KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — Cooper Fales would have been 1 year old on Wednesday.
“Just a sinking feeling of what we don’t have any more and what we’ll never get back,” his mother said, describing what she felt upon waking up on what would have been her son’s birthday.
But in February, his parents found him dead in his car seat after they brought him home from day care. He was three months old.
Cooper’s parents, Zach and Mary Fales, live with the loss of their baby every day. On top of their grief, they don’t know what happened to him.
“We just really want to get our story out there,” Zach Fales told 24 Hour News 8 on Wednesday.
Both Zach and Mary Fales are working parents, so they trusted their children to Teresa Mowers for day care.
“We really looked and researched day cares and interviewed people,” Mary Fales said. “We are involved, attentive, responsible parents.”
After four years of sending their children to her day care, the Fales family thought of Mowers as a close friend.
The morning of Feb. 19, Zach Fales dropped Cooper off at Mowers’ around 7 a.m. Mary Fales dropped off their other son around noon.
“I asked how Cooper was doing,” Mary Fales said. “She (Mowers) said he was doing great and smiley that day.”
Around 5:20 p.m., Mowers texted Zach Fales that Cooper had been spitting up and sleeping a lot. At 5:45 p.m, Fales arrived to pick up his sons. Cooper was covered in his car seat. It was cold, so Fales didn’t think anything of it.
But when he arrived home and took off the car seat cover, Cooper was blue and stiff.
“We immediately knew something was wrong,” Mary Fales said.
The couple called 911, but it was too late. Investigators said Cooper was dead. Rigor mortis had already set in.
Kentwood police started an investigation that revealed Cooper died sometime around 4 p.m. — nearly two hours before he was picked up. A state investigationfound Mowers had unsanitary conditions in her home, too many children and no cribs.
“We really thought it was a safe environment,” Mary Fales said. “I think if this can happened to us it can happen to anybody.”
The Fales family hopes that criminal charges can still be filed and is pushing the prosecutor and police to take another look at the case.
A timeline of the day Cooper died, according to a state investigation:
Around 7 a.m. — Day care owner Teresa Mowers said Cooper was dropped off at Bridges Day Care, LLC “upset and hungry… He needed a bottle immediately.” Mowers said she gave him one at that time.
Around 4:00 p.m. — Mowers says Cooper was given a late afternoon bottle.
Between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. — Cooper is believed to have died during this time frame.
4:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. — Mowers says Cooper fell asleep in his car seat and she put him in the “preschool room” near the garage entryway to the home.
5:18 p.m. — Mowers texted baby’s father: “Just a heads up [Cooper] has spit up a lot today. He’s also been sleeping a lot.” Investigators suspect the baby had been deceased for a period of time before this message was sent.
Before 6 p.m. — Between 10 and 15 minutes before baby’s father arrived, Mowers said, she covered baby’s car seat with car seat cover.
About 5:45 p.m. — Father arrives to pick up baby Cooper and his siblings to take them home, about a 10-minute drive from the day care center.
6:10 p.m. — Cooper’s mother called 911 and his parents attempted to perform CPR when they discovered him unresponsive in the car seat.
6:44 p.m. — Cooper was officially pronounced dead at the home.