An unlicensed daycare worker in South Dakota has been charged with murder for the death of a 17-month-old baby she allegedly assaulted after he refused to go down for a nap, authorities said.
Amanda Walder, 31, was taken into custody Thursday after she was indicted by a grand jury in Codington County on felony charges that included one count of second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree manslaughter, and one count of aggravated battery of an infant, according to a copy of the indictment. Liam allegedly died from a brain bleed and swelling after “blows” or “shaking” caused him to hit his head on a hard object, the indictment says.
The charges come after Watertown police officers and fire rescue personnel responded to a report that 17-month-old Liam Koistinen was breathing but unconscious after spending the day in her care on July 14.
“We got a call from Amanda saying she couldn’t wake (Liam) up,” his dad, Jeffrey Koistinen, told The Watertown Opinion. “She had put him down for a nap and she couldn’t wake him.”
The Koistinen family had been visiting Watertown for the summer to visit family, Jeffrey Koistinen, told the paper.
The couple had been taking their son to Walder’s home for daycare for several weeks after she was recommended by family friends, police responding at the scene said.
Liam’s dad later recalled to the Opinion that his son had been distressed at times when they dropped him off in the morning.
“He would be kind of cold when we picked him up from daycare. So we started putting socks on him. When we put socks on him, you could see the look on his face,” Jeffrey Koistinen said, according to the paper. “He knew the route we took to Amanda's house. Two turns away, the look on his face was worry. We were thinking he was worried because he knows where he’s going and didn’t want to be away from us.”
According to a probable cause statement viewed by The Daily Beast, Genevie Koistinen, the boy’s mom, had dropped him off at daycare as usual on the morning of his death, but was disturbed later that afternoon when Walder called her husband and said she had trouble putting Liam down for a nap.
She alleged she had “let him cry it out,” but had not done anything to harm the child, police said. But when paramedics evaluated the toddler, they said they saw signs of a possible seizure and brought him by ambulance to a local hospital where doctors examining him found evidence of significant bleeding in his brain due to suspected abuse.
Police said that during an interview with Walder she conceded to being “firm” with Liam about putting him down for a nap. She also admitted she “could have bonked his head” on the bed frame.
“I asked Amanda how hard she laid him down, if it could have caused a brain injury. Amanda advised possibly, yes,” police wrote in the affidavit.
According to an obituary for Liam published by Crawford Osthus Funeral Chapel in South Dakota where he was buried, the infant had spent two weeks in a newborn intensive care unit in Tucson, Arizona, at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in February last year. According to the Opinion, Liam’s dad said his son had been born not breathing and was expected to have challenges if he managed to survive, after spending nine minutes without oxygen to his brain. Somehow, he made a fully recovery.
He was described in the obituary, for that reason, as a “miracle baby.”
“Liam was such a happy baby. His laugh would fill the room, such a full belly laugh,” the obituary said. “You could not help but laugh with him.”