The parents of a 4-year-old Missouri girl are facing charges after authorities say the pair didn’t do enough to stop their neighbors from allegedly beating, abusing and killing the child.
The Benton County Sheriff’s Office reports that the parents of Jessica Mast, identified as James Mast and Mary Mast, were arrested on Christmas Eve. The arrests come days after two other adults were arrested for Jessica’s untimely death.
Mary Mast is charged with first-degree endangering the welfare of a child resulting in death and first-degree domestic assault. James Mast is charged with first-degree endangering the welfare of a child, and first-degree endangering the welfare of a child resulting in serious physical injury.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, authorities were dispatched to a Benton County home on December 20, after James Mast called 911 just before 1 a.m., when temperatures in Cole Camp were well below freezing. Mast said that Jessica, Jessica’s mother, and his 2-year-old son had been severely beaten.
Ethan Mast (unrelated to the family), 35, and Kourtney Aumen, 21, were arrested and charged with second-degree murder and related charges in connection with the child’s death and the assault on her family members.
Police said the couple went over to the Mast’s home uninvited to “discipline” the family.
According to court documents, James Mast told investigators that the neighbors, who lived across the road, went to the same church as his family. The suspects arrived at Mast’s home and declared that Mary Mast had a demon in her, Fox 4 reports.
Over the course of several weeks, the neighbors allegedly beat the Mast children and forced the parents to comply, warning them that they would get hurt if they interfered.
On Saturday, the suspects arrived back at the home at 8 a.m. and began beating the 2-year-old, while forcing the parents to watch. They left the victims’ home at some point that day, then returned later and began beating Jessica with a belt. She cried for help, but no one attempted to stop the beating, police said.
According to a probable cause statement from Sgt. Chris Wilson, both suspects are also accused of sexual abuse.
*Editor’s Note*: There have been conflicting reports surrounding who the sexual abuse victim was. Names of the victims were heavily redacted in the probable cause statement.
The suspects eventually beat Mary Mast. Authorities found her inside a bedroom with her two sons, the 2-year-old and an infant. She had “severe bruising” all over her back, ABC 13 reports. The 2-year-old had severe bruising and blisters. They were both sent to an area hospital for treatment.
The infant boy appeared unharmed, and James Mast, who said he was beaten with a wooden spoon for showing compassion to his family, didn’t require hospitalization.
James Mast said the suspects told him “Satan would come” if he showed compassion.
When police arrived at the home on Sunday, James Mast led them to an upstairs bedroom, where Jessica was on the floor near bunk beds, deceased and wrapped in a blanket. She had open wounds that appeared to be ruptured blisters and bruises that resembled belt marks, according to the probable cause statement.
Mast said the suspects took the girl to a pond and “dunked” her numerous times before leaving her on the bank to freeze. Afterward, they returned the child to her home, where she was wrapped in a blanket and left in the bedroom. It’s unclear exactly when the child died.
Sgt. Wilson asked James Mast, “how he could let people do this to his family and he stated they were told (his wife) had a ‘Demon’ inside her and her children would end up just like her if it was not taken care of,” per the probable cause statement.
“Based on what I know, I think this could be some kind of honest-to-goodness religious-type episode,” Benton County Sheriff Eric Knox told KTLA 5.
With community outcry concerning a possible cult that could have caused the killing, Benton County authorities responded. In a Facebook post, Knox said the evidence so far is not indicative of a cult.
“I have received many letters, calls and emails of concern regarding this child’s death and the surrounding circumstances to be the actions of a cult. During interviews with investigators and the media, there have been some references to God and demons. Additional interviews have been held with family members, both local and out of state, as well as others who know the parties involved. None of the actions contained in this case are condoned by the church they attended. The investigation done so far indicates that this is an isolated incident and NOT the actions of a cult.
When a crime of this magnitude occurs, it affects everyone in its aftermath from first responders to next of kin, community, church and beyond. This will continue to be an ongoing investigation as we wait for the medical examiner’s report and any further information we may be able to develop in time. Further charges may be sought by Benton County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Rod Richardson as all the evidence is considered.”
The surviving Mast children have been placed in protective custody.