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Mom, 24, charged with murdering her 2-year-old son; she strapped him in a booster seat for 15 hours — punishment for ‘acting out — and neglected him

A tragic incident unfolded in Florida as a 24-year-old mother, Rebecca Gussage-Johnston, was charged with the murder of her 2-year-old son. According to the Tampa Bay Times, officials revealed that Gussage-Johnston allegedly strapped her son in a booster seat for 15 hours last month as a form of punishment for his behavior, neglecting him in the process.

Initially arrested in May on charges of aggravated child abuse resulting in great bodily harm and child neglect, Gussage-Johnston now faces an additional charge of first-degree murder while engaged in child abuse, as declared by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

The decision to add the murder charge came after the medical examiner determined that the child’s death resulted from severe neglect, marking it as a homicide, as reported by the paper.

More from the Times:

Deputies were called to a mobile RV in the 10000 block of U.S. Highway 301 in Tampa on May 19 around 8 p.m. after the boy’s aunt found the child unresponsive, a search warrant in the case states. The boy was found in a bassinet underneath a blanket.

The boy’s aunt was asked to check on the child by the 2-year-old’s father. While speaking with police, Gussage-Johnston admitted to strapping the boy in a table booster seat as punishment for “acting out” and screaming, about 8 p.m. on May 18, a day before police arrived, according to an arrest affidavit.

The 2-year-old was confined to the booster seat for about 15 hours, the affidavit states. The boy became unresponsive at about 2 p.m. on May 19, according to the warrant.

According to the affidavit cited by the Tampa Bay Times, Gussage-Johnston last saw her son asleep and sitting upright in the booster seat around midnight on May 19. Later in the morning, she discovered him lying on his side, still restrained in the seat, experiencing seizures and uncontrollable shaking. Sadly, the child passed away in her arms.

Despite having a working phone, Gussage-Johnston did not call 911 throughout the day of May 19, as revealed by the warrant mentioned in the report. Investigators discovered that the boy had head trauma, a wound on his right thigh, and bruising on his extremities. Additionally, he was found covered in vomit and feces, highlighting the extent of the neglect he endured.

The boy’s father informed the police that he had purchased the RV, where Gussage-Johnston, their two children, and the victim lived. The father did not reside in the home and had not seen his son for at least six months. The warrant indicates that the father informed the police that Gussage-Johnston “always keeps the children locked in the mobile RV.”

Currently, Gussage-Johnston is being held without bail at the Falkenburg Road Jail, according to the Times report. The heart-wrenching tragedy serves as a stark reminder of the importance of protecting and ensuring the well-being of vulnerable children in our society.

Moriah Ballard
Moriah Ballard
Moriah Ballard joined the KPRC 2 digital team in the fall of 2021. Prior to becoming a digital content producer in Southeast Texas and a Houstonian, Moriah was an award-winning radio host in her hometown of Lorain, Ohio and previously worked as a producer/content creator in Cleveland. Her faith, family, and community are her top passions.


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