Authorities say a former North Carolina professor has been charged with murder after brutally abusing her adopted newborn son.
Van Erick Custodio, 42, was charged with first-degree murder on Thursday in relation to the death of 6-week-old Lucas Birchim, Gastonia Police Department speak. Custodio was previously embroiled in child abuse allegations, but those charges were upgraded after Birchim died at a local hospital on Wednesday. The baby suffered a number of injuries, including a broken skull and broken ribs.
Custodio is being held with a $500,000 deposit at the Gaston County Jail. On his personal website, Custodio describes himself as a “UX Consultant looking to tackle the next project” while working as an assistant professor of computer science for students at Belmont Abbey College. The school confirmed he was hired in 2019 but was recently placed on family leave before he was finally suspended on Wednesday. A spokesperson for the University of North Carolina-Charlotte also confirmed that Custodio was hired on a “temporary, limited contract to teach one class this semester as an adjunct.”
A UNCC spokesperson added: “He has been placed on administrative leave, and another faculty member will be in charge of the class for the remainder of the semester. It is not yet clear if Custodio will retain the attorney.
The former professor and his wife have long documented their adoption journey onlineSet up GoFundMe last January and is even said to have put out a video to help them with their adoption efforts, WSCO reported.
“We just felt like God put that wish in our hearts,” the couple said, according to the outlet. “We always wanted to have a family. At the end of the day, it’s a calling, yes, it’s a classic, isn’t it? ”
Last August, the couple was even involved Both hands, which helps “Christian adoption families finance their adoption by coordinating a home improvement service project for a widow.” Organization confirmed with WCTI that they helped the Custodios raise funds for adoptions.
The agency said in a statement: “Our team is deeply saddened by this news. “We find these acts cruel and pray for the healing of this child. We try to put all children in loving, safe homes, so our hearts are broken.”
Authorities say that on April 1, officers and paramedics went to Custodio’s home after receiving a report of an “infant in cardiac arrest.” Birchim was eventually taken to a local hospital, where authorities were able to determine that the infant’s injuries were “consistent with physical abuse.”
According to Custodio’s arrest warrant first obtained by WSCO, Birchim suffered “a broken skull, broken ribs and multiple fractures in each leg.”
The warrant also details that Custodio’s friends told police he admitted to throwing “the child on the sofa and also strangling the child, hearing an explosion in the rib area.” The friend also told police that Custodio admitted he “took the baby’s leg back and felt it crack” while changing the infant’s diaper.
The injuries and witness statements that Custodio had “admitted” to abusing his adopted son led to authorities receiving an arrest warrant for a felony child abuse charge with severe bodily harm. Two days after the charges were filed, he was arrested on April 11 in York County after authorities reported that he was hiding in a house in Lake Wylie.
Charges were upgraded two days later after the baby died.