Ten months after suffering severe burns to 35 percent of his body, 2-year-old Tremaine Ridgeway Jr. continues to recover.
“T.J.” played with his mother, Stephanie Morgan, in the grass by their Opelika apartment Friday. With hands still wrapped from surgery two days earlier, T.J. tossed a Thomas the Tank Engine ball to Morgan.
“He’s a happy baby. He acts like a normal 2-year-old,” Morgan said proudly. “He ate six pancakes this morning.”
On Aug. 10, T.J. was staying with babysitters Constance Gilbert, the aunt of Morgan’s daughter, and Linda Holmes while Morgan worked at a Korean auto supplier in Cusseta, Ga. While he was in their care, the women allegedly beat Ridgeway and scalded him with boiling water.
T.J. was airlifted to Children’s Hospital in Birmingham with life-threatening injuries. He lost eight of his fingertips and spent a month at Children’s recovering from his injuries, where he received skin grafts on his knees and thighs.
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Both Gilbert and Holmes were charged with aggravated child abuse, a felony, and held in Montgomery County Jail on $100,000 bond. Gilbert’s bond was reduced, and she was released on bond earlier this year, according to court documents. Holmes is still incarcerated.
Both women’s attorneys have also claimed their clients suffer from mental illness and hear voices, according to media reports. Court records indicated motions have been filed for a mental examination of Gilbert. The trail is set to go before a jury July 21.
Gilbert and Holmes’ attorneys, Raymond Johnson and Fred Gray Jr., respectively, did not respond to requests for comment.
Morgan said she has not been asked to testify in the case, but is not surprised Gilbert and Holmes are pleading mental defect.
“Anybody would say that,” she said, “just to try not to go to trial.”
While T.J. is now walking, talking and playing, Morgan said he is still scared of water, which she believes stems from his scalding.
“It’s so hard to bathe him unless his brother is in the bath with him,” Morgan said. “If we go to a park with water, he starts panicking.”
Since the incident, T.J. has undergone multiple skin graft surgeries, with the most recent focusing on the web space between fingers on both hands.
“They took skin from underneath his stomach and put it on his fingers,” Morgan said.
Now, T.J. is recovering well. He began walking in December, which Morgan said has made it more difficult for her to complete the elaborate massaging her son’s healing hands require.
“I was so worried about him moving his fingers,” Morgan remembered. “After the first (hand) surgery, I saw him moving it, and I thought, ‘Yeah, I’ve got faith. He’ll be able to use his fingers.’”