Arkansas boy buried below floorboards allegedly died after mom’s boyfriend drowned him in rest room bowl
The Arkansas boy whose corpse was found buried under the floorboards of his home last week allegedly died three months ago after his mother’s boyfriend shoved his head in a toilet bowl as “punishment” for biting the man’s finger, according to newly-filed court documents that detail the disturbing circumstances of the boy’s death and the discovery of his body.
According to an arrest affidavit filed Tuesday by the state in Lee County Circuit Court, the boy’s mother, Ashley Rolland, 28, allegedly told police that her son, Blu, died Sept. 9 following the alleged incident involving her boyfriend, Nathan Bridges, 33 .
The boy’s age was not immediately clear: Arkansas State Police said the boy was six years old, but court documents state he was born Dec. 16, 2017 — meaning that his body was found on what would have been his fifth birthday. Blu’s paternal grandmother, Karen Rolland, 57, told NBC News the boy would have been turning six last week.
Ashley also told police that Bridges also allegedly caused her surviving six-year-old daughter’s injuries — later identified by medical personnel as severe burns — by holding her under hot water “as punishment for her behavior issues,” according to the affidavit.
Bridges declined to be interviewed, the affidavit states.
Police arrested Rolland and Bridges on Saturday, the day after they discovered the boy’s body buried under the hallway of his home in Moro, about 85 miles east of Little Rock, at around 10:45 pm, police said.
Both Rolland and Bridges are facing four felony charges, for capital murder, abuse of a corpse, tampering with physical evidence, endangering the welfare of a minor in the first degree and first-degree battery. Rolland is also facing two additional felony charges of permitting child abuse.
Rolland is being held at the St. Francis County Detention Center. Her mugshot shows her with a black eye. A jail representative could not immediately be reached for comment.
Bridges is being held at Lee County Sheriff’s Department, the affidavit states. He has been ordered to have no contact with Rolland’s surviving child, according to the document filed in court Monday.
Rolland and Bridges first appeared in court on Monday for a probable cause hearing, court records show. Both are being held without bond and next due in court on Jan. 17, and both have been appointed public defenders.
The Arkansas Public Defender Commission could not immediately be reached for comment.
The First Judicial Circuit Prosecuting Attorney Todd Murray could not immediately be reached with a question about how much prison time each could serve for the charges they face if convicted.
A gruesome discovery
According to the affidavit, police arrived at Rolland’s residence last Friday after Karen Rolland, whose son is the children’s father, called police after arriving to pick up the kids for a court-ordered visit that had been authorized the day before.
Ashley brought out her daughter, who “had apparent injuries that had scabbed over on top of her head,” which Ashley claimed was caused by an allergic reaction, the affidavit states.
Karen told NBC News that the girl “could barely even walk” and that her clothes were soiled in urine. Her first request, Karen added, what for “water and something to eat.”
“I told her that she was safe, and just the look on her face was sheer terror,” she said.
Ashley initially told Karen that Blu “was not at the residence,” according to Karen and the affidavit. After rushing her granddaughter to the hospital, Karen contacted police “to report she had information that Blu was possibly deceased” at the residence, according to the affidavit.
When Lee County deputies arrived to the house, Ashley’s father, Timmy Childers, 62, told police that Ashley had told him the boy was dead inside the home and described where she had said he was located.
Children could not be reached for comment.
Authorities entered the home and, in the spot where they had been told the boy was, found “newly nailed-down boards” and “disturbed earth underneath”; under the first layer of dirt, they found a child’s flip flop, a red and blue blanket and “the pungent odor of decay,” the affidavit states.
Following the execution of a search warrant, authorities removed more flooring and dirt around the area where they found the blanket, and discovered “an unidentified mass believed to be a small human body wrapped in multiple layers of plastic bags,” which they transferred to the Arkansas State Crime Lab.
Kermit Channell, director of the crime lab, said the cause and manner of death will be released by the Medical Examiner in 30-60 days.
Ashley appeared to give conflicting accounts of who buried the boy’s body, according to the affidavit.
Ashley told police she had been in another room at the time of the alleged drowning, and that when she went into the bathroom after Bridges left it, she saw her son “struggling to breath [sic]and his body was limp,” according to the affidavit.
She said Bridges allegedly “cut a hold in their wooden floor, dug a hole in the ground, and buried [Blu] under the house,” the affidavit states.
But Rebecca Fiting, whose relationship to Ashley was not immediately clear, told police at the scene that Ashley told her “that Blu had come out of the bathroom with his face/body swelling and foaming at the mouth before collapsing and dying,” and that Ashley allegedly said “she did not know what to do and had buried Blu under the floorboards inside her residence,” according to the affidavit.
An ongoing fight for custody
Ashley’s surviving daughter was transported to Forrest City Hospital, where staff determined she had been “severely burned” before transferring her to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, the affidavit states.
Court records show that Karen filed a petition for guardianship of the girl in St. Francis County Court on Wednesday, and that a judge subsequently granted an order for emergency temporary guardianship.
Earlier court records show that Karen’s son, Dustin Rolland, 30, and Ashley married in December 2015 and divorced in June 2021. Ashley was granted primary custody and charged with coordinating the father’s visitation through Karen, court records show.
Dustin reopened the custody case Sept. 14 — five days after Blu is believed to have died — by filing a complaint alleging that Ashley “has failed and refused to allow visitation as ordered.” Ashley was served with the complaint at the Moro house on Sept. 27 and filed a response nearly a month later, alleging her ex-husband had failed to pay child support or show up to visits sober, court records show.
Dustin denied those allegations, saying that he paid child support from the beginning of the custody battle and has “been trying to fight for my kids.”
“I wish I could’ve been there a long time ago, but it was her holding me back from my children,” he said. “I don’t want anybody thinking that this was my fault. I love my kids very much.”
A long road to recovery
A friend of the family, Anita Widby, has set up a GoFundMe to support the surviving girl’s recovery and future, which had raised more than $24,000 by Thursday afternoon. Karen said she will use the funds, in part, to pay for updates to her home in Widener, a town about 35 miles northeast of Moro, where the girl will live with her and her father.
The house needs updates to the heating, electricity and windows “so that she maintains a healthy home,” Karen said.
And the girl’s recovery “is going to take a lot of therapy,” she added.
On Thursday afternoon, the girl was coloring in the hospital after she managed to hobble to the bathroom on her burned and blistered feet, her grandmother said.
“She’s tough,” Dustin said.