Ten-year-old Kayden Culp, a special-needs child who has a hearing impairment and speaks with a lisp, had been bullied in the past, relatives said.
Other boys, he considered his friends “would make fun of him and pick on him and tease him,” his mother, Tristyn Hatchett, told the San Antonio Express-News.
“He was usually the brunt of that kind of joke,” she said, “but he kept playing with them.”
On Sunday afternoon in central Texas, Kayden hopped on his bike and headed out to play with some of those boys in an abandoned field, relatives said.
Not long after, his parents received some alarming news: There had been a fire in Kerrville, where the kids were playing.
Relatives rushed to the scene.
“We went out there not knowing it was Kayden on fire,” his aunt, Tanya Kasper, told The Washington Post.
When first responders arrived, they found Kayden “severely burned,” and he was air-lifted to a hospital, police and fire officials said in a joint statement.
Family members said the boy was placed in a drug-induced coma while his medical team tended to his first- and second-degree burns, which covered 20 percent of his body, from his bottom lip to his belly button.
On the way to the hospital, Kayden told his parents that another boy “did this to me – he set me on fire,” his aunt said.
“We haven’t heard his voice since Sunday,” Kasper said.
The Kerrville fire marshal’s office, which is investigating the incident, said in a statement that a “juvenile had been identified as the individual responsible for causing the victim’s severe burns. That juvenile has been taken into custody and has been charged with First Degree Arson. The identity of this juvenile is not being released as the individual is under the age of 18.”
Kasper said family members cannot comprehend “somebody being so young having an intention to hurt another child.”
Ashley White, a family friend, told the Express-News that she had seen the boys playing in the field near her home.
Later, she heard sirens and saw smoke spilling from a shed.
She phoned Kayden’s parents.
“They later said a lady up the street had helped put the fire on Kayden out,” she told the newspaper.
“I’m praying it was an accident,” she said. “But if it wasn’t an accident, justice needs to be served, because no child deserves to go through what he’s going through.”
But Kayden’s mother, Hatchett, said on Facebook: “This was no accident!”
“I need the police to arrest the two boys involved with the premeditated attempted murder of my ten yr old son Kayden Culp!” she wrote.
“There’s no reason they should not already be incarcerated,” she added to the Express-News. “The other boys who were there [have] been telling kids at school that it was not an accident, that it was intentional.”
Family members allege that one of the boys doused Kayden with gasoline and then another set him on fire, though authorities have not confirmed that account.
Kayden’s mother said Thursday morning that Kayden’s condition is improving.
“They have taken him off the epinephrine,” Hatchett wrote on Facebook. “He was able to stabilize his heart rate and blood pressure on his own all night. Still on feeding and breathing machines. He is going in for his second dressing change soon. We will know more about the severity of his burns and lung damage afterwards. His swelling seems to be reducing now. The last dressing change caused him to plummet.”
She added: “We want to thank everyone, everywhere for all of the thoughts, prayers, and support. I can’t express how grateful we are. Amazing. We need the good to outweigh the evil.”
Relatives called Kayden a loving child who struggles to fit in.
He has shown signs of autism, they said, but the disorder has not been diagnosed.
“Life has been a challenge from the get-go,” said Kasper, his aunt.
Kasper has set up a GoFundMe page, raising more than $ 10,000 for Kayden’s medical bills.
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First I want to open in a prayer and give Thanks to the Lord above that we can still be, beside your dear child as he goes through this new chapter in life. Kayden just turned 10 and is now facing a life change. He needs prayers and lots of support. We ask for help providing for financial assistance for our family. Money is something that will not fix everything, but it will give the parents a chance to stay beside him and his other siblings. Kayden is going to change the world, and he is now a voice for other children that are dealing with a “bully.” Let’s do our part for Kayden. We love u, sweet boy. #TEAMKAYDEN
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A YouCaring site, which has raised $ 80,000, says: “He’s going to be in the hospital for quite a while enduring something no person, let alone a child, should ever have to go through.”
Featured Image: Family Handout
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Lindsey Bever
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