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Arkansas boy buried under floorboards was drowned in toilet by mother's boyfriend, officials say

Ashley Rolland, 28, told police Nathan Bridges, 33, drowned her 4-year-old son in September as "punishment" for biting his finger, an affidavit filed Tuesday alleged.
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The Arkansas boy whose corpse was found buried under the floorboards of his home last week died three months ago after his mother's boyfriend shoved his head in a toilet bowl as "punishment" for biting the man's finger, according to newly filed court documents that detail the circumstances of the boy's death and the discovery of his body.

An arrest affidavit the state filed Tuesday in Lee County Circuit Court alleges that the boy's mother, Ashley Rolland, 28, told police that her son, Blu, died Sept. 9 after an incident involving her boyfriend, Nathan Bridges, 33.

The boy's age was not immediately clear: Arkansas State Police said he was 6 years old, but court documents say he was born Dec. 16, 2017 — meaning his body was found on what would have been his fifth birthday. Blu's paternal grandmother, Karen Rolland, 57, said the boy would have turned 6 last week.

Ashley Rolland told police that Bridges also caused her surviving 6-year-old daughter's injuries — later identified by medical personnel as severe burns — by holding her under hot water “as punishment for her behavior issues," the affidavit alleges.

The body of five-year-old Blu Rolland was discovered in his house in Moro, Ark.
Blu Rolland's body was discovered on what would have been his fifth birthday in his house in Moro, Ark.via WMC

Bridges declined to be interviewed, the affidavit says.

Police arrested Rolland and Bridges on Saturday, the day after they discovered the boy's body buried under the hallway of his home in Moro, about 85 miles east of Little Rock, around 10:45 p.m., police said.

Rolland and Bridges are accused of capital murder, abuse of a corpse, tampering with physical evidence, endangering the welfare of a minor and battery. Rolland also faces two additional felony charges of permitting child abuse.

Rolland is being held at the St. Francis County Detention Center. Her mug shot shows her with a black eye. A jail representative could not immediately be reached for comment.

Bridges is being held at the Lee County Sheriff’s Department, the affidavit says. He has been ordered to have no contact with Rolland’s surviving child, according to the document filed Monday.

Rolland and Bridges first appeared in court Monday for a probable cause hearing, court records show. Both are being held without bond and are next due in court Jan. 17 and have been appointed public defenders.

The Arkansas Public Defender Commission could not immediately be reached for comment.

First Judicial Circuit Prosecuting Attorney Todd Murray could not immediately be reached with a question about how much prison time each could serve for the charges they face if they are convicted.

The home in Moro, Ark., where authorities discovered the body of Blu Rolland.
The home in Moro, Ark., where authorities discovered the body of Blu Rolland.WMC

A gruesome discovery

According to the affidavit, police arrived at Rolland's residence Friday after Karen Rolland, whose son is the children's father, called police after she arrived to pick up the kids for a court-ordered visit.

Ashley Rolland brought out her daughter, who "had apparent injuries that had scabbed over on top of her head," which she claimed were caused by an allergic reaction, the affidavit says.

Karen Rolland told NBC News that the girl "could barely even walk" and that her clothes were soiled in urine. Her first request, she added, was for "water and something to eat."

"I told her that she was safe, and just the look on her face was sheer terror," she said.

Ashley Rolland initially told Karen Rolland that Blu “was not at the residence,” according to Karen Rolland and the affidavit. After she rushed her granddaughter to the hospital, Karen Rolland contacted police "to report she had information that Blu was possibly deceased," according to the affidavit.

When Lee County deputies arrived, Ashley Rolland’s father, Timmy Childers, 62, told police that his daughter had told him the boy was dead inside the home and described where she had said he was.

Childers could not be reached for comment.

Authorities entered the home and found "newly nailed-down boards" and "disturbed earth underneath"; under the first layer of dirt, they found a child's flip-flop, a red and blue blanket and "the pungent odor of decay," the affidavit says.

After a search with a warrant, authorities removed more flooring and dirt and discovered "an unidentified mass believed to be a small human body wrapped in multiple layers of plastic bags," which they transferred to the Arkansas State Crime Lab.

Kermit Channell, the director of the crime lab, said the medical examiner will release the cause and manner of death in 30 to 60 days.

Ashley Rolland appeared to give conflicting accounts of who buried the boy's body, according to the affidavit.

She told police that she had been in another room at the time of the alleged drowning and that when she went into the bathroom after Bridges left it, she saw her son "struggling to breathe, and his body was limp," according to the affidavit.

She alleged that Bridges “cut a hole in their wooden floor, dug a hole in the ground, and buried [Blu] under the house," the affidavit says.

But Rebecca Fiting, whose relationship to Ashley Rolland was not immediately clear, told police that Ashley Rolland said “Blu had come out of the bathroom with his face/body swelling and foaming at the mouth before collapsing and dying.” She alleged that Ashley Rolland said “she did not know what to do and had buried Blu under the floorboards," according to the affidavit.

An ongoing fight for custody

Ashley Rolland's daughter was taken to a hospital, where staff determined she had been "severely burned," before they transferred her to a children's hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, the affidavit says.

Court records show that Karen Rolland filed a petition for guardianship of the girl in St. Francis County Court on Wednesday and that a judge granted an order for emergency temporary guardianship.

Earlier court records show that her son, Dustin Rolland, 30, and Ashley Rolland married in December 2015 and divorced in June 2021. Ashley Rolland was granted primary custody and charged with coordinating the father's visitation through Karen Rolland, court records show.

Dustin Rolland reopened the custody case Sept. 14 — five days after Blu is believed to have died — by filing a complaint alleging that Ashley Rolland "has failed and refused to allow visitation as ordered." Ashley Rolland was served with the complaint at the Moro house on Sept. 27 and filed a response nearly a month later, alleging her ex-husband had failed to pay child support or show up to visits sober, court records show.

Dustin Rolland denied the allegations, saying he paid child support from the beginning of the custody battle and has "been trying to fight for my kids."

"I wish I could've been there a long time ago, but it was her holding me back from my children," he said. "I don't want anybody thinking that this was my fault. I love my kids very much."

A long road to recovery

A friend of the family, Anita Widby, has set up a GoFundMe campaign to support the surviving girl's recovery and future; it had raised more than $24,000 by Thursday afternoon. Karen Rolland said she will use the money, in part, to pay for updates to her home in Widener, about 35 miles northeast of Moro, where the girl will live with her and her father.

The house needs updates to its heating, electricity and windows "so that she maintains a healthy home," Karen Rolland said.

And the girl's recovery “is going to take a lot of therapy," she added.

On Thursday afternoon, the girl was coloring in the hospital after she managed to hobble to the bathroom on her burned and blistered feet, her grandmother said.

Dustin Rolland said: "She's tough."