FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - Earlier this year, Martin Gowder was supposed to get his kids for the weekend as laid out in a custody agreement.
The Flint man said his ex-girlfriend asked to keep them for a few more days. Gowder said she told him their son had a rash and she wanted it to heal.
Just a day later, the Genesee County Prosecutor said she took 2.5-year-old Ben to the hospital because he wasn’t breathing.
Gowder was called to the emergency room, as 27-year-old Keyanna Pope and her boyfriend, Kenyatta Gardner, were arrested and charged with torture and first-degree child abuse.
That rash, doctors determined, was actually third-degree burns all over the boy’s body.
“I’ve been holding this stuff in for so long so I just feel like if talking about it -- getting people to hear my story -- maybe that helps them,” Gowder said.
Ben’s dad is speaking out for the first time about his son’s recovery, ahead of Pope and Gardner’s next court hearing on Wednesday. Gowder said his son’s life will never be the same.
“I want them to feel that,” he said. “I want them to know that, like, especially Keyanna -- I want her to understand the gravity of the situation and the consequences behind it more than anything.”
Gowder still has trouble understanding how someone, let alone his son’s mother could allegedly place the toddler in burning water. Investigators believe it was punishment for a potty training accident.
“It’s kind of hard to accept things as the way they are now, knowing how they used to be, and that it might never get there again,” Gowder said. “But, I’m really trying to stay positive about it.”
Gowder said his son is stable, but bed bound with a feeding tube, colostomy bag and catheter. He isn’t walking or talking.
Ben’s receiving treatment in Indiana, where he’s undergone numerous skin grafts. Gowder hasn’t had a chance to visit his son yet, because he’s working to pay the bills and now taking care of Ben’s older sister full time, too.
“It’s been tough, and I’ve been trying hard,” he said. “I’m trying to keep my head above water.”
Gowder said he’s speaking up so others can learn from his situation.
He never wanted to be the stereotypical distant father, so he made sure to get joint custody. He just wishes he asked their mom more about the time she spent with them.
“She had made me feel like I was just tripping and I was just like being a bitter person, you know what I’m saying,” Gowder said. “My spirit was telling me like no, this is not a good situation way before anything happened -- way before my son got hurt, way before anything.”
When it comes to your kids, he said you have to pay attention and if something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t.
As of right now, Ben’s dad said there’s no date on when the toddler is expected to be released from the hospital. He turns 3 years old in November.
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