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Police believe Boone woman tried to smother son in hospital

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Police say a Boone County woman attempted to smother her 4-month-old son as many as 15 times at home and at hospitals in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Pittsburgh police say Rachel Nelson, 22, of Costa, twice attempted to smother her infant son after he was transferred to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Children's Hospital.

"From what we're getting from Pittsburgh, there could have been 13 other occasions here in West Virginia," Boone Sheriff Rodney Miller said.

The Boone County Sheriff's Department now is collaborating with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police's Sex Assault & Family Crisis unit to investigate the alleged assaults.

Miller said at least six of those assaults might have happened in local hospitals, but he's unsure which hospitals those are. He said his deputies are contacting hospitals in the area to track down more information. The sheriff's department also is subpoenaing the infant's medical records.

"We wanted to get all of it as soon as we possibly could. We just have to lock the information down," he said.

According to a press release from the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police's major crimes unit, the infant was taken to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Children's Hospital on Oct. 18 for "intermittent respiratory distress."

Hospital staff called police around 7 p.m. Tuesday night, saying Nelson could be abusing her child.

Following interviews with UPMC medical staff, Nelson and her husband, Shawn, police now believe Nelson suffocated her son several times from August through October, including at least two times at the UPMC Children's Hospital.

Police contacted Child Protection Services in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, who immediately took custody of the child.

Nelson was taken to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic for evaluation. She has not been arrested yet.

"She is in a hospital in Pittsburgh now and hasn't been picked up on the charges," Miller said.

Miller said as far as he knows, the infant is Nelson's only child. The boy is in stable condition at Children's Hospital's Intensive Care Unit, according to the press release.

Miller said he "would not rule out" charging Nelson in West Virginia.

"You've got a 4-month-old little boy. They can't be subjected to that kind of stuff. We're not going to put up with that," he said. "Once we get all our information together, we'll send it to the prosecutor."

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or Follow him at


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