Father speaks out after son's death: 'He was so young, so innocent. Just why?'

Father speaks out after young son's death
Published: Mar. 16, 2016 at 11:45 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 18, 2016 at 4:26 PM EDT
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Robert Ritchie III, the father of Austin Cooper, is speaking out after his son died from severe...
Robert Ritchie III, the father of Austin Cooper, is speaking out after his son died from severe burns. (Photo courtesy WDTN)
Austin Cooper (PHOTO: Facebook)
Austin Cooper (PHOTO: Facebook)

FRANKLIN, OH (FOX19) - The Franklin woman accused of dipping her four-year-old stepson's legs in scalding water as a punishment faced a judge Friday.

Anna Ritchie, 25, received a $350,000 bond at her hearing in a Warren County courtroom.

Ritchie admitted to dipping Austin Cooper's legs in a bathtub of scalding water as punishment Tuesday night, according to Franklin police.

The Warren County Coroner's Office has ruled the boy's death a homicide.

In an interview with Channel 2 (WDTN-TV), Robert Ritchie III says he came home from work Tuesday night and his son was already in bed.

He said he found his son unresponsive the next morning and called 911.

"That whole day just seemed like a blur," he said. "It's like a nightmare on loop."

An investigation shows the boy was put to bed Tuesday night and found not breathing in the Boulder Drive residence about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Police responded to a report of a boy not breathing.

When called Ritchie 911, he told dispatchers, "I think my son's died," according to a recording of the call.

"He got into a hot bath last night with my wife and she thought [unintelligible] OK. So, he said he wanted to go lay down in bed," he told dispatchers.

Austin was taken to Atrium Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

His autopsy revealed severe burns on the boy's legs that ultimately led to his death, said Doyle Burke, chief investigator with the Warren County Coroner's Office.

The final autopsy report will be released when toxicology results are back, he added.

"As a father and a grandfather, first what goes through my mind is that I can't imagine what a four-year-old could have done," said Franklin Police Chief Russ Whitman. "To deserve something like that, it affects us personally. It affects the officers."

The case remains under investigation.

Now, Austin's father is asking himself why this happened.

"He was so young, so innocent. Just why? The Lord taught me, even through the hardest things in life, you gotta forgive he can't forgive you either. Especially, even something like this, you gotta have faith and you gotta keep your head on straight.

"That little boy would want me to keep going everyday," Ritchie told WDTN. "He'd want me to go out and have fun for him and do everything I can for him."

He said his son was a huge fan of Star Wars.

"He was a big R2-D2 guy and he loved Darth Vader," Ritchie said. "I actually got him of those Kylo Ren's a few weeks ago. He loved it."

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