A 31-year-old Rolla woman is accused of suffocating a two-year-old while working at a Rolla daycare, according to court documents.

Natalie Rhyneer was arrested Thursday morning on suspicion of child abuse in connection with video surveillance obtained by the detective assigned to follow up on an apparent act of abuse carried out by a Rolla daycare employee in January, according to the affidavit of probable cause issued by the Rolla Police Department on Thursday.


The detective was assigned to follow up on a statement made by a mother who said she picked up her two-year-old from daycare where Rhyneer was employed and noticed several injuries that weren’t there when she had dropped him off on Jan. 9, 2019, according to the probable cause. 


The two-year-old’s mother stated that Rhyneer was one of the employees who provided care for her two-year-old at the daycare on Jan. 9, and when the detective obtained and watched video surveillance of the classroom for the day of Jan. 10, the detective watched as “Rhyneer twisted (the two-year-old’s) left ear and flicked (his) left ear two times,” the probable cause states. 


The detective then obtained several days worth of video surveillance of the classroom, according to the probable cause, and watched footage that showed on Jan. 10 Rhyneer picked up the two-year-old and rocked him while he cried. The probable cause states “You can hear Natalie say, ‘stop hurting me,’ then (his) cries become muffled as Natalie holds his face against her chest.” 


According to the probable cause Rhyneer appeared as if she was smothering the two-year-old on the video surveillance because the two-year-old began to struggle, pulled away, and he “lays on the floor and she covers his mouth.”


Shortly after, the two-year-old cried and positioned himself on his stomach, while Rhyneer laid on top of him and said, “Stop it,” the probable cause states, and the two-year-old repositioned himself onto his left side, while Rhyneer looked around at the other children “who are moving around more.”


The probable cause states that in the video Rhyneer’s left hand appears to be on the back of the two year-old’s head, and “Natalie then pulls a pillow to (his) face.” The two-year-old kicked and stiffened his legs while his cries become muffled, the probable cause states, and due to the angle of the camera the detective couldn’t “exactly see Natalie’s right hand.” 


The two-year-old stopped crying and Rhyneer then stroked the two-year-old’s hair, and he began to cry again, and “Natalie gets off of (him), it appears as if Natalie smothered (him) with the pillow until he passed out,”the probable cause states. 


The two-year-old appeared to regain consciousness after a “very brief period of time and begins crying again,” according to the probable cause. The detective then brought the video footage to a child abuse physician.


According to the probable cause the physician stated, “suffocation occurs from a lack of oxygen due to choking or smothering. This can be accomplished by obstruction of airflow at any point in the air movement from mouth to lungs or a restriction on chest expansion.” 


The physician further stated in the probable cause that “the review of the video and images provided depict actions and injury consistent with suffocation. The video depicts an adult restraining a toddler’s chest with her chest, arms, hands, as well as possible obstruction of airflow at the mouth with bedding.”


“This was performed in a manner that muffled, then silenced the toddler’s cries, resulting in struggle, kicking feet, quickly followed by lack of movement and head dropping backwards. This is consistent with a suffocation event leading to brief loss of consciousness,” the child abuse physician concluded in the probable cause statement. 


Natalie Rhyneer was arrested Thursday morning with bond set at $50,000, that has since been amended, according to court documents.