On Dec. 13, 4-year-old Rebecca Riley died a slow and painful death of a prescription drug overdose at her home in Hull.
This week her parents, Michael and Carolyn Riley, were charged with first-degree murder. Prosecutors say the overdose was deliberate.
This account of the last week of her short life is based on interviews, court statements and public records, particularly the affidavit filed by State Trooper Anna Brookes in her application for an arrest warrant.
The Patriot Ledger
WEDNESDAY, DEC. 7
Carolyn Riley took Rebecca to Tufts New England Medical Center to see Dr. Kayoko Kifuji, the child psychiatrist who had been treating her for almost two years for bipolar disorder.
The doctor noted that Rebecca was “doing really well.” Her father, Michael, had just moved back in with the family in Hull and her mother thought that was good for the children.
Kifuji said if she continued to show progress, she would reduce the amount of clonidine, a powerful psychiatric drug, she was taking.
Later that day, a prescription in her name for 35 clonidine tablets, a 10-day supply, was filled at Nantasket Pharmacy in Hull.
THURSDAY, DEC. 8
This was the last day Rebecca appeared healthy. Her uncle’s girlfriend, Kelly Williams, who lived with the family, said she didn’t see her eat anything for the next four days.
FRIDAY, DEC. 9
Rebecca didn’t feel well. Her father wasn’t home and she slept most of the day. She woke around 2 p.m. and wandered into the kitchen.
She played with a bowl of cereal, but didn’t eat much, if anything. Williams gave her a drink of Sunny D fruit drink.
That night she started a raspy, whooping cough that alarmed Williams and her boyfriend, James McGonnell.
SATURDAY, DEC. 10
Sometime in the afternoon, Rebecca curled up in Williams’ lap. She was hot. Sweat had dampened her hair and soaked her clothing. Williams changed her into dry clothes.
A little later, her mother brought her a coffee mug holding an inch of cough syrup, many times the recommended children’s dose.
Rebecca spit it out onto her uncle in a coughing fit. Her mother gave her Tylenol.
Rebecca began wandering aimlessly around the house, opening and closing the refrigerator door. The cough persisted throughout the night and she became extremely congested. She woke up several times.
SUNDAY, DEC. 11
Rebecca woke up with a slight temperature and her mother gave her three children’s Tylenol.
Despite Rebecca’s illness, her father insisted taking her to an appointment at the Social Security office in Weymouth.
She vomited at the office. Her mother rescheduled the appointment and the family went to Wal-Mart. Rebecca waited in the car with her father while her mother went in to buy Rebecca a Christmas outfit, some Pedialyte and a plastic bowl for her to vomit into.
Rebecca threw up water, phlegm speckled with Depakote, another psychiatric drug, all over the car.
Michael Riley stormed into the house when they returned home, screaming and swearing. He turned his anger towards Carolyn screaming, “Your daughter (expletive) threw up in my car!”
He berated the little girl for embarrassing the family at the appointment.
By now Rebecca was wearing the new outfit from Wal-Mart, a deep green velvet dress with a wide white collar. She posed with her mother for a snapshot.
Rebecca shuffled around the house, looking lost. Her mother told Williams that she had made an appointment with Rebecca’s pediatrician for the following day, but that was a lie.
The little girl threw up five times that day and could not eat. At some point she took some children’s Motrin, threw up again and told her mother she was feeling better. She still couldn’t drink the Pedialyte her mother tried to give her, but managed to drink some water.
Her mother said she just had a cold.
MONDAY, DEC. 12
She felt a little better and managed to eat some of a sandwich. Her coughing had quieted, but she was increasingly incoherent.
She didn’t respond to people calling her name. She spent most of the day watching television in her parents room, regularly asking for “Mommy.” When her father came home, he angrily sent her to her own room.
Every time she came out, she was scolded and sent back to her room. She repeatedly returned as if she had never heard him.
Afternoon and evening
Rebecca’s uncle, James McGonnell, and Williams were becoming agitated. They had seen the Rileys neglect their children’s medical needs before.
Around 4 p.m., McGonnell stormed into their bedroom.
“If you won’t bring her to the hospital, then I’ll beat you so the ambulance will come and take both of you!” he yelled. He grabbed Riley by the shirt, but stopped short of hitting him.
Instead, he smashed a wall shelf and threw it down the hall. Her parents assured him she had an appointment with the doctor the next day, another lie.
While her parents were out running errands, Rebecca was restless, calling out for her mother. When Williams told her where her mother had gone, she just stared back, without understanding. She was fidgety, her skin cool and sweaty.
She became unresponsive, even when Williams stood in front of her and screamed her name. When she picked her up, she was stiff.
The Rileys returned after 10 p.m. and dismissed Williams’ concern, assuring her they would take Rebecca to the doctor. She was given clonidine and cold medicine and sent to bed.
McGonnell and Williams lamented that they felt they couldn’t do anything for Rebecca because she wasn’t their child, even though they had been alone with the girl for several hours that evening.
