Recognizing signs of physical child abuse
A local man and woman accused of neglecting and abusing two children remain on track for trial, even after one felony charge was dismissed by a Centre County district judge at a preliminary hearing Wednesday.
Spring Township police Detective Luke Nelson testified he was contacted by Centre County Children and Youth Services in August 2018 after an infant was found to have “severe bruising” on its legs.
Nelson tried to talk to the parents of the children — Garrett Gunsallus, 23, of Centre Hall, and Ashley Gunsallus, 30, of Bellefonte — in September 2018, but both declined, according to the affidavit of probable cause filed by police in July.
A pediatrics professor at Penn State’s Center for the Protection of Children told police in March the bruising was from child abuse, not a dermatological issue, according to the affidavit.
The pediatrician also told police the infant was nutritionally neglected because their weight would decrease or stay the same throughout their life, according to the affidavit. Nelson testified he was not sure if there were previous reports of nutritional neglect.
“There should be a lot more people charged,” Garrett Gunsallus’ defense attorney, Jason Dunkle, told District Judge Allen Sinclair. “If there are no reports, there’s a lot of ball dropping by the doctors.”
Later that month, Ashley Gunsallus told Nelson that Garrett Gunsallus moved the infant’s legs in a bicycle motion to expel gas. She said Garrett Gunsallus was “doing it too hard and that it was hurting (the child),” but did not do anything to stop him, according to the affidavit.
In April, Nelson contacted Kurtis Kellerman, who said he watched Garrett Gunsallus fill a bottle with Natural Light beer, put formula on top and give it to a toddler in fall 2017, according to the affidavit.
Kellerman became friends with the couple after meeting Garrett Gunsallus at Walmart and Burger King years ago. He visited their “disgusting” residence a couple times per week and would help clean, he testified.
The toddler passed out and Garrett Gunsallus “laughed about it,” Kellerman testified. Garrett Gunsallus would “barely” interact with the toddler and would allow the toddler to sit in a “poop-filled, pee-filled diaper” for hours, Kellerman testified.
The children were placed in protective custody after police received the initial report, police said in a Facebook post.
Kellerman did not disclose the incident to anyone for months, he testified. When Centre County Assistant District Attorney Crystal Hundt asked Kellerman why, he testified, “Because I was scared.”
Kellerman and Garrett Gunsallus were the only two in the residence when the toddler was given the beer and formula concoction, but the responsibility to care for the child belonged to Garrett Gunsallus, not Kellerman, Nelson testified.
“I believe Kurtis Kellerman was trying to be a good person,” Nelson testified. “He was merely a visitor there and he was just trying to help out that night.”
Garrett Gunsallus was charged with two felony counts of endangering the welfare of children and one misdemeanor count of simple assault.
The first child endangerment charge was for the child’s fluctuating weight, while the second was for the beer and formula combination. The simple assault charge was for squeezing and bruising the child, according to the criminal complaint filed by police.
Sinclair dismissed the first child endangerment charge, but sent Garrett Gunsallus toward trial on the other two charges.
Ashley Gunsallus, who waived her preliminary hearing, was charged with one felony count of child endangerment for the child’s fluctuating weight. Both remain free after District Judge Thomas Jordan set bail at $20,000 unsecured.
Dunkle declined to comment after the hearing.