No foul play apparent in boys' deaths Two infants were in day care home on Kent Island; Shared peaches suspected; Caregiver agrees to suspension of license to operate


STEVENSVILLE -- Police say there was no obvious sign of foul play in the deaths Wednesday of two 5-month-old babies who were being cared for in a Kent Island day care home.

State medical examiners are investigating whether peaches fed to the infant boys might have caused them to go into cardiac arrest in the Stevensville home where licensed provider Stacey Russum had cared for six children.

The babies, who are not related, were identified as Matthew Willis Harrison and Ian Walden Denny, both of Stevensville. According to police, the children were sleeping in the same bed Wednesday afternoon when they were found unconscious or unresponsive.

Paramedics arrived at the small bungalow on Willow Court about 4 p.m. and found Russum and her husband performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the children.

The infants were taken to Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, where they were pronounced dead, said Sgt. Michael Gardner, spokesman for the Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department.

"According to our detectives, there were no outward signs of injury," said Capt. Curtis Benton of the Queen Anne's County Sheriff's Department.

Instead, investigators focused on the peaches. "That is one of the very few things they both had in common," he said.

Apparently, the family of one of the infants bought canned peaches, pureed them and gave them to Russum for the baby, Benton said.

The peaches were frozen, then warmed up Wednesday and fed to both infants.

The state medical examiner's office has taken a sample of the peaches for testing, he said.

The medical examiner's office in Baltimore issued a statement saying the autopsies performed yesterday were inconclusive until testing is completed.

The tests include an analysis of the food given to the children, tissue studies and a toxicologic analysis of bodily fluids to determine the presence of drugs and poisons.

Russum agreed to a voluntary suspension of her day care license yesterday until the cause of the infants' deaths has been determined, said Elyn Jones, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Human Resources.

"She will no longer be caring for children in her home until a final report is issued," Jones said.

Russum was licensed by the department's Child Care Administration to care for up to eight children in her home, with no more than two under the age of 2, Jones said. The Russums have school-age children.

Russum was first licensed as a day care provider in 1988 in Dorchester County and then licensed in 1997 in Queen Anne's County, Jones said.

Licenses are renewed every two years.

Jones refused to answer any other questions about Russum's record as a day care provider, citing confidentiality rules. She would not say whether the licenses were held continuously, if any compliants or incidents had been reported, or whether the state had ever taken action on the license.

To be licensed, a provider's home must be inspected for compliance with health, safety and fire regulations.

The provider must undergo a background check and nine hours of training in child development and health issues. Additional training is required for license renewals.

No one answered the door yesterday at the Russum home as television camera crews, photographers and reporters crowded the quiet street in the Cloverfields neighborhood about two blocks from the Chester River. Neighbors said the family had moved from Cambridge into the house at the end of the cul-de-sac in December.

"I did not know them very well, just casually because my 11-year-old daughter played with their 10-year-old," said Brenda Kline. "They seem like nice people, and the children there seemed well cared for. It's a horrible thing for this woman as well as for the families of the two children. It's a terrible shame that three families have been ruined."

Two miles away, near Love Point, relatives of Ian Denny gathered at the home of his parents, Richard Carvel and Dawn Marie Walden Denny. Outside the brick farmhouse, which faces the Chesapeake Bay, a family member who would not identify himself said the child's parents were too grief stricken to speak to reporters.

Matthew Harrison's parents, Gregory Neil and Nancy Elaine Harrison, also were not available.

At the Stepping Stone Children's Center in downtown Stevensville, a day care center for children 2 to 5, Karyn Ayala said the deaths of the two children was the first thing she heard about when she arrived for work yesterday. "It's a terribly sad thing for everyone -- the families and the day care provider," Ayala said. "I have a lot of friends who live in Cloverfields, and I just went cold all over when I heard about those two babies."

Both children will be buried tomorrow, said a spokesman for Fellows, Helfenbein & Newnam Funeral Home in Chester.

Pub Date: 5/15/98

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