Content warning: This article mentions instances of extreme child abuse.
While handing down his sentence to Shanda Vander Ark, Judge Matthew Kacel said to her, "I've been trying now for this entire case to wrap my mind around how somebody could do something so horrific, not only to another human being but to their own child." He went on to clearly define this mother of four's actions: "You tortured this child." The child in question was 15-year-old Timothy Ferguson, who died July 6, 2022, after suffering at the abusive hands of his mother, per CBS News.
According to WZZM-13, Vander Ark and her ex-husband divorced in January 2012. The couple were living in Oklahoma at the time. Initially their four children were supposed to be with him, so how did they end up with Vander Ark in Michigan? Here's what we know about Shanda Vander Ark's ex-husband.
Shanda Vander Ark's ex-husband had custody of their four children.
Court documents obtained by WZZM-13 show that she was "embroiled in a divorce and custody battle with the father of four of Vander Ark’s children in Oklahoma." In fact, she voluntarily waived all parental rights and signed them over to her ex-husband, Eric Ferguson. Evidently she was only allowed supervised visitation which consisted of spending three hours per month with Timothy and his three older siblings.
"Now, what happens between the time when that happens, and ultimately, how she and the children get here to Michigan is something that investigators are still kind of looking into," said Muskegon County Prosecutor DJ Hilson shortly after Vander Ark's arrest in 2022, per the outlet. He went on to say that investigators did speak with Eric after Timothy's death, but were in the process of setting up a formal interview.
During the second day of her trial, in November 2023, Vander Ark said during her testimony that Ferguson had asked her to take Timothy because Ferguson was having a hard time handling him, per WZZM 13.
What happened to Timothy Ferguson?
The New York Post reported that Timothy had some mental disabilities and, as such, was homeschooled. It was there he lived a horrendous life from January 2021 until his death in July 2022. When Timothy's body was discovered he was severely emaciated and malnourished, weighing only 69 pounds at the time, per CBS News.
The medical examiner determined that his cause of death was from the aforementioned malnourishment as well as hypothermia. Vander Ark wasn't alone in her cruel mistreatment of Timothy. Her 20-year-old son Paul Ferguson frequently did her bidding. Together they "subjected the boy to ice baths as punishment, restrained him with shackles and zip ties, and deprived him of food."
Texts shown in court between Vander Ark and Paul show them planning ways in which to "punish Timothy" as they put it, per FOX 17. In them Vander Ark is suggesting Paul drip hot sauce onto Timothy's genitals as she wonders how that would feel. In another she instructs her son to feed Timothy two frozen pizza rolls if he can sit up and stay sitting up. When the prosecution asked about these texts, Vander Ark claimed she didn't remember sending them.
Leading up to his death, Paul had placed Timothy in an ice bath for nine hours. The surveillance cameras mounted all over the house were able to catch the moment Timothy died while sleeping in the small closet known as his "bedroom." The scene was described by Lt Joel Hoeksema during testimony. Vander Ark was seen dragging him into the small room then covering Timothy with a tarp she used as a blanket, calling him "pathetic." His eyes are open and unmoving. They believe that was the last time he was alive.