PENSACOLA, Fla. — A Florida man previously acquitted in the killing of a child was arrested last month and charged with torturing his girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter, sometimes while wearing a werewolf mask, authorities said.
Andrew Bennett Ross-Celaius, 37, of Pensacola, was arrested April 9 and charged with six counts of aggravated child abuse, four counts of child abuse, a variety of drug charges, possession of a weapon, tampering with evidence and a probation violation,
. Another man, Eric Everett Furnans, 36, of Pensacola, was arrested Tuesday and charged with destroying evidence in the case after Ross-Celaius was taken into custody. He has since been booked on drug charges.
Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan
the evidence Furnans is accused of destroying is cellphones that contained images of the alleged abuse. Investigators believe Furnans acted at the request of Ross-Celaius, who contacted him from jail.
Ross-Celaius is being held without bond, jail records show. Fernans was granted bail of $67,500 but remained in custody Friday morning.
Additional charges against Ross-Celaius are possible, Morgan said. There are suspicions of possible sexual abuse committed against the young victim.
Ross-Celaius apparently tried to kill himself in the Escambia County Jail on Wednesday night, hours after Morgan formally announced the child abuse charges. WEAR-TV reported that sources said the inmate, who was placed in protective custody because of the allegations against him, was found hanging in his cell.
Escambia County officials told the news station Thursday that Ross-Celaius had been hospitalized but was alive. His condition was not made public.
The victim in the current case is not the first toddler Ross-Celaius is accused of harming. According to WKRG in Mobile, Ross-Celaius was charged with murder in the June 24, 2006, death of 2-year-old Kyler Janes after the boy, whose relationship to Ross-Celaius was not immediately known, was hospitalized with bruises all over his body and bleeding in his brain and eyes.
The boy had been seen in the emergency room at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola five times before for a variety of injuries. Ross-Celaius was tried for the baby's murder but found not guilty, the news station said.
Editor's note: The following contains graphic details of alleged child abuse that may be difficult for some readers.
‘Systematic abuse, if not torture’
Morgan said the current allegations against Ross-Celaius began in that same emergency room after the girl's mother, identified by WEAR-TV as Maranda Lyn Mixson, 27, of Cantonment, took her there April 5 for treatment of what she thought was ringworm.
"When she took the child to the ER, the ER physicians, who are well versed in spotting child abuse, quickly determined that was not any form of ringworm. It was abuse," Morgan said. "In this case, it was burn marks."
WEAR-TV reported that hospital staff told deputies the burn marks resembled marks made by an e-cigarette. When Mixson was asked about the marks, she "was very hostile and stated the circle marks were ringworm," according to an arrest report obtained by the news station.
In addition to the burn marks, Mixson’s daughter had bruises on her stomach, back, arms, elbows, legs and forehead. A large bruise across the girl’s throat appeared to be a rope burn, the station reported.
Mixson was arrested for child neglect but
she was released on $5,000 bond two days later. Sheriff’s Office detectives launched an investigation into the girl’s injuries.
Morgan said the alleged abuse by Ross-Celaius was captured on video and stored in the cloud. Some of the recordings may have been shared with other people, the sheriff said.
The sheriff characterized the abuse as “indescribable.”
"It's the thing nightmares are made of, and no child should ever be subjected to this," Morgan said.
Chief Deputy Chip Simmons said investigators who went to the child’s home spotted surveillance equipment and cameras, for which they obtained search warrants. What they found was horrifying, he said.
"We found some systematic harassment, if not torture, of a 2-year-old child as this child tried to sleep," Simmons said.
The chief deputy said video footage showed the child being woken from a sound sleep by having bottles of milk -- some full, some half full -- thrown at her in an overhand fashion. The objects struck the child, waking her and making her cry.
Ross-Celaius was seen in other footage shooting the child with an airsoft gun as she slept, “for no other reason but to wake the child up and to hurt the child,” according to Simmons.
The girl was also forced to wear a dog training collar, which emits an electric shock to force an animal into submission.
"You can hear the sounds of the dog collar being activated, and then the shrieking and the pain that the child has suffered as a result of this," Simmons said.
Worse still was footage of Ross-Celaius burning the girl with a small torch, he said.
"I have been in law enforcement for over 30 years, and when I looked at the evidence that we saw here, me and members of my staff were speechless," Simmons said. "When you look at this, it hits you in the heart and you wonder how anyone can be so mean."
Morgan said Ross-Celaius tried to achieve a higher level of terror by wearing a werewolf mask as he tortured the girl.
"If you want to think of something you could do to a child to terrorize her, this child lived through that," the sheriff said.
Simmons said his investigators are still combing through the evidence found on multiple storage drives, reiterating that additional charges against Ross-Celaius were likely.
The chief deputy said, despite the horrors he and other investigators have seen in the case, one thing gives them comfort.
"The only saving grace that I can say is that, at the end of this, at the conclusion of this investigation, we are comforted to some degree by the thought that this precious child will not be harmed tonight," Simmons said. "Not tonight."
Cox Media Group