OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A former Oklahoma County resident is facing child abuse and murder charges in the death of her 15-year-old son Timothy.

Shanda Vander Ark was arraigned Friday in a Muskegon County, Michigan court by Zoom and was ordered to be held without bond.

The distraught-looking woman was arraigned by Zoom in Michigan early Friday afternoon on horrific allegations – charges of open murder and child abuse.

Police said that just after 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday, July 6,  officers from the Norton Shores Police Department responded to a call in Norton Shores regarding a suspicious death. 

On July 6, 2022 at 6:37 a.m., responding officers from the Norton Shores Police Department found 15-year-old Timothy Ferguson deceased at this home. (Credit: Wood-TV)

Officers who arrived on the scene found 15-year-old Timothy Ferguson, dead.

“The victim appeared to be extremely malnourished and there was evidence of abuse,” the department said in a release.

Confirmed by WOOD-TV , Shanda Vander Ark, Timothy’s mother, was taken to the Muskegon County Jail and charged Friday afternoon with open murder and first-degree child abuse.

In the state of Michigan “open murder”  is a term used in Michigan to mean that a prosecutor can wait to decide whether they’ll try to convict a suspect of first- or second-degree murder, or manslaughter.

Prosecutors at Friday’s court hearing said Shanda Vander Ark denied her son Timothy basic medical needs, along with a “denial of food, feeding the child nothing but bread or bread soaked in hot sauce, and placing the child in an ice bath”, which prosecutors also believed led to hypothermia he suffered the day before he died.

Although Vander Ark did not legally have custody of Timothy, authorities told WOOD-TV he’d been in West Michigan since May 2021.

In court Friday, Muskegon County Chief Trial Attorney Matt Roberts said Vander Ark should not have had the child to begin with, adding that an investigation done by Oklahoma Child Protective Services between 2009 and 2012 also resulted in a recommendation to terminate Vander Ark’s parental rights.

However, in 2012 she agreed to relinquish custody in order to avoid a permanent severing of parental rights.

Subsequent Oklahoma court documents from Oklahoma show that full custody of Timothy and three other children (now adults) were granted to the father, while Vander Ark was ordered to pay child support.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) released a statement Friday, saying it was “deeply saddened” by Timothy’s death, but could not release specifics about Children’s Protection Services (CPS) investigations.

Speaking generally, if a court in another state has issued final orders and closed its case, Michigan would have no knowledge of a parent moving and having a child in his or her custody. In the event the case was still open, there are interstate practices that may be utilized for supervision of the other state’s case. Without further information of whether there was an active case in another state, MDHHS will not speculate as to any violations made by another state.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS)

Vander Ark was denied bond.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for July 21st.

The murder and child abuse charges could carry life sentences.