A Florida man accused of torturing his girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter while wearing a werewolf mask died Tuesday, six days after he attempted suicide in his jail cell, authorities said.
Andrew Bennett Ross-Celaius, 37, of Pensacola, was hospitalized May 1 after spending nearly a month behind bars. Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan told The Pensacola News Journal that Ross-Celaius was found hanging in his cell around 11 p.m. that night.
The inmate was taken to a local hospital, where family members opted to remove life support Tuesday, Morgan told the newspaper. He died at 1:13 p.m. that day.
The sheriff said a preliminary investigation indicates Ross-Celaius’ injuries were self-inflicted. Surveillance footage and activity logs showed deputies had been walking the cell blocks and inspecting individual cells according to policy, the newspaper reported.
Morgan said Ross-Celaius used something available in his cell to hang himself but declined to say what he used.
Ross-Celaius was arrested April 9 and charged with six counts of aggravated child abuse, four counts of child abuse, a variety of drug charges, possession of a weapon, tampering with evidence and a probation violation, according to the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office. Another man, Eric Everett Furnans, 36, of Pensacola, was arrested April 30 and charged with destroying evidence in the case after Ross-Celaius was taken into custody. Furnans was later booked on drug charges.
Morgan said last week that the evidence Furnans is accused of destroying is cellphones that contained images of the alleged abuse. Investigators believe Furnans acted at the request of Ross-Celaius, who contacted him from jail.
Morgan said investigators were also looking into suspicions of possible sexual abuse committed against the young victim.
Editor’s note: The following contains graphic details of alleged child abuse that may be difficult for some readers.
‘Systematic abuse, if not torture’
Morgan said the allegations against Ross-Celaius began in the emergency room of Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola after the girl’s mother, identified by WEAR-TV as Maranda Lyn Mixson, 27, of Cantonment, took her there April 5 for treatment of what she said she thought was ringworm.
“When she took the child to the ER, the ER physicians, who are well versed in spotting child abuse, quickly determined that was not any form of ringworm. It was abuse,” Morgan said. “In this case, it was burn marks.”
WEAR-TV reported that hospital staff told deputies the burn marks resembled marks made by an e-cigarette. When Mixson was asked about the marks, she “was very hostile and stated the circle marks were ringworm,” according to an arrest report obtained by the news station.
In addition to the burn marks, Mixson’s daughter had bruises on her stomach, back, arms, elbows, legs and forehead. A large bruise across the girl’s throat appeared to be a rope burn, the station reported.
Mixson was arrested for child neglect but jail records show she was released on $5,000 bond two days later. Sheriff’s Office detectives launched an investigation into the girl’s injuries.
Morgan said the alleged abuse by Ross-Celaius was captured on video and stored in the cloud. Some of the recordings may have been shared with other people, the sheriff said.
The sheriff characterized the abuse as “indescribable.”
“It’s the thing nightmares are made of, and no child should ever be subjected to this,” Morgan said.
Chief Deputy Chip Simmons said investigators who went to the child’s home spotted surveillance equipment and cameras, for which they obtained search warrants. What they found was horrifying, he said.
“We found some systematic harassment, if not torture, of a 2-year-old child as this child tried to sleep,” Simmons said.
The chief deputy said video footage showed the child being woken from a sound sleep by having bottles of milk -- some full, some half full -- thrown at her in an overhand fashion. The objects struck the child, waking her and making her cry.
Ross-Celaius was seen in other footage shooting the child with an airsoft gun as she slept, “for no other reason but to wake the child up and to hurt the child,” according to Simmons.
The girl was also forced to wear a dog training collar, which emits an electric shock to force an animal into submission.
“You can hear the sounds of the dog collar being activated, and then the shrieking and the pain that the child has suffered as a result of this,” Simmons said.
Worse still was footage of Ross-Celaius burning the girl with a small torch, he said.
“I have been in law enforcement for over 30 years, and when I looked at the evidence that we saw here, me and members of my staff were speechless,” Simmons said. “When you look at this, it hits you in the heart and you wonder how anyone can be so mean.”
Morgan said Ross-Celaius tried to achieve a higher level of terror by wearing a werewolf mask as he tortured the girl.
“If you want to think of something you could do to a child to terrorize her, this child lived through that,” the sheriff said.
Simmons said his investigators were still combing through the evidence found on multiple storage drives. Additional charges were pending against Ross-Celaius when he died.
Watch the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office’s news conference on the abuse case below.
The victim in the current case was not the first toddler Ross-Celaius is accused of harming. According to WKRG in Mobile, Ross-Celaius was charged with murder in the June 24, 2006, death of 2-year-old Kyler Janes after the boy, whose relationship to Ross-Celaius was not immediately known, was hospitalized with bruises all over his body and bleeding in his brain and eyes.
The boy had been seen in the emergency room at Sacred Heart Hospital five times before for a variety of injuries.
Ross-Celaius was tried for the baby’s murder but found not guilty, the news station said.
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