Eight-year-old Joseph Barney’s life was already slipping away last June when his mother and her boyfriend brought him to an emergency room in the Bronx, concerned, they said, that he felt cool to the touch.
The boy arrived at Montefiore Medical Center unconscious and unresponsive, with no outward signs of serious injury. But, 24 minutes later, he was pronounced dead by doctors who quickly summoned the police.
On Monday, nine months after the hospital visit, the boy’s mother, Sharay Barney, and her boyfriend, Michael Ransom, were arrested on murder charges after the city medical examiner ruled Joseph’s June 1 death a homicide. They said it was caused by a mix of old and new injuries, a condition called battered child syndrome.
Ms. Barney, 29, and Mr. Ransom, 33, were booked on murder and manslaughter charges and were awaiting arraignment on Tuesday night in criminal court. They could not be reached for comment because they were in custody, and information about their defense lawyers was not immediately available.
No explanation of why the authorities believed that Ms. Barney and Mr. Ransom caused Joseph’s death was made available on Tuesday evening, nor were any details shared about their respective roles in the alleged crime.
But a routine state review conducted after Joseph’s death noted that the circumstances were “significantly suspicious.” The boy suffered hemorrhaging on his brain and optical nerve, a bruise on the scalp and small cuts on his face and mouth, according to the report. He also had a chipped tooth and was severely underweight. But there were no arrests at the time, according to the report, because the autopsy had not been completed.
The report, which state law requires the Office of Children and Family Services to complete when children who have been abused die, also said Ms. Barney gave inconsistent statements during interviews with investigators and had planned what she would say to the authorities over text messages with Mr. Ransom.
Stephanie Gendell, a spokeswoman for the Administration for Children’s Services, said the agency launched a joint investigation with the police “immediately” after the agency was made aware of the family. She did not say how or when that occurred.
The agency said that state law prohibits officials from disclosing information about individual cases. However, the law makes some exceptions that allow agencies to share more details, including in cases in which a child has died.
Desmond Long, Joseph’s biological father, said in an email that he was relieved to hear about the arrests. “They were still together after what they have done to Joseph,” he said.
Joseph’s death last June preceded an unusual string of deaths over the summer of young children who had been the subject of abuse warnings to child-welfare authorities and the police. The state report said his family had no open cases with child-welfare authorities at the time of his death.
According to the report, Ms. Barney initially told the authorities that she left home at 7 a.m. to go to work. Before leaving, she said she had fed her son a nutritional supplement, but he was not feeling well and vomited.
When she returned at about 12:20 p.m., she said, Joseph felt cool to the touch, so she dressed him and called a taxi. The ride to the hospital took more than an hour, and Joseph was pronounced dead at 2:04 p.m.
Investigators determined that Ms. Barney and Mr. Ransom were seen leaving the home together at 7:38 a.m. He returned minutes later and did not leave again until he carried the boy to the taxi. They told investigators that they thought it would be faster than an ambulance, but the ride took 80 minutes, according to the report.
Neighbors who were interviewed by child-welfare caseworkers expressed no major concerns about the boy’s care, but said they often heard some “light banging” coming from the apartment, the report said.
Joseph was diagnosed with autism, and the school he attended told the authorities that he had not returned after the family moved. School officials said they had left several messages requesting that his mother transfer services, assuming he had changed schools.
Ms. Barney later became uncooperative with the authorities, and Mr. Ransom never made himself available for an interview, according to the state report.
The New York Post also reported that Joseph had been taken to the hospital multiple times with signs of possible abuse.
State law requires the hospital to report their suspicions to the state child-abuse registry and for the local child-welfare agency to follow up. But officials invoked confidentiality law on Tuesday in response to questions about whether those steps were taken.
Mr. Ransom has a lengthy history of arrests — most of it sealed — and he has been named in domestic incident reports stretching back to his childhood, law enforcement officials said. The most recent report, from April 2020, said that he had hit a pregnant 22-year-old woman.
He has three children who do not live with him, but officials said there were no previous signs that he had abused any of them. He was named as the victim in some of the domestic reports that mention him, and none of them appear to involve Joseph or Ms. Barney, who has no prior arrests and was named as a victim in three unrelated domestic incident reports, the officials said.
Mr. Long, 32, said his son could not communicate verbally but he had noticed suspicious bruises on the boy’s body and taken pictures and videos of them. “They told me on the phone that he got hurt from playing too hard in the park,” said Mr. Long. “I knew it was a lie.”
Joseph, he said, was a playful and funny child who loved to eat pizza and watch videos of subway trains. “He would dance to different songs,” Mr. Long added. “He loved monkeys, which was his favorite animal. He always smiled and wanted to eat candy, ice cream, fruit snacks, Capri Suns.”
The last time he saw Joseph was on April 3, two months before he died. “They kept him away from me,” said Mr. Long.
“I didn’t know their address or any info about them,” he added. “Any time Joseph was about to go back home to them, he would cry a lot and get very sad.”
There was no answer at the door to the couple’s apartment in Morrisania, and neighbors at the brick duplex in Williamsbridge where they lived when Joseph died, said they barely saw Ms. Barney and Mr. Ransom during the short time they were around.
Frank Rue, 74, said he did not know the couple had a child in the home until the police showed up on the block last summer.
“They were a mystery,” he said. “I didn’t know them. Nobody knew them. Nobody knew they had a child inside of there. It was shocking. Couldn’t believe it.”
Chelsia Rose Marcius contributed reporting. Susan C. Beachy contributed research.