Murrieta dad, girlfriend arrested on suspicion of torture, child abuse of 5-year-old boy

MURRIETA, Calif. (KABC) -- Murrieta police arrested a father and his live-in girlfriend on suspicion of child abuse and torture after officers found the man's son severely injured in their home.

Around 10 a.m. Tuesday, members of Murrieta Fire and Rescue and police responded to a 911 call regarding a child not breathing in the 24000 block of Verdun Lane.

When authorities and medics arrived, they found a 5-year-old boy suffering from severe injuries and who required immediate medical attention. He was transported to a hospital by ambulance. Authorities did not elaborate further on the child's injuries.

Police determined the child's injuries were the result of child abuse and detectives were called in to investigate. The child's biological father, 33-year-old Benjamin Whitten, and his live-in girlfriend, 25-year-old Jeryn Johnson, were questioned.

Authorities also issued a search warrant for the home. After gathering more evidence at the home and from interviews, Whitten and Johnson were deemed responsible for the abuse. The couple was arrested on suspicion of child abuse causing great bodily injury and booked into Cois Byrd Detention Center.

The home was also deemed unsanitary and 11 dogs, four cats and two fish were taken by animal control officers.

Authorities said the child's condition was so severe that he was airlifted to another center in San Diego County. As of Wednesday, he is listed in grave condition.

The Riverside County District Attorney's office also issued an additional charge of torture against Whitten and Johnson.

Neighbors in the area gathered for a vigil Wednesday evening. One woman, who did not want to be identified, said she witnessed medics trying to revive the child.

"They brought out the little boy on the stretcher and they were trying to get him to breathe. He wasn't breathing. They were pushing on his chest," she said. "I'm really shocked. Having known (Johnson) a little bit. That is really shocking to me. I would have never have imagined that going on next door."

Residents in the area also said the couple mostly kept to themselves. Whitten reported to duty as a U.S. Navy sailor and Johnson ran a dog rescue out of their home.

Another neighbor who did not want to be identified said in the year and a half since the couple moved in, she rarely saw the little boy.

The couple are due in court Thursday. The investigation was ongoing.

Anyone with more information was urged to contact Detective Sgt. Spencer Parker at (951) 461-6364.
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