(KMSP) - The number of Minnesota children suspected of being abused has risen dramatically over the past few years. According to experts, the cases can occur in all types of families.
The Fox 9 Investigators reveal the details of one such case, which involves a former elected official charged with causing great bodily harm to a young boy.
A year ago, then four-year-old Max was in an intensive care unit at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul with a massive brain injury.
For weeks after the incident, he didn't move or speak, but he slowly recovered.
There is no end in sight to the therapy sessions and medical appointments he needs. Meanwhile, the expenses for treating Max are at $1.5 million.
“I think the importance of sharing the story is you just never know,” said his Mother, Kathy Piha.
The Fox 9 Investigators obtained a copy of the now closed police file including audio and video recordings.
Kathy Piha had returned to her then boyfriend’s home in Dresser, Wisconsin, after running a brief errand.
She found Max inside having a seizure. Even though she's a registered nurse, Piha was stunned to see her son in such distress.
After calling 911, her boyfriend, Bryan Beseler, took over the call.
At the time, he was the Village President of the small town and a former member of the Polk County Board of Supervisors.
911 Operator: “Is he awake?”
Beseler: “His eyes are open, but he’s unresponsive.”
911 Operator: “Is he breathing?”
Beseler: “He is breathing.”
Paramedics rushed Max by ambulance to a hospital in nearby St. Croix Falls.
His body was making abnormal movements and his left eye was dilated indicating his condition was critical.
In an interview with investigators, the ER doctor said he was told Max got hurt by running into a doorframe.
“Quickly, it became apparent that he had a severe head injury,” said the doctor.
But, given the severity of Max's injury, the doctor and the nurses were skeptical.
“We were concerned that maybe that didn't add up. That’s why we did contact child protective services,” the doctor told police.
Max was airlifted to Regions Hospital in St. Paul where a neurosurgeon removed part of his skull to relieve swelling.
After 19 agonizing days, the family got its first hopeful sign that his brain was beginning to heal. As his mother was counting his fingers at this bedside, Max raised his fingers on his own.
“I think we all want to know - more than anything - what happened that day,” Piha said.
POLICE VIDEO INSIDE BESELER’S HOME
Video from the police file shows Beseler explaining to detectives his version of how Max got hurt.
He claims they were chasing each other around shooting Nerf guns.
“After five or 10 times, he went running down the hallway, looked back at me [...] and just went right into the door jamb,” Beseler told police.
But investigators found no sign of Max’s DNA on that door jamb.
A doctor who’s an expert on child abuse injuries told them a boy hitting his head against a door frame during routine play would not be expected to cause such a severe injury.
“He did cry, [we] comforted him, said he was hot and kind of tired. So [we] offered him a drink of water, came in the kitchen here,” Beseler said on the police video.
Detectives also interviewed Max’s eight-year-old sister.
She wasn't there when her brother suffered the head injury, but she told them she "knew this day would come” because “Max was getting hurt all of the time” and Beseler was to blame.
“He did vomit in the toilet, rinsed his face off a little bit, helped him out, said he was still hot and didn't feel well,” Beseler said.
A few weeks after the incident, authorities charged Beseler with two counts of physical abuse of a child.
He initially pled not guilty, but recently entered a plea of "no contest" to a lesser felony of "recklessly causing bodily harm."
He declined Fox 9’s request for an interview.
Piha had dated Beseler for only a few months before the incident. She said she was unaware of any physical abuse going on.
"He just refuses to say anything else about it,” said Piha.
VISIT TO “HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH”
Max has made great strides in the year since his horrific injury.
“I like going to church and gym," Max said.
His speech, memory and communication skills are improving. Up until a couple of months ago, his brain could not differentiate colors.
He now does exercises to help him improve his strength and balance so he can overcome a fear of using the bathroom. He may also never regain full use of his right hand.
Without periodic Botox injections, the muscles in his right arm and leg freeze up. He wears a cast to keep his right foot in line to help him walk.
“I kind of treat him like he doesn't have any disabilities and try to make him be very independent and do everything he can on his own, as much as he can on his own,” Piha said.
A year ago, Piha was in a hospital room wondering if her son would ever move again.
She couldn't forget what he said moments before she left him in the care of Beseler the day he was injured.
“He wanted to take his first plane ride,” she recalled.
Max said he wanted to go to Disney World and splash in the ocean.
Eleven months later, against all odds, Max was able to do just that.
"I try not to let the past weigh us down as a family, keeping Max going forward is the best thing we can do for him," his mother said.
Beseler, who pled no contest to recklessly causing bodily harm, will be sentenced in July. He could face up to three and a half years in prison and/or a possible $10,000 fine.