SoCal mom suspected in her 1-year-old's murder abused her other children, toddler's grandmother says

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Saturday, October 7, 2023
SoCal mom accused in toddler's murder abused her kids, grandma says
A woman whose 1-year-old grandson was allegedly abused and killed by his own mother and her new boyfriend says she witnessed the mother abuse her other children.

SUGARLOAF, Calif. (KABC) -- A woman whose 1-year-old grandson was allegedly abused and killed by his own mother and her new boyfriend says she witnessed the mother abuse her other children and doesn't believe the toddler's death was an accident.

Sierra Rivers says she's the paternal grandmother of 1-year-old Henry Wheatley Brown, who was found by deputies unresponsive and severely burned Sunday at a home in Sugarloaf, near Big Bear. Henry was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Sergio Mena, 32, and Samantha Garver, 33, both pleaded not guilty to charges of child abuse and murder. They are being held without bail.

"You can't tell me that woman with a past history of burning a child didn't have a hand in burning that baby," Rivers told Eyewitness News.

RELATED: Mother, boyfriend charged with murder in death of 1-year-old boy found burned at Sugarloaf home

A woman and her boyfriend face charges of murder and child abuse in the death of a 1-year-old boy who was found severely burned at a home near Big Bear.

Rivers says her son, Thomas Rios, dated Garver off and on for close to 20 years and was Henry's father.

Rivers says she remembers a time about 10 years ago when Rios was dating Garver and living in the High Desert. It was then that she witnessed firsthand what she says was child abuse. It involved one of Garver's other children - she had three at the time fathered by someone else.

Rivers says she saw Garver's baby pull a headphone from Garver's ear.

"She slapped the crud out of that baby, and I yanked the baby away from her, and I told her 'I'm calling the sheriff,'" Rivers said.

"'You better call your foster mother and get her over here because I'm not going to give the baby back to anybody but the sheriff,'" Rivers recalled saying. "And she grabbed the baby by the arm and yanked her out of my hand, and said 'I got the s--- beat out of me as a child, and I turned out fine.'"

Not long after, another incident led to Garver's arrest.

"She alleged that one of the girls, I'm assuming it was the youngest one, when it was a baby, rolled off the bed and was pinned between a space heater and the wall," Rivers recounted.

But Rivers didn't buy it.

"They got to the emergency room, (child protective services) was called in, and that's when she lost the children," Rivers said. "So I don't believe that it was an accident, I believed she probably burned that baby on purpose."

Court records show that Garver pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child cruelty and was sentenced to 100 days in jail. She was also ordered to complete a 1-year child abuse prevention program, but she never did and a warrant was issued for her arrest.

River's says Garver's mother then adopted the three children and moved to Big Bear. Even though Garver wasn't supposed to be living with them, she was.

"Anytime CPS would come they'd hide her," Rivers said. "They'd tell her you have to leave for a while, or they'd hide her in some other part of the house until they left."

A couple years ago, Rios and Garver got engaged, but she left him shortly before their child Henry was to be born.

Not long before Henry's first birthday Garver started dating Sergio Mena.

Rivers says she called San Bernardino County Children and Family Services at least 12 times, trying to warn them about Henry living in a potentially dangerous situation.

"There's not a single picture of Henry smiling," Rivers said. "His little eyes look dull, and tired and toward the end. He was so skinny and malnourished."

"Do I think she intended to kill him? Do I think she intended to torture that baby until he died... yes, absolutely," Rivers said. "I think she was tired of him. She had him later in life. She wanted to do her own thing and do her drugs, and he was interfering in it."

But did San Bernardino County Children and Family Services ever open an investigation because of all the phone calls Rivers claims she made? The department told Eyewitness News they can't release that information at this point due to confidentiality.

Mena and Garver are scheduled to be back in court next week.