On June 15, 24-year-old Florida woman Rebecca Louise Gussage-Johnston was charged with first-degree murder while engaged in aggravated child abuse. The capital felony charges come a month after her initial arrest on lesser charges following the death of her two-year-old son. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office announced that the charges followed the findings of the Medical Examiner’s Office, which ruled the death as a homicide resulting from severe neglect. The charges reflect the severity and gravity of the crime.
The Incident and Initial Investigation
The tragic case began unfolding when the Sheriff’s office received a call on May 19 from a concerned relative of the victim. The deputies were directed to a Tampa-area residence described as a “white/tan 1992 mobile RV parked in a truck lot.” On arriving, they discovered a heart-wrenching scene; the toddler was deceased, covered in dried vomit and fecal matter, and suffering from injuries to various parts of his body. According to the criminal information filed on June 6, Gussage-Johnston was accused of “willfully torturing, maliciously punishing, or willfully and unlawfully caging” her son for approximately fifteen hours between May 18 and May 19, 2023. This abuse reportedly occurred in a booster seat as a form of punishment for the child “acting out.”
Timeline of the Tragic Event
In interviews with the deputies, Gussage-Johnston admitted to having strapped the toddler in a table booster seat for the purpose of punishment. The child remained confined in this seat from May 18 at approximately 2000 hours until May 19, either 1030 or 1100 hours. On the night of May 19, around 0000 hours, Gussage-Johnston last saw the victim asleep in the booster seat. The next morning, she discovered him on the floor, restrained by the seat but having flipped over and no longer upright. It is alleged that despite having a working phone, Gussage-Johnston failed to seek medical help, even after discovering her son on the floor suffering from a seizure. Instead, she is accused of having watched her son suffer and die without calling for help immediately.
Reaction from the Sheriff’s Office
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office was unequivocal in its reaction to the case. Sheriff Chad Chronister stated: “It is truly heart-wrenching to witness such senseless and preventable acts of violence targeting our youth. The tenacity of our detectives has allowed us to ensure this woman faces the consequences of her disgusting actions.” The Sheriff’s Office maintains an “unrelenting fervor” in their pursuit of justice for innocent children hurt by criminals.
Ongoing Investigation and Call for Witnesses
The investigation into the tragic incident remains ongoing. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office urges anyone with additional information about the case to contact them. Their contact number is 813-247-8200. In the meantime, Gussage-Johnston remains in custody for her original charges.
Legal Proceedings and Expected Court Dates
Rebecca Louise Gussage-Johnston’s legal proceedings are set to move forward expeditiously, with a court date expected to be set soon. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has affirmed its commitment to seeking justice for the victim, ensuring Gussage-Johnston faces the full consequences of her actions. If convicted, Gussage-Johnston could face life imprisonment or even the death penalty. The story of the two-year-old victim is a tragic one, serving as a grim reminder of the unthinkable harm that can result from severe neglect and abuse.