SUMMERVILLE -- In the 13 years he lived with tuberous sclerosis, Joshua Mendoza savored the simple things.
He would sit on the grass, bathing in sunshine. He would sprawl over the Berber carpet in the family's mobile home, enjoying its texture against his skin. He couldn't talk, but he liked to listen to his siblings reading books, to trees rustling in the wind.
Suffering the neurological disorder that caused benign tumors on his heart and prompted seizures, Mendoza couldn't enjoy many of life's pleasures. In his waning years, he couldn't walk.
But eating was his favorite activity, relatives said.
His parents would push his wheelchair up to a specially made table. He'd rub his hands in anticipation, then wolf down pudding, cake, chicken nuggets, hot dogs. When he couldn't eat solid foods, he would sip an Ensure nutritional drink from a cup.
Relatives say a coroner's recent determination of what caused Mendoza to die in his sleep Feb. 10 doesn't make sense to them. Adding to their
consternation was the arrest Sunday of his mother and stepfather, 31-year-old Kimberly Marie Love and 29-year-old Jason Monroe Buckley. They
each face a murder charge after an autopsy determined Mendoza had died of malnourishment and neglect.
No time to grieve
Mendoza's grandmother, 49-year-old Kathleen Nicholson, said the arrests resulted from investigators' failure to understand the genetic disorder that withered his body. When he was diagnosed as an infant, doctors told his parents that he would be fortunate to live a decade, she said.
"He would eat and eat and eat and never gain a pound," Nicholson said. "His parents gave him everything he needed. Now, they're being called murderers.
"We didn't have any time to grieve."
Capt. Jon Rogers, a spokesman for the Summerville Police Department, said Monday that the arrests were based on findings by the Dorchester County Coroner's Office. He would not comment on any other factors that could have played into the death.
"The charges resulted from the autopsy," Rogers said. "We're at the very beginning of the investigation."
Love and Buckley turned themselves in about 6:30 p.m. Sunday, two hours after a police statement labeled them as wanted murder suspects. Buckley
does not have an arrest record in South Carolina, and Love has two minor charges: failure to return rental property and violation of a town ordinance, according to the State Law Enforcement Division.
Love's sister, 27-year-old Shauna Beach, said the couple heard on Sunday's evening news that they were wanted by the police. Beach drove the pair to the police department.
"They were sitting in the back seat, saying how scared they were," she said after the two were denied bail Monday morning. "They walked in hand-in-hand."
Three other children who lived in the couple's mobile home off of Bacons Bridge Road, their daughter and two sons, were taken into protective custody by the S.C. Department of Social Services. Attempts to contact the agency Monday were unsuccessful.
Family members said the biological father has not been in the boy's life since his diagnosis.
Mendoza's great-grandfather, 76-year-old Ronald Wright, said the boy was one of 25 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
"We're a big family," Wright said. "Children are our lives. If we thought something was fishy with how he was treated, we'd be the first to say something."
Photos of happy times
In her daughter's home in the Creekside community, Nicholson rifled through a stack of photos Monday morning. She spread them across a coffee table and recalled moments in the boy's life.
Next to a tree adorned with candy canes during one Christmas, Mendoza is seen curled up in a bed of crumpled gift wrap, tuckered out from a morning of opening presents.
He often played with a stuffed Elmo, a Tigger or a sock monkey.
He frolicked in bubble baths. A hydraulic lift helped his parents lower him into and out of the tub.
He posed for a photo in Mrs. Bowman's class at Fort Dorchester Elementary School. That was before his condition worsened, before he couldn't make it through the day without losing control of his bladder, before he became so disruptive to other pupils that his parents had to pull him from school.
Early pictures showed his chubby face -- a condition his family attributed to bloating caused by the steroids he needed.
But in the past few years, his wrists and legs lacked fat and muscle. A recent bout with the flu wore him down even more, Nicholson said. He would sit still in his wheelchair and listen -- to his sister and brothers reading, to the wind. He seemed content.
Nicholson started to weep. Within sight of the couch where she shuffled the photos, the empty wheelchair was pushed to the table where Joshua ate.
"I wanted him to live longer, but I'm happy he lived that long," Nicholson said. "Even though Joshua couldn't talk, we knew he was happy."
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.