MIDDLETOWN, OH (FOX19) – - Charges were upgraded to murder Friday for two of the three women charged with severely beating two small boys after one of the children died.
The children's mother, Theresa Hawkins-Stephens, 26, and her two friends, Rachael Bostian, 29, and Ramona Bostian, 56 face two counts each of felonious assault and child endangering.
When they appeared in court Friday morning, the boys' mother, Hawkins-Stephens, and Rachael Bostian, were charged with an additional count of murder.
The incident began in the woods in Middletown on Tuesday, when one of the children took some food, police said.
The three women are accused of deciding to discipline the children by wrapping them in a blanket and beating them for several hours, according to Assistant Middletown Police Chief Mark Hoffman.
The boy, 5, was pronounced dead early Friday at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Avondale. He was taken there Wednesday night with life-threatening injuries.
His brother, 6, also was found with serious injuries. The condition of the 6-year-old was not available Friday.
A detective working the scene described the incident as "nothing short of torture," he said.
Officers responding to a 911 call at the Parkway Inn Wednesday night found a 5-year-old child suffering from life-threatening injuries and immediately began to administer first aid until paramedics arrived to take over.
As police investigated, they discovered the child's 6-year-old brother concealed under a blanket in the room.
"It was, quite frankly, a horrific beating," said Hoffman. "We had 20-year officers on scene and they said it was the worst they had seen in their career."
Their bonds were set at $1 million. The murder charge carries a possible sentence of 15 years to life.
Ramona Bostian did not face any additional charges Friday. Her bond was set at $500,000.
The three women are scheduled to return to court May 6. They were given public defenders when they said they had no money for lawyers.
"This is going to a preliminary hearing," Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser told FOX19 NOW Friday. "I want the public to see this case as early as possible."
The women were taken into custody shortly after Middletown officers responded to a report of a possible dead child inside a room at the Parkway Inn off North Verity Parkway about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Hoffman said all three women took part in the alleged beatings. They were all staying together at the hotel. They are originally from Licking County and had recently moved to Franklin.
According to a recording of the 911 call released Thursday, a woman who identified herself as "Rachael" requested medical assistance.
"We have a child that stopped breathing. Um, he-we were camping in the woods and he escaped the tent when we were sleeping and he was gone for a couple of days and some kids got a hold of him and messed him up real bad and we didn't realize how bad it was."
Later in the call, she urged the dispatcher "Please hurry."
"Is he alive?" the dispatcher asked.
"Yes, we're, we've-he stopped breathing, but we're doing chest compressions and CPR and he's responding to it."
"Are you the mother?"
"No, ma'am, the mother is the one that's taking care of him."
"He was holding him in his arms the last few minutes of his life," Stephens told FOX19 NOW. He says his son was holding the child as he passed away at Children's Hospital on Friday.
Alex turned five on Monday and died on Friday. Other family members told FOX19 NOW the child weighed just 24 pounds.
"My son can't even hardly speak. He's just hurting. The whole family is," Stephens told FOX19 NOW.
His other grandson, Damyan, 6, is recovering from his injuries at Children's Hospital.
"He's recovering from a traumatic beating, malnourishment, from a person he should have never had to fear," Stephens said.