Three-year-old Bethannie Johnson was the victim of child abuse and murder by her aunt, Shanna Gossett. On the morning of March 17, a call came in from a house on the 3000 block of North 14th Street in Grand Junction, Colorado, for a child who was not breathing. Police officers and ambulances responded to Shanna Gossett’s house. When emergency services arrived on the scene, they found Bethannie unresponsive. Resuscitation efforts were performed to no avail. Bethannie was pronounced dead at approximately 8 a.m.
As authorities began to examine the body of the 3-year-old in order to get a better idea of what happened, bruises were discovered on the head and stomach of the young child. Paramedics had mentioned that when they attempted to clear Bethannie’s airway, “older blood” was present. Due to Bethannie still being warm to the touch when emergency services arrived, it was determined that the child had not been dead for very long. Authorities estimated that Bethannie had died late the previous night or very early that morning.
Police began to question Shanna Gossett, who explained that she was the aunt and the legal guardian of the child. She was awarded legal guardianship after Bethannie was taken away from her mother. Gossett then stated she had met a person two weeks prior and asked this person to take Bethannie for some time. Shanna Gossett claimed she asked this person, who she just met, to do this in order to give her a break from Bethannie.
When questioned about the bruises found on the child, Gossett explained that her niece had “reactive detachment disorder issues.” She explained that due to this issue, the 3-year-old would throw herself around and injure herself. Gossett claimed that the person she gave Bethannie to had returned her after two weeks at 10 p.m. the previous evening. She explained that Bethannie had a bloody nose but did not seem to have any other issues. Gossett put her to bed but found her in severe distress in the morning, prompting Gossett to call for help.
Police quickly realized that Shanna Gossett was not telling the truth.
Police learned that the person Gossett said she left Bethannie with was not in Colorado during the two-week period Gossett claimed she did not have her niece. The person was in Texas. Police decided to conduct a second interview with Gossett. During this second interview, her story changed.
The two-week period prior to March 17, Bethannie was in the home with Shanna. Gossett stated that she could not control the 3-year-old, so she tied the child to her high chair and put her in the closet.
According to the report, “She described concealing [Bethannie] there for two weeks.”
Gossett swore that she continued to feed her niece during the two weeks she was trapped in the closet.
On March 15, Gossett stated that Bethannie was freed from the confines of the closet when she threw a temper tantrum. Gossett said that out of frustration, she pushed the child down, causing her to “hit her head on a vacuum cleaner.” Bethannie got up, and Gossett stated that she then pushed the head of her niece into the wall. After the impact with the wall, Bethannie became unresponsive and was not breathing. Gossett says she began CPR, which got the child breathing again. Instead of going to the hospital, she hid the child under her bed until around 10 p.m. and then put her in her crib.
Shanna Gossett has been charged with first-degree murder, child abuse which resulted in death, second-degree kidnapping, and false imprisonment. She is currently incarcerated in the Mesa County Jail and has been denied bail.
A report from the deputy coroner in the death of Bethannie Johnson at the hands of Shanna Gossett can be found here.
[Image via Grand Junction Police Department]