PORT RICHEY — Chekayla Ariel Dampier is a young, new mother and, on Monday afternoon, her 7-week-old son wouldn't stop crying. The 18-year-old was frustrated, a Pasco sheriff's report states, so she punished the infant by holding his head under running hot water until his skin started "coming off and other parts of his skin were 'bubbling.' "
The baby, Emilio Jesus Bautista, sustained severe burns to his head, chest and arms, as well as second-degree burns to his eyes and ears, the Sheriff's Office said. A report states the abuse happened at 1 p.m.; Dampier brought him to Morton Plant North Bay Hospital in New Port Richey at 10 p.m. The baby was then flown to Tampa General Hospital, where, according to authorities, "the infant's burns on his chest caused his left nipple to pull off when his shirt was removed."
He remained at Tampa General on Wednesday in critical condition.
At first, Dampier blamed the baby's injuries on others, the Sheriff's Office said. But then, on Tuesday, Dampier confessed to her frustration with Emilio, who had been "crying for hours" and admitted to "placing him in an infant wash tub and running hot water over him for 2 to 3 minutes," deputies said.
She said she placed Emilio's head "directly under the spout" and he was "crying during the entire incident," the report states. The Sheriff's Office said the water measured at 142 degrees.
"This is one of the most horrific child abuse cases we've seen in years," said Pasco Sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll.
This is Dampier's first child. He was born Feb. 20 and was 6 pounds, 4 ounces, 18 inches.
"I LOVE MY BABY EMILIO JESUS BAUTISTA," she wrote last month on Facebook.
She was raising him alone, seemingly bouncing from house to house, unemployed. She's had three addresses in 2012, records state. Friends said the baby's father was not in Dampier's life.
"Me and my mom told her, 'We can take care of the baby, you know,'" said Keisha Dampier, 26. She said she is Chekayla Dampier's biological cousin but they were raised as sisters.
She said Chekayla Dampier's birth mother was abusive, so Keisha Dampier's mother adopted her.
But Keisha Dampier said her cousin was troubled and ran away a lot. Her first arrest, for stealing, was at 11, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Then came more theft charges. Failing to appear in court. Trespassing. Her arrest Tuesday, for aggravated child abuse causing great bodily harm, was her 11th.
"She said, 'I can take care of this baby,' " Keisha Dampier said.
Erica Giddens, 31, said she had suspicions something bad was going to happen to Emilio. She said Chekayla Dampier lived with her for a few months, and after the baby was born, she saw bruises on the infant's chest.
"Like pinch marks," Giddens said. "And he had a cut underneath his neck."'
She said Dampier told her it was normal for babies to have cuts and bruises.
"No, that's not normal," Giddens said she told her. She kicked Dampier out of her Hudson home earlier this month.
Doll and Terri Durdaller, of the Department of Children and Families, both said there have been no prior reports of child abuse against Dampier.
Roy Miller, president of Children's Campaign Inc., an advocacy and watchdog group in Tallahassee, wonders if Dampier had a support system. Single mothers who don't receive quality prenatal services and who might be suffering from other mental health issues are "more likely to abuse," he said.
But he is not condoning what authorities say Dampier did.
"This is a woman who did an unspeakable horrific action to her child," Miller said. "What we can do here is try to heal the child as much as possible and learn from the incident and see if there are things that could be done to prevent this type of thing in the future."
Dampier, of 7138 Johnson Road in Port Richey, refused an interview request Wednesday. She is being held at the Pasco jail in lieu of $150,000 bail.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.