A father and stepmother in Colorado turned themselves in to police on Tuesday, accused of killing their 11-year-old son by forcing him to drink large amounts of water.
Ryan and Tara Sabin, from Black Forest, northeast of Colorado Springs, have been charged with first-degree murder, child abuse, and child abuse resulting in death over the killing of their son Zachary, who died on March 11 from forced water intoxication.
A coroner found the boy had been told to drink four 24-ounce bottles of water over four hours without eating.
The pair allegedly required that the boy drink two bottles of water a day, believing he had a bed-wetting problem and that his urine "smelled strongly." The Sabins also said Zachary had a urinary problem that required him to wear diapers to bed, according to an arrest affidavit.
Ryan Sabin told authorities that on the evening of March 10 he received a message from his wife telling him that their son hadn't drunk his water so she was making him do it. Ryan told authorities that when he arrived home, his son was in the kitchen taking sips of water and then throwing them up. Ryan told his son that he was throwing the water up because he was drinking it too slowly and allowing air into his stomach and told him "chug" the water.
Ryan said Zachary continued drinking water in the kitchen while the rest of the family ate dinner without him. After the Sabins' other children went to bed, Ryan Sabin told authorities that Zachary was "throwing a fit" while lying on the floor, telling his father that he couldn't drink the water and that his legs were hurting.
Ryan then kicked his son twice while warning him that if he didn't get up he would "kick him harder," according to the affidavit. His father told authorities that Zachary repeatedly threw himself on the ground and that at one point Ryan picked him up and when he let go Zachary hit his head on the ground and that he continued "throwing a tantrum."
Ryan said he then took his son outside to calm down and that after a few minutes he brought him back inside, where Zachary "fell asleep" on the floor. When the Sabins woke him up to go to bed at 11:15, they told authorities that Zachary was "grunting and making other unintelligible noises" before they put him to bed.
Ryan Sabin said when he went to wake up Zachary at 6:15, the boy was unresponsive. Authorities who arrived on the scene declared him dead.
Drinking too much — known as water intoxication — can disturb a person's electrolyte balance, leading to a rapid decrease in sodium levels and possible death.
Symptoms in children usually include a change in behavior. "They may become confused, drowsy or inattentive," warns the St. Louis Children's Hospital. "They also may suffer from blurred vision, muscle cramps and twitching, poor coordination, nausea and vomiting, irregular breathing and weakness."
No attorney could be found for the Sabins, who are due to make their first appearance in court on Tuesday.
According to his obituary, Zachary was in fifth grade at Explorer Elementary School in Colorado Springs and loved playing with his brothers and sisters.
"He is loved by many and remembered by his unique and contagious laugh, continuous smile, goofy spirit, obsession with chicken nuggets, love of books and reading, and love for animals," his obituary reads. "He talked and dreamed of being a Zoo Keeper or Veterinarian and loved his birds, turtle and dogs."
"He was always a gentle guardian to those littler than him."