15-year-old Timothy Ferguson (b.c. 2007) was tortured and starved to death by his mother, Shanda Vander Ark, and his 20-year-old brother, Paul Ferguson (b.c. 2002). Timothy was homeschooled. His 7-year-old brother R. (b.c. 2015) also lived in the home but was not reported to be abused.
Timothy was homeschooled because of his disabilities—he was autistic and had speech and motor impairment. In 2012, Vander Ark was the subject of previous substantiated child abuse investigations in Oklahoma, but evaded having her parental rights terminated by agreeing to vacate the family home. She had 18 different addresses spanning multiple states before moving to Norton Shores in 2021, where she passed the bar and worked as a legal clerk. Timothy and his father N. apparently moved to Norton Shores in May 2021, but N. suffered a stroke in January 2022 and moved in with his parents in Florida, leaving Timothy in Vander Ark’s home with N. unaware of what was going on. Soon afterwards, Vander Ark began to abuse Timothy and ordered Paul to participate in the abuse.
Timothy was forced to sleep on a tarp in a closet under the stairs, which was locked with an alarm at night so Timothy had no access to a bathroom. Vander Ark monitored her sons with five surveillance cameras in the home while she was at work and instructed Paul to abuse Timothy over the speakers and by text. Vander Ark and Paul set up their work schedules to keep Timothy under constant surveillance. Vander Ark instructed Paul “to keep Timothy awake by making sure he was uncomfortable and throwing cold water on him” and by leaving the light on to prevent him from falling asleep. Other “punishments” Paul carried out on Timothy included cold showers, forced vomiting, excessive exercise, and prolonged standing. Timothy was regularly restrained with zip ties and shackles.
Vander Ark instructed Paul on what to feed Timothy. Timothy was deprived of food and water between January 2022 and his death in July 2022; he was fed only “bread with hot sauce or rice with hot sauce.” The refrigerator door was kept locked to prevent Timothy from accessing food. Vander Ark instructed Paul to force-feed Timothy hot sauce with a “severely painful” burn as punishment for “stealing food he didn’t need.” Vander Ark also instructed Paul to torture Timothy by pouring hot sauce on his genitals; Paul refused. Shortly before Timothy’s death, Vander Ark instructed Paul to taunt Timothy with a pizza roll to see if he was still coherent; when Timothy tried to take the pizza roll, she instructed Paul to take it away. Timothy weighed 69 pounds at the time of his death and his ribs were clearly visible through his skin.
Vander Ark and Paul noticed that Timothy was “shaking and struggling to walk, but they dismissed those symptoms as fake”. The day before his death, Timothy was incoherent and unable to respond. At Vander Ark’s instruction, Paul subjected Timothy to an ice bath for as long as nine and a half hours. Vander Ark told Paul that she was determined to “outlast” Timothy. Paul struck Timothy several times on the head and dropped him on his head after removing him from the ice bath. Timothy died the following morning of dehydration, malnourishment, and hypothermia. At the time of his death, his body was covered with bruises and marks.
The abuse came to light after Vander Ark called the authorities to report finding Timothy dead. R. tipped off investigators to the abuse occurring in the home, which led to Vander Ark’s arrest. Vander Arkwas charged with murder and first-degree child abuse, and Paul has been charged with child abuse in exchange for his testimony against Vander Ark. They will stand trial in July 2023.
Date: July 6, 2022
Location: Norton Shores, Muskegon County, Michigan