Years of neglect alleged in Joshua Mendoza's death

Contrary to what Joshua Mendoza's parents are saying, the 13-year-old did not die as a result of his lifelong neurological disorder, Dorchester County Coroner Chris Nisbet said Tuesday.

The boy was a victim of neglect and abuse that was "ongoing and extensive," Nisbet declared.

Joshua, who battled tuberous sclerosis all his life, died Feb. 10 at his Bacons Bridge Road home because of severe malnourishment and neglect, Nisbet said.

Nisbet said investigations and autopsy results determined that the boy was underfed and neglected, and did not see a doctor regularly.

"It was learned that the child's last known medical visit was in 2006, after which a DSS investigation was initiated for the parents' failure to follow up on his treatment," Nisbet said.

"This child was neglected for years, and it's devastating to know that this is going on in our community," he added.

Nisbet said that with proper medical attention and care, a person with tuberous sclerosis "can live a long happy life. ... Unfortunately, this was not the case with Joshua," he said.

On Sunday, Summerville police charged the boy's mother, 31-year-old Kimberly Marie Love, and stepfather, 29-year-old Jason Monroe Buckley, with murder.

The couple are being held at the Dorchester County Detention Center. Their three other children remained Tuesday in the custody of the S.C. Department of Social Services, said Love's brother, Jonathan Love. A hearing will be held to determine whether family members will be allowed to care for the children.

The parents and the boy's grandmother, Kathleen Nicholson, all contend that officials don't understand that tuberous sclerosis made the boy weak and fragile. A doctor had told the family that the boy would be fortunate to live 10 years, Nicholson said.

Nicholson said Love provided for the children despite a low income. Joshua's seizure medication alone, Nicholson said, cost more than $1,000 a month.

Nicholson said she didn't know when Joshua's last checkup was, but she disputed the coroner's findings that he suffered prolonged neglect.

"If [DSS] knew something was wrong, why didn't they do something about it" in 2006? Nicholson said. "Kimmy did everything she could to care for her children."

"His parents gave him everything he needed. Now, they're being called murderers," Nicholson contended.

Nisbet said that in some cases, malnutrition is mild and causes no symptoms. "In this case, however, it was so severe that it led to a child's death. At 13, the child weighed less than 48 pounds when he died."

The Dorchester County Coroner's Office took the boy's body to Newberry County Memorial Hospital, where an autopsy was performed. Forensic pathologist Janice E. Ross "determined the extent of the abuse to be ongoing and extensive," Nisbet declared.

Arrest warrants for the mother and stepfather state that Ross concluded that Joshua's death was due to "malnourishment (months) and neglect (years)." That conclusion was reached by Ross, following the autopsy, which also determined "the manner of death being homicide," the warrants state.

The warrants said Love called the Summerville police 911 operator on Feb. 10 and reported that the boy was unresponsive. Emergency personnel were dispatched to the residence at Creekside Mobile Home Park, and Summerville firefighters were the first to arrive.

The child was "presumed deceased" by the first responders, the warrant states.

Authorities at the scene were advised by Love that Joshua suffered from tuberous sclerosis "and has a history of medical ailments," according to the warrant.

Love and Buckley turned themselves in about 6:30 p.m. Sunday, two hours after a police statement labeled them as wanted murder suspects.

Buckley does not have an arrest record in South Carolina, and Love has two minor charges: failure to return rental property and violation of a town ordinance, according to the State Law Enforcement Division.