John Glatt writes about the true story of Lacey Spears in “My Sweet Angel.”
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Saturday, October 1, 2016, 7:39 PM
On Jan. 21, 2014, Lacey Spears killed her 5-year-old son. Her weapon of choice was a bottle of water, surreptitiously administered against doctor’s orders.
The death of little Garnett in a Westchester County hospital became national news, the tale of a deranged mom driven to kill by a rare mental illness: Munchausen by proxy syndrome.
The new book “My Sweet Angel” is the product of author John Glatt’s 18 months researching Spears’ life story in almost forensic detail.
Garnett was only in the hospital, fighting for his life, because of a near-lethal dose of sodium slipped into his system through an intravenous feeding tube.
Lacey Spears was responsible for that, too.
Glatt lays out the chilling picture of a troubled mother driven to kill her child by her disorder — and the attention it made her crave.
Spears, a New York woman who built an online following blogging about her sickly young son Garnett, grew an online following by posting about her son’s ailments on social media.
The syndrome affects caregivers — mostly women, most of them mothers — who feed off the drama and notice that springs from the medical crises that they create.
For Spears, that meant Facebook, where she reached a wide audience drawn to her story via four separate pages. And when she needed information on how to harm her son, web searches proved invaluable.
Spears began acting on her Munchausen impulses in the dark ages before social media exploded. Not yet 21 and childless, she used the infants of friends to get her drama fix.
Back home in Decatur, Ala., Spears would insinuate her way into the life of a struggling, single mother. She was such a loving and helping hand, so eager to offer childcare, that she earned unfettered access from three different women to their kids.
Each of the babies developed chronic ear infections so severe that pus would leak out. Under her care, once-healthy infants became regular patients at the pediatrician’s office. When she moved on, the children’s health returned.
Spears’ son Garnett was killed after the mother poisoned him with sodium and gave him water against the doctors order.
Spears gave birth to her son Garnett on Dec. 3, 2008. He was healthy at birth, but didn’t stay that way for long.
Spears became a regular in the doctor’s office or the hospital emergency room, with Garnett needing treatment for for bleeding ear infections or debilitating projectile vomiting.
Several medical professions grew suspicious. But Garnett was only a few weeks old when she convinced a doctor to perform a procedure that would make it impossible for the infant to vomit.
Garnett could no longer spew out any noxious brew she fed him.
Spears simultaneously discovered social media and posted on MySpace and Facebook her gripping story of a young mother struggling with her beloved child’s many afflictions.
Spears was caught tampering with her son’s hospital equipment on camera via her son’s EEG video monitor.
By Garnett’s next hospitalization, Spears had picked her son’s poison. The baby was admitted with a critically high sodium level, seizing and unable to breathe.
Airlifted to a larger medical facility in Birmingham, Garnett received the diagnosis that would see him to his grave: Hypernatremia, high serum sodium.
Spears was flooding his system with salt. And Garnett couldn’t vomit it up.
A battery of tests showed the child was perfectly healthy. There was no underlying medical condition that would provide an explanation.
Spears still somehow convinced another doctor to insert a gastric tube into her 10-month-old so she could feed him intravenously. Now she could, in effect, pour her poisonous solutions into him.
The rare mental illness Spears apparently suffers from is called Munchausen by proxy syndrome.
Spears had her cover story down. Garnett was a failure to thrive child who refused all nutrients. But in the hospital, he’d greedily suck from a bottle if someone else provided one. As a little boy, friends noted that Garnett’s appetite was fine when he was under their care. He’d wolf down any food put in front of him, tearing through a cheeseburger with fries.
Things were different with mom, who managed to find enablers offering support and money. And she discovered a community that would shelter her while providing the cover she needed to continue her mistreatment of Garnett.
The Fellowship Community in Chestnut Ridge, N.Y., about 30 miles northwest of New York City, offers its 130-odd members an organic, natural and secluded lifestyle.
Spears, already leading a holistic, herbal existence, applied for work assisting the Fellowship’s older population. She arrived in its commune of hilltop lodges in November 2012, when Garnett was 3.
From the first day, the executive leadership protected Spears. Another worker complained the newcomer was stealing her clothes. She was told to let it go. Everyone was taken in by Spears’ tale of suffering.
Spears sentenced for 20 years to life in prison after her conviction.
They couldn’t do enough for her. She was particularly embraced by one couple, Oona Younger and her husband, Howard Friedman.
Soon there was talk about Spears and Friedman. They were believed to be having an affair.
Once again, skeptics noticed Garnett showed no aversion to food. He suffered no ill effects from meals served on a plate rather than infused from a bag.
But Garnett’s medical emergencies soon became almost routine. And the community became even more supportive, serving as unwitting accomplices in the murder of the boy they all adored.
Early in January 2014, the boy was admitted to Nyack Hospital for the final time.
At prison, Spears complained of other prisoners tormenting her, leaving salt packets on her food and calling her “baby killer.”
Spears actually stopped en route to take a picture of her suffering son for Facebook. After admissions, she continued posting updates.
Garnett, strapped to electrodes with a video machine in the room, appeared to bounce back. He was sitting up, alert, even playful. Spears received the good news they could soon go home.
Her response was to launch another web search on sodium levels. Armed with her information, she took Garnett into the hospital bathroom, carrying a cup and the connector tube.
The whole thing was captured on the boy’s EEG video monitor. Garnett emerged looking lethargic and scared. Spears sat nearby, seemingly waiting for the salt to take effect.
When it did, Garnett keeled over, arching his back as his body violently fought to retch. Soon he was screaming with pain. Spears captured moments of his agony for Facebook.
Spears, the mother accused of fatally poisoning her 5-year-old son Garnett, told investigators she was not to blame for the death, and suggested the boy might have had something to do with it
He was stabilized once more. Spears again disappeared with him into the bathroom. Garnett was soon writhing in agony. Tests showed astonishingly high sodium levels.
At that point, Garnett needed specialized care. He was airlifted to the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital in Westchester, where Dr. Carey Goltzman took charge of the case.
He was flabbergasted by the sodium level of 182, insisting the number was a mistake. It was then he began to suspect that Garnett had been fed salt.
Garnett was intubated while his sodium levels were carefully lowered over 48 hours. His mother was specifically told not to give him any water — and that doing so would prove extremely dangerous.
Spears’ streaming updates on Facebook brought her audience to high alert. Back in Decatur, a friend established a PayPal account to help fund the growing medical expenses.
Spears went online to find different ways to abuse her son Garnett and other children in her care.
The crisis passed, and on his early morning rounds, Goltzman noted Garnett was stable and of no concern.
A few minutes later the doctor was coded for an emergency. He raced to Garnett’s room. The first thing he noticed was an empty bottle of Poland Spring water under the bed.
Spears had given Garnett water, taking advantage of the risk. The child’s brain swelled, no longer fitting in his skull, then herniated. There was no bringing the 5-year-old back this time.
Spears’ Facebook followers were the first to learn Garnett was dead on Jan. 21, 2014. After her son’s passing, Spears tried to tap into the expenses fund — but access was denied.
The investigation, intensely forensic and delving back years, took months. But it resulted in Spears’ conviction. She was sentenced to 20 years to life.
The author visited her at Bedford Hills. For several hours Spears presented a passionate and detailed defense, vehemently insisting on her innocence.
Prison was brutal, she complained. Other prisoners called her “baby killer” and taunted her as “mother of the year.” They put salt packets on her food.
The truth is, she saw herself as a victim. She and her baby boy were both victims. The ugly truth or her role in his death eluded her still, and likely always will.