving Root showed Ryan died of a ruptured appendix. Root did not venture an opinion as to when exactly the appendix had ruptured, but he did say it was days before the death.

The coroner's report makes no mention of the Kisslings' religious beliefs.

The Sheriff's Department, which investigated the death, on Friday denied a public records request filed March 26 for information about the Kissling case.

The case was closed before that request was made, and the detectives who investigated Julia Wiebe's death were unaware of it.

The Sheriff's Department, through Deputy County Counsel Dennis Tilton, denied the request in part because "the death investigation which you have inquired about has been recently opened.

"It is still possible that the district attorney's office may at some time issue a criminal complaint concerning the death of Ryan Phillip Kissling and/or other related matters if new evidence is discovered by investigators," Tilton wrote.

Tilton also said the information could not be released because its publication might taint a potential jury pool, violate the privacy of the Kissling family and endanger the "re-investigation" of Ryan's death.

Diana Kissling was present when coroner's investigators went to the Wiebes' home on July 3, 1996, to investigate the first of Agnes Wiebe's two stillbirths, according to a coroner's report on that case. Wiebe also has had a miscarriage and in December gave birth to a son who was removed from the home in January.

Diana Kissling also visited the Wiebes on July 4, 2001, two days before Julia Wiebe died, according to Sheriff's Department reports in that case. The reports say Kissling is a secretary and deaconess in the Church of God, and her visit was an informal way of informing the church of Julia's illness.

Det. Danielle French, who investigated the Wiebe case, said she was grateful that the information on the Kissling case was uncovered.

Det. Leland Boldt, who also worked on the Wiebe case, said investigators are not sure where the investigation will lead, or whether it will affect the Wiebe case.

Diana and Ricky Kissling could not be reached for comment.

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