2 indicted in starvation death of toddler

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Caretakers facing murder charges in 2-year-old’s death

Editor's note: Court documents say the victim in this case was a 2-year-old girl, not 3 years old, as initially reported. Updated at 12:15 p.m. 08-05-19

BROOKINGS – Two Brookings residents have been arrested and are facing three felony charges each in the malnourishment and dehydration death of a 2-year-old girl Wednesday. 

Brookings County State’s Attorney Dan Nelson announced the indictments at a press conference Friday morning.

Renae R. Fayant, 25, and Robert L. Price Jr., 27, both face alternate charges of second-degree murder, a Class B felony, and first-degree manslaughter, a Class C felony; plus one additional charge each of abuse or cruelty to a minor under age 7, a Class 3 felony.

The name of the child has not been released by authorities.

The 2-year-old girl was Fayant’s niece and she had been taking care of the girl for about 2 years, as per an agreement between Fayant and her sister, the girl’s biological mother, Nelson said.

He said there were two other children in the home: Fayant had one other child, and she had a shared custody agreement involving the third child. Those two children were removed from the home Wednesday afternoon “and are safe at an alternative placement,” he said.

Charges filed

Nelson said at the press conference that a Brookings County grand jury had indicted Fayant and Price, of 903 Seventh St. in Brookings, on the three felony charges Friday morning.

The Brookings Police received a 911 call from Fayant that her 2-year-old niece was unresponsive and not breathing, Nelson said. The call came in at 3:55 p.m. Wednesday, according to a report from the Brookings Police.

The child was pronounced dead at the scene, Nelson said.

“Due to physical signs of malnourishment and neglect observed on the child by law enforcement at the scene, a search warrant was requested, granted and executed later that afternoon and into the evening,” Nelson said.

“What law enforcement subsequently found inside the residence was disturbing,” he added.

“The two defendants, Miss Fayant and her husband, Mr. Price, had confined the child to a small area of the home and deprived her of food and water for an extended period of time,” Nelson said.

“Human and animal feces were found throughout the home and within the immediate area of where the child was found,” he added.

An autopsy performed Thursday determined the child died from malnourishment and dehydration, Nelson said.

“Today, the State of South Dakota is alleging that the two named defendants and their actions knowingly caused the child to become malnourished and this lack of care directly caused the death of the child,” he said.

Fayant and Price were arrested Thursday afternoon and remain in the Brookings County Detention Center on a $100,000 cash-only bond. They will appear in front of a judge at 9 a.m. Monday in Brookings County, Nelson said.

He said that Price has had contact with Brookings law enforcement in the past, and Fayant was not from Brookings, adding he was not sure when they relocated to Brookings.

A statewide background check of Fayant shows only a traffic ticket for illegal lane change in 2015.

A background check of Price shows he pleaded guilty in June to ingesting an intoxicant other than an alcoholic beverage. He also pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana in 2010, guilty to driving with a revoked license in 2011, guilty to ingesting an intoxicant other than an alcoholic beverage in 2011, guilty to forgery in 2011, guilty to probation violations in 2012 and no contest to distribution or possession with intent to distribute marijuana in 2016.

Nelson said the couple had been living at the house on Seventh Street “for some time.”

He noted both defendants are innocent until and unless proven guilty but said law enforcement was still working on the case.

“As far as the States Attorney’s Office and local law enforcement agencies involved in this case, we will continue to work extremely hard to ensure we find justice for this little girl. The actions that led to her death will be answered for,” Nelson said.

He praised Brookings Police and the state Division of Criminal Investigation for their timely response, saying the suspects were apprehended in less than 24 hours.

“The last 48 hours is a true team effort,” Nelson said.

Police Chief Dave Erickson thanked his officers, praising their “professionalism and dedication to finding justice for the child victim in this case.”

He thanked DCI for their “assistance and expertise.”

See something, say something

“This is such a heart-wrenching case because it involved such an innocent, helpless victim,” Erickson said.

He has wondered if this child’s death could have been prevented and questioned how the situation could go on so long.

“I just can’t help but wonder if there was a time that someone saw what was going on inside this home and said nothing. I hope that that is not the case,” Erickson said.

“I want to encourage everyone to say something if you see something,” he said.

To those who don’t want to get involved, he pointed out there are ways to anonymously report abuse and neglect, such as Crimestoppers at 692-STOP (692-7867) and Child Protective Services at 688-4334.

“Children are so precious and when the adults charged with their care fail to do what is right, we as a community need to step up and do what is right,” Erickson said.

“If you are a parent or a guardian and need help or have questions about raising a child, please reach out for that help,” Erickson said, adding that the Department of Social Services has programs to help. 

Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]

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