Niall Pilkington’s death last summer apparently raised little alarm in Bellefontaine, Ohio. Tragic accidents happen, after all. And sometimes infants just stop breathing.
When his older brother, Gavin, died in April, however, officials began to get suspicious. Gavin’s mother Brittany had sounded meek, not frantic, over the phone as she spoke to an emergency dispatcher. And a neighbor marveled at how calm she seemed, even as her husband, Joseph, fell apart.
With questions over the double deaths, officials took away the couple’s remaining kids: a baby boy named Noah and a three-year-old girl called Hailey.
When the local coroner ruled that the two boys’ deaths were not suspicious, however, the two kids went back home.
And so it was that Brittany Pilkington once again called 911 early Tuesday morning to report that Noah wasn’t breathing, calmly answering a dispatcher’s questions even as her baby boy’s sleep apnea alarm beeped in the background, according to the Associated Press.
But three times was too many, in this town of 13,000, which boasts of being home to the “first concrete street in America.”
The reason for the alleged murder spree?
She wanted her husband to pay more attention to their daughter, a prosecutor said.
“In her mind, she was protecting her daughter from being not as loved as the boys were by their father,” Logan County prosecutor William Goslee told the Columbus Dispatch.
Brittany Pilkington was charged with three counts of murder and jailed on Tuesday, according to the AP. Her remaining child, Hailey, was taken into custody by a Logan County welfare agency.
The mother’s reported confession has prompted police to revisit the deaths of her other two sons, and raised questions about local officials’ handling of the case.
In both of the previous cases, Joseph Pilkington returned home to find his sons unresponsive.
“Our son’s not breathing,” Brittany Pilkington calmly told a dispatcher after calling police on April 6, even as her husband frantically gave Gavin CPR, the AP reported. “He’s turning white.”
Joseph Pilkington is cooperating with police and has not been charged.
“I just feel real bad for my brother,” Jim Pilkington told the Dispatch. “It’s messed up.”
“There was no proof of foul play,” he added as to why Noah and Hailey were returned to the same house their brothers died.
But Brittany Pilkington’s uncle questioned the judge’s decision to hand the kids back to their mom.
“Why would you give them back after a little boy just died and when you’re in the middle of an investigation?” Joe Skaggs told the Dispatch.
“The Logan Country Coroner is criminally negligent. Any Accountability?” one person commented on the Dispatch’s article. “If this guy did JFK’s autopsy, he’d have said natural causes.”
Besides the bodies, there were other hints that things were not normal in the Pilkington household.
Neighbor James Breaston told the newspaper that Brittany Pilkington had seemed unfazed by Gavin’s death in April.
“He was crying, the tears were rolling, and she was just cold,” Breaston said of Joseph Pilkington. “She just stared like nothing happened.” When he saw cops arrive again on Tuesday morning, Breaston had a bad feeling.
“I thought, ‘Oh, there’s another baby dead,’” he told the Dispatch.
“It makes me sick just thinking about it, three little kids killed at the hands of their mom,” another neighbor, Roger Robinson, said.
“The tragic deaths of Niall, Gavin and Noah leave a pit in our stomachs today,” Bellefontaine Police Chief Brandon K. Standley said in a statement, the AP reported. “Our condolences go out to the remaining family members who have supported this family through a very difficult 13 months.”
Looking back on it, Jim Pilkington, the children’s uncle, said he, too, felt something was not right when, at Gavin’s funeral earlier this year, his sister-in-law smiled for a family photo.
“It was kind of odd,” he said.