MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Pa. (TCD) -- Prosecutors have charged a 50-year-old mother in connection with the strangling death of her 11-year-old son.
According to the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, on Tuesday, April 11, at approximately 7 a.m., the victim’s father called law enforcement after he came home and noticed the master bedroom door was locked and the family’s Toyota Highlander was missing. Horsham Police responded to the home on the 500 block of Privet Road, where they found the victim, Matthew Whitehead, "obviously deceased" on the bed in the master bedroom.
The District Attorney’s Office said the boy had "ligature marks on the front and rear of his neck, as well as swelling of his face and obvious petechiae to his eyes, all signs of strangulation."
An autopsy report revealed the child died of ligature strangulation, and his death was ruled a homicide.
Investigators determined Matthew Whitehead’s mother, Ruth DiRenzo-Whitehead, strangled her son after he went to sleep April 10. She then allegedly drove the family’s SUV into the ocean in Cape May, New Jersey.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, once the car stopped working, DiRenzo-Whitehead walked to a nearby town and was taken into custody by Wildwood Crest Police. Horsham Police and Montgomery County Detective Bureau detectives went to the station and interviewed her.
Cape May Police searched the vehicle and recovered a man’s dress belt on the floor of the driver’s side.
During an interview, DiRenzo-Whitehead told police her son had been "crying off and on all day over the family’s financial difficulties," WPVI-TV reports. She reportedly said she was worried about Matthew growing up "with these struggles" and that’s why she strangled him with her husband’s belt.
Cape May Police arrested DiRenzo-Whitehead and booked her into the Cape May County Jail. She is awaiting extradition back to Montgomery County, where she faces charges of first-degree murder, third-degree murder, and possessing an instrument of crime.
In a statement, District Attorney Kevin Steele said, "I want to thank Cape May Police, Wildwood Crest Police, and Cape May Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland’s Office for their assistance with apprehending this mother who killed her son and with other aspects of this investigation."
Steele continued, "Their quick action and help in this investigation will play an integral part of holding the defendant accountable for the terrible killing of this boy."
According to WPVI, the victim was a student at Germantown Academy. In a statement obtained by the news source, his school said Matthew "was an extraordinary child with a smile as bright as the sun. We loved him, and we will forever mourn his loss, a devastating tragedy for our community, his family, his friends, and our world."
The school added, "We will do everything in our power to carry his memory forward, to honor him as he so truly deserves, and to live our lives well as a tribute to him. Matthew is the embodiment of love, promise and goodness, and we will never, ever forget him."