US parents charged over son's death may be in New Zealand

Seth Johnson
Seth Johnson (

The hunt is on for an American couple who could have fled to New Zealand after being charged over the death of their seven-year-old son.

Minnesota couple Timothy and Sarah Johnson were charged with gross child neglect after their son Seth suffered extensive trauma from an inflamed pancreas and died on a vomit-stained mattress at their Plymouth home in March 2015, Minnesota's Star Tribune reports.

The two were not arrested when charged, but were required to appear in court on Tuesday, January 31.

They didn't show up, and assistant Hennepin County Attorney John Halla told the judge the Johnsons had moved to New Zealand.

New Zealand Police say they're aware of the matter, but have not given any further detail.

Judge Gina Brandt issued warrants for their arrest, and Mr Halla requested a new court date, "in order to attempt international service on Mr Johnson and his wife".

In New Zealand, the Johnsons can be arrested and extradited to the US.

Seth, a foster child the Johnsons adopted, was one of seven children in the family. He was underdeveloped physically and was grazed and bruised at the time of his death, the Star Tribune reported.

In the weeks before his death he had stopped sleeping, would shake, and develop blisters and lesions on his legs and feet. His parents did not want him on medication and had made their own diagnosis he was suffering from a traumatic brain injury and foetal alcohol syndrome. Authorities however found no official medical record of the illness, the complaint document said.

On the weekend before he died, while under the care of his teen brother, he was not talking or eating, and wouldn't get out of bed. When his parents got home on the Sunday night, Seth was unresponsive, lying on the floor. "They prayed for his health," the complaint said.

Soon after his death, Seth's parents wrote online about how faith got them through their grief. They also started a fundraising page, which reportedly made about US$7000. 

Despite a year-long investigation, Seth Johnson's death couldn't be connected to the actions or failures of the parents, County Attorney Mike Freeman told local media. Consequently the Johnsons could only be charged with neglect.