SEMINOLE COUNTY, Okla. (KFOR) – Formal charges have been brought against the Seminole couple arrested in the death of a 3-year-old boy whose remains were discovered burned on an abandoned property in mid-July. Now, some of the gut-wrenching details are being revealed in recent court documents.
Officials say 3-year-old Caleb Jennings’ father, 32-year-old Chad H. Jennings, and his live-in girlfriend, 31-year-old Katherine L. Penner, are both charged with First Degree Murder, Child Abuse, Conspiracy, and Desecration Of A Human Corpse.
The OSBI said the Seminole Police Department got a tip late Tuesday night, about the possible murder of a toddler.
Now, the probable cause affidavit shows that tip came from a family friend who had recently talked to Jennings.
According to that tipster, Jennings told him he had committed an ‘unforgivable act’. When the man asked Jennings about his son, Caleb’s welfare, Jennings said Caleb was not ok. He explained that he had ‘whooped’ Caleb and the child went limp.
The affidavit says Jennings told the man that he and Penner attempted CPR for approximately two hours, but the toddler was ‘gone’. He also allegedly said they ‘cremated’ the body.
Following that tip, investigators secured search and arrest warrants for the couple and property their family owned.
When officers interviewed Penner, she initially said the child was with his former foster family. After that was proven to be false, Penner said she was in the kitchen while Jennings was ‘disciplining’ the 3-year-old in the master bedroom.
She told investigators that eventually, Jennings came out the bedroom yelling that Caleb was not breathing. When she went into the bedroom, she found the unresponsive toddler with multiple bruises and Jennings attempting CPR.
She said medical assistance was never called.
After eventually determining Caleb was dead, Penner told authorities they wrapped the child’s body up in his blue blanket and hid his body in the bedroom closet for two days while determining what to do with the body.
According to Penner, Jennings eventually decided to burn Caleb’s body. He then took Caleb to the vacant lot along Old State Highway 99 and later returned without him.
As for Jennings, he refused to be interviewed by police without a lawyer, but told the investigators it was an accident. (He did not say what ‘it’ was.)
Bowlegs First Baptist Church told KFOR Caleb spent 18 months living with a foster family at their church before being returned to his father. Deacon Rodney Troglin said they’re heartbroken.
“There was this one evil, evil man that took his life, but surrounding him were 10, 20, 30, 100 people that loved him unconditionally,” said Troglin. “We will always remember Caleb as someone who lit up the room when he came in. He was absolutely a beautiful child, always smiling. I don’t think I ever saw him upset. He just loved to smile. And anyone who picked him up, he would smile at, loved on them, and he was just an amazing kid to be around.”
Casey L. White, External Communications and Media Relations Administrator Oklahoma Department of Human Services, provided KFOR the following statement:
“Childhood should be a time of joy and wonder, not pain and abuse. All Oklahomans have a legal and moral obligation to report suspected abuse or neglect of any child by calling 1-800-522-3511. Making a report may not only save a life, but it is also the statutorily-required action that gives OKDHS the ability to investigate and potentially intervene to protect a child’s safety and wellbeing. Caleb was only three years old at the time of his tragic death, and he was not in the custody of OKDHS, nor did the agency have any open reports about his family at that time. We are committed to a complete investigation, including working with law enforcement, to fully understand the facts and circumstances that led to this heartbreaking tragedy.”Casey L. White, Oklahoma Department of Human Services