Throughout the night Rebecca coughed uncontrollably. She went into her parents room at least five times and asked to sleep in their bed. Her father refused her each time.
“It got really annoying!” Riley told police the next day. “Every time she woke up, Jimmy (McGonnell) came pounding on the door.”
TUESDAY, DEC. 13
Just before 1 a.m., McGonnell was awakened by a telephone call. He heard Rebecca struggling to breathe, “gurgling like something was stuck in her throat.”
He went into the room where Rebecca was sleeping with her older sister, Kaitlynne, wiped some vomit off her face and ran to her parent’s bedroom to tell them she needed help. Carolyn Riley carried Rebecca into bed with her.
She gave her more Tylenol Cough and Runny Nose and more clonidine, but as she lay on her mother’s chest Rebecca could not stop coughing.
Her mother said she got her a blanket and placed her on the floor with a sweatshirt for a pillow. Within 20 minutes, she quieted down. As her dad fell asleep, he heard her snore.
The pathologist who performed Rebecca’s autopsy said the noise was more likely “agonal respirations” - a death rattle.
The alarm went off but the Rileys were exhausted. They hit the snooze button several times. When Carolyn Riley finally got up, she stepped over Rebecca to wake her 11-year-old son, Gerard.
She came back to the room and bent down to wake Rebecca. Her skin felt cool and rubbery and a frothy, reddish bodily fluid covered her face.
Riley screamed for her husband. He felt his little girl and knew at a touch that she was dead. They both knew child cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, but did not perform it.
At 6:36 a.m., Michael Riley called 911 and said, “I need an ambulance to 90 Lynn Ave. My daughter passed away in the night.” The call lasted 23 seconds.
Investigators found the body of a tiny girl with chocolate brown eyes and hair lying on top of magazines, papers, clothing and a stuffed brown bear. A policeman covered her with a blanket.
Rebecca was wearing only a pink diaper and gold pierced stud earrings with colored stones. She had bruises on her inner thighs, one on her outer thigh and several red marks on her body. Inside her right bicep was thumbprint, as if an adult had grabbed her arm.
As police questioned Michael Riley, he became increasingly agitated at them for not allowing him to give his two surviving children medication to calm them down. The officers said the children were playing quietly, trading toys for play money. Riley yelled at them to “calm down!” “knock it off!” and “stop being loud!”
Investigators found seven clonidine tablets in the house. According to Rebecca’s medical records, there should have been at least 75 left.
Eleni Himaras may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Patriot Ledger
The 13-year-old girl Michael Riley was charged with sexually assaulting in 2005 showed signs of abuse at age 2.
Riley was not charged at the time with abusing the girl, who was his wife’s child from a previous relationship, and it is unclear whether there were criminal charges against anyone.
Carolyn Riley voluntarily signed custody of the girl over to the Department of Social Services four days before she married Michael Riley in 1994. The girl was days past her second birthday.
Court documents detailing a custody battle between the Department of Social Services and the girl’s paternal grandmother show the trouble in Carolyn Riley’s family life was long before she and her husband were accused of murdering their daughter Rebecca, 4, in December.
The couple is accused of having fed Rebecca an overdose of clonidine, a blood pressure drug that is sometimes prescribed for children like Rebecca with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Rebecca was also found to have bruises on her body, including on her thighs.
Michael Riley had been indicted in September 2005 on charges of indecent assault on the 13 year old, attempted rape of a child and giving pornography to a minor.
It is not clear why the alleged victim was with the Rileys in 2005, a decade after Carolyn Riley surrendered the child to DSS and the adoption went through.
According to probate court records, Carolyn Riley signed an open adoption agreement with the foster parent who was approved by the Department of Social Services.
The girl’s paternal grandmother says she is furious and confused as to why the child was ever in Riley’s home in 2005.
“She was never supposed to have contact with them,” the Quincy resident said.
“How on earth did he get alone with her? Who would have sent my granddaughter into that house with him alone?” she said. “I can’t believe they actually put my granddaughter back in their custody for five minutes.”
She said she does not know who adopted the girl.
The Patriot Ledger is withholding the names of the woman, her son and granddaughter to protect the girl’s identity.
The grandmother said Carolyn and Michael Riley became involved with each other soon after the girl was born. Eventually her son moved out of the house and Riley moved in.
The grandmother fought for custody of her granddaughter, representing herself in court. She lost and the child was adopted at age 4.
In 1994, investigators found the toddler compulsively touched herself for hours at a time in a way that suggested she had been sexually assaulted. The child also spoke of having her hands and feet taped.
Investigators did not connect Michael Riley to the abuse. The girl’s father is a registered sex offender in Maine.
The grandmother said she was horrified to learn of Rebecca Riley’s death, and said wishes she could have done something.
“It was my job,” she said. “It was everybody’s job.”
Julie Jette may be reached at email@example.com.