Erica Parsons, the Rowan County girl whose short, tortured life captured national headlines, could have died of “blunt force” injury suffered over years, or she could have been suffocated or strangled, according to the results of her autopsy released Tuesday.
While the autopsy exam could not pinpoint how Erica died, “it is our opinion that the cause of death is homicidal violence of undetermined means,” the N.C. Medical Examiner’s Office said.
No one has been arrested for murder in the case, but Erica’s adoptive parents will likely face more charges now that the autopsy findings have been released, the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday night.
Nearly five years after Erica was last seen, her skull and bones were found in rural Chesterfield County in Upstate South Carolina in September 2016. Authorities said Erica’s remains were recovered by Rowan County detectives who were joined by agents from the FBI and the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Sandy Parsons, Erica’s adoptive father, had recently begun talking to authorities about the case from prison. Erica was given up at birth to a family said to have hated her. She was born on Feb. 24, 1998.
Erica had broken bones all over her body, the autopsy report says. Fractures in various stages of healing were found in her nose, jaw, upper right arm, nine ribs and several vertebrae.
Several family members reported that Erica endured longstanding physical and emotional abuse by her adoptive parents, an investigation report by the medical examiner’s office says.
Family members described beatings with a belt buckle that broke Erica’s skin, episodes of her being choked and thrown to the ground, her hand being slammed in a door and repeated episodes of Erica’s fingers being bent all the way back, according to the report. Erica’s tooth was knocked out in one incident, the report says. She was forced to sleep in a closet and eat dog food.
Erica’s bones showed she was malnourished, the autopsy found.
Both Sandy Parsons and his wife, Casey Parsons, were convicted in 2015 of financial crimes that included cashing adoption assistance checks totaling more than $12,000 after Erica’s disappearance.
Sandy Parsons is serving eight years in a federal prison in Michigan and Casey Parsons 10 years in a federal prison in Florida.
Sheriff’s investigators said they received the autopsy results for the first time on Tuesday afternoon, about the same time the N.C. Medical Examiner’s Office released the results to the Observer and other news media. Investigators said they will review the findings before presenting the results and other evidence to the Rowan County District Attorney’s Office to determine the added charges the Parsons could face. Any charges would likely be taken to the Rowan County Grand Jury for review.
The Parsons could then be returned to Rowan County so investigators could serve the charges on them, the sheriff’s office said.
Erica’s birth mother, Carolyn Parsons, told the Observer she gave up the newborn because she couldn’t afford to raise her and didn’t want the child to struggle as she did. Carolyn Parsons said she spent much of her childhood in foster care and homeless shelters.
Erica went to live with her uncle, Sandy Parsons, and his wife, Casey Parsons, when she was 5 months old and was adopted by the couple in 2000.
Home-schooled, developmentally disabled and isolated from other children, Erica lived a life of punitive discipline and degradation, according to federal court testimony in 2015.
Food was often withheld from her as punishment, her adoptive brother James Parsons testified. If Erica stole a cookie or something else to eat, she’d be fed canned dog food by Casey Parsons, he said, an event that would occur up to twice a month, the Observer reported in 2015.
Staff researcher Maria David contributed.