BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – A man is behind bars, accused of murdering his girlfriend’s three-year-old son. The incident happened early Tuesday morning on Sulpher Springs Road on the Seneca Nation of Indian Reservation. Authorities say 30-year-old Justin Crouse was inside a house with his girlfriend, her three children and her mother.
Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard says three-year-old Gage Seneca, who recently stopped sleeping in his crib, wandered out of his bedroom and into the living room of his mother’s home at 1 a.m. Tuesday. He says that is when the Salamanca man allegedly struck the toddler, killing him. The sheriff’s office says Crouse put the boy back into his bed and then went back to bed. In the house, Gage’s mother, grandmother, four-year-old brother and six-year-old sister were all sleeping.
“He went back to bed, so that there were no other attempts to provide any care.The mother and the grandmother were both asleep when this occurred,” said Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard. “[To] not make further inquiries as to his condition or to seek treatment, that would simply lay him down and return to bed, is definitely is something very criminal here that can’t be forgiven, can’t be minimized.”
The child wasn’t discovered until 8:15 a.m. The boy’s mother Tashia Seneca and her mother tried to do CPR and called 911. The boy was taken to Lake Shore Community Hospital where he was pronounced dead. It was determined he died from blunt force trauma to the head.
The Erie County Sheriff’s Office says Justin Crouse was taken into custody around 5 a.m. Wednesday morning without incident. He is charged with second-degree murder. Crouse is an unemployed construction worker. Authorities say Crouse has a history of nine arrests, all misdemeanors.
Authorities say they have been to the house where the death took place on three different calls, including a domestic dispute not involving Justin Crouse, and two burglaries. Authorities stress that Tashia Seneca’s family is well liked and well respected by all of their neighbors.
Crouse was said to have had a good relationship with Gage’s four-year-old brother and had spent the day with the four-year-old boy the day before. The relationship between Justin and Tashia was dwindling, according to the Erie County Sheriff.
The child’s grandfather Bud Jimerson says the family is grieving and does not want to talk to the media. Seneca Marshals arrived at the home, to escort the media out of the neighborhood. Eliot Jimerson, the great uncle of the child, says no plans have been made yet for a funeral.
Relatives of the family sobbed in the courtroom Wednesday, during Crouse’s arraignment in Brant Town Court. Justice Peter Gugino charged Crouse with striking the three-year-old boy with a closed fist in the back of his head, causing him to hit a dresser.
Crouse pleaded not guilty. He is being held at Erie County Holding Center without bail.