Nearly a year ago, 14-month-old Brayden Elizah McVeigh, son of a Navy diver stationed at Pearl Harbor, died from brain injury caused by "abusive head trauma," according to the city Medical Examiner’s Office and family.
The manner in which the little boy with sandy blond hair and blue eyes died was listed as homicide.
It was a tragic end to a short life with other injuries — but as yet, there have been no charges in the case, the Navy said.
At 5 weeks old the boy suffered a broken arm, and Child Protective Services placed Brayden and his 2-year-old sister, Brodi, in foster care for five months, according to the autopsy report.
April McVeigh, the boy’s mother, said babysitters told Navy investigators that they saw bruises on Brayden. He once had a black eye, she said.
The boy’s mother and father, Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew McVeigh, who worked with a SEAL team, were with the boy on Sept. 18 at their Ford Island home when he was found unresponsive, reports and family members state.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service said this week that the boy’s death is being investigated as a homicide, but April McVeigh, 30, who is divorcing her 26-year-old husband, complains that charges should have been forthcoming earlier.
She said the Navy told her charges would be filed in February against her husband, but month after month, no arrest was made.
"It’s always every month — that he’s going to be brought up on charges. ‘Don’t worry, justice will be served.’ And every month, it’s not this month, it’s next month," McVeigh said.
On Aug. 11, Lt. Delicia Gonzales Zimmerman, senior trial counsel for the Navy’s Region Legal Service Office Hawaii, sent an e-mail to Terri Polm, the children’s maternal grandmother.
"As discussed, I can’t go into the specifics of the case but I can tell you that the case against ND2 Matthew McVeigh is currently under prosecutorial review," the e-mail states.
The Star-Advertiser attempted unsuccessfully to reach Matthew McVeigh through the Navy Region Hawaii office.
"ND2 McVeigh has access to a legal representative but has not been officially detailed a military defense counsel because charges have not been preferred," the Navy said in an e-mail. "His legal representative has been notified of the (newspaper’s) request for an interview."
Honolulu attorney John Carroll, who represented Polm, the grandmother, in an ongoing custody case involving the McVeighs’ now 4-year-old daughter, said he does not understand the delay in the Navy bringing charges.
Carroll, who is running for governor, said he spent 13 years as a judge advocate with the Hawaii Army and Air National Guard, and has been an attorney for 45 years.
"It’s just tragic that a 14-month-old child can be basically beaten to death and nothing has happened in this period of time," he said.
Nelly Englund, assistant special agent in charge of the Hawaii field office for NCIS, said Brayden McVeigh’s death is being investigated as a homicide, but she could not say whether there is more than one possible suspect.
"I really can’t comment," she said. "I mean, that’s just policy that I can’t comment on open investigations."
Asked whether it is typical for a case such as the death of Brayden McVeigh to take nearly a year to investigate, Englund said, "Every case is different, so it’s hard to answer that question. I mean, some cases move faster than others. I don’t know that you could say there is a typical time limit for how long a case lasts.
"Obviously, in this case we’re talking about the death of a child, so I mean it’s going to be taken very seriously (to) make sure that it’s done very thoroughly," Englund said.
Carroll said April McVeigh took a polygraph test "which she passed, and then they eliminated her as a suspect."
The Navy said Matthew McVeigh is assigned to a command in Pearl Harbor and is "awaiting final disposition of the investigation."
"Words cannot express our condolences for the terrible loss this family has experienced," Navy Region Hawaii said in an e-mail. "We take this investigation very seriously. We are committed to seeing that justice is done. We understand the frustration with the long process, but we are being very careful to ensure a thorough investigation is completed correctly."
According to the medical examiner’s report, Matthew McVeigh reportedly placed the boy in a playpen about 10 minutes before finding him unresponsive, at which point he called to his wife.
April McVeigh said her son had been sick the day before. She and her daughter had slept upstairs, and Brayden and his father slept downstairs, she said.
"He (Matthew) came upstairs. He was really calm, and he opened the door and he said, ‘April, there’s something wrong with Brayden,’" she said.
Matthew McVeigh came upstairs again, this time holding an unconscious Brayden, who also was not breathing, she said.
"He’s holding his head in one hand and supporting his body in another," April McVeigh said. "Not against his chest, but out. My son’s arms were just laying to one side. His legs were just laying to the side. Just limp."
McVeigh said her reaction was "panic," adding, "Your heart starts pumping and you start to panic. … I can’t put into words to say how it feels to do CPR on your own child."
The "sweet, sweet baby" who loved oatmeal with maple syrup on it and loved to follow around his older sister in a walker, was pronounced brain dead and died two days later, according to his mother.
The autopsy found that Brayden died as a result of "intracranial injury due to abusive head trauma." The widespread brain injury could have been caused by shaking and/or impact, and "blunt force injury to the infant’s scalp is consistent with impact being one cause" of the injury, the autopsy said.
The boy would have become unresponsive at, or close to, the time that his abusive head injury was inflicted, the report states.
Both McVeigh children were placed with a foster family in 2008 when Brayden was 5 weeks old and his arm was broken, the autopsy and family members said.
The family had been in a car accident five days before, but April McVeigh said Child Protective Services stepped in and removed the children for six months.
"They said because we had no clear answer to how his arm was broken that it was strange," she said.
The couple had to take parenting and anger management classes, she said.
McVeigh, a stay-at-home mother, also said she admitted in court that she was "neglectful" in her care of the children, and her husband was made primary caregiver to get the children back.
She said she was on prescription methadone for an earlier back injury, but because of the medication, she was not properly watching her children, the court had concluded.
"That’s what the court said, and I said, ‘OK,’ because I just wanted to get them back," McVeigh said. Polm said her daughter went to a rehabilitation facility in March 2009 as a result of the prescription drug use.
McVeigh said she and her husband would argue, "but what married couple doesn’t? It was mostly about money — what typical married couples argue about."
He had never deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, although he did go to Bahrain and Guam, and his job was not stressful, she said.
Brayden once got a black eye when he was pulling himself up the first stair in the house and he fell over, his mother recalled. Daughter Brodi never experienced similar bruising, she said.
McVeigh said Navy investigators interviewed her for hours.
"They wanted me to say that he (Matthew) did it (the abuse)," she said. "I said, ‘I didn’t see him do anything.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to lie to you.’"
Matthew McVeigh was ordered not to have any contact with his wife, she said; he moved out, she had no money or car, and eventually she moved in with her mother on the mainland.
April McVeigh and her mother are trying to get custody of daughter Brodi, who is living with a foster family in Hawaii. Matthew McVeigh’s parents in Illinois also are seeking custody, she said.
Sept. 18 will mark a year that she has not seen her daughter.
April McVeigh said she does not have many family photos, and one of the last taken, ironically, was in the Child Protective Services office in Ewa Beach.
"Our case was about to be cleared," she said, "and they wanted to take a picture, I guess, to put in their files to show we were doing fine. And obviously we weren’t."