Pearman said Pitt County deputies knocked on the door of their home, asked her fiance Johnathan Brooks to come outside and closed the door behind him.
The deputies asked him to turn around, handcuffed him and walked him toward a patrol car as she watched through the window of her living room.
Pearman said she asked if she could tell him goodbye, and she was told Brooks would call her from the Pitt County Detention Center.
They talked on the phone for one minute.
“I wasn’t able to hug him, kiss him, tell him I love him, talk to him,” she said. “He was gone.”
She had already suffered the loss of their 5-month-old son, Ayden Dwayne Brooks, on July 15 after taking him off life support.
“It’s like a nightmare,” she said. “You’re living with trying to grieve the loss of your baby and then two months later… your fiance is picked up and arrested and now behind bars now being charged with murder. Some days it’s like, ‘How do you go on? How do you pick up the pieces?’ ”
The Pitt County Sheriff’s Office charged Brooks, 32, with an open count of murder after a medical examiner determined his child died from a non-accidental injury to the head. Ayden reportedly was in the care of Brooks when the injury occurred.
But Pearman and her family — her father and brother who also live in the home — deny Brooks had any hand in the child’s death.
“If I felt like my child was being abused, I would not have let that happen,” she said. “But my child was not being abused. Point blank.”
Pearman said Brooks lived most of his life in Montgomery County and worked there as a detention officer. She said he sought employment at the Pitt County Detention Center but could not be hired due to a hiring freeze last year.
Pearman, who sees her fiance for about 15 minutes every Saturday and during court appearances, described Brooks as a loving father with a big heart.
“He’s never been violent at all,” she said. “John doesn’t have a temper. John doesn’t get mad. John is always the one that wants to talk about things.”
She recalled crying with him when they first saw Ayden’s ultrasound and said Brooks loved his son “more than life itself.”
“I couldn’t have asked for a better father for Ayden than John was,” she said.
Ayden was at home with his father and Pearman’s father and brother three weeks before he died when the baby started vomiting.
Pearman came home from work when Ayden stopped breathing in her arms.
“Why did he stop breathing?” she said. “I don’t know.”
She said Brooks tapped the baby on the back when he gasped and did it again when he stopped breathing a second time.
The three then headed to the emergency room.
Pearman said the hospital did not run tests on him and did not treat him for his breathing problems.
The parents took Ayden to the pediatrician the next day.
She said medical professionals did not suspect abuse then and she does not understand why they would now.
The last hours
About 6 p.m. July 14, Brooks called 911 after Ayden stopped breathing.
Brooks stayed on the phone and performed CPR on his son until EMS arrived.
Ayden was rushed to the hospital by ambulance.
Pearman said a doctor told her Ayden had no signs of blunt force trauma to the head.
She said the hospital ran a CT scan on Ayden that did not show hemorrhaging but one the next morning did.
“If there was trauma to the head when he was carried there, it would have showed up on that first (CT) scan,” Pearman said.
Dr. Coral Steffey, assistant professor of pediatrics at East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine and medical provider at TEDI BEAR, did not wish to comment directly on the case but said in general the likelihood of bleeding a day after injuries is “more the exception than the rule.”
Steffey said physicians may not always run the appropriate tests to pinpoint injuries.
“Sometimes with a normal CT scan, if you immediately did an MRI, you would see that there’s a difference because it’s just a more sensitive test for those kinds of injuries,” she said. “…Sometimes when people talk about brain bleeding, they’re talking about bleeding within the brain tissue itself. That can be what they’re talking about, and that’s very hard to see on a CT scan. It’s very hard to see, especially early on a CT scan.”
She also said a physician looking at CT scan images may not be used to looking at normal children’s brains.
Pearman said Ayden’s doctor also told her babies deprived of oxygen for extended periods sometimes have swelling in the head causing hemorrhaging. Ayden was resuscitated twice and Pearman said he was without oxygen a total of 40 minutes before he was put on life support.
Steffy said medical examiners can see signs of trauma not evident to anyone else and non-accidental trauma and accidental trauma are very different.
“The medical examiner has the ability to look on the inside,” she said. “Sometimes if there’s no sign of trauma from the outside … there’s still bruising underneath the skin. … Sometimes there are signs that we can’t see physically.”
Though she is not sure what happened to her child, Pearman said she learned about a possible connection vaccines may have to shaken baby syndrome, citing a website called vactruth.com. She said Ayden was last vaccinated on May 31.
But Steffey said there is no direct cause between vaccines and brain hemorrhages.
“Decades and decades ago, there was an additive, a preservative in some vaccines — not a vaccine that a child this age would have gotten — that would cause you to have things like seizures,” she said. “That’s not been in vaccines for many, many, many years. Some people sort of related that to symptoms that some babies have with shaken baby.”
Steffey said the effect of slamming a baby on even a soft surface, including a bed, can cause shaken baby syndrome and possibly cause death.
Pearman and Brooks took Ayden off life support the day after he was admitted into the hospital.
She said she has been asked why they “did not give him a chance.”
“When you’re told by a professional staff that your son is brain-dead and the only thing keeping your son alive is machines, would you want to be kept alive by a machine?” she said. “John and I wouldn’t. We felt like Ayden wouldn’t.”
Pearman said she had seen her son deteriorate significantly since the previous day.
“We could already tell Ayden had gone to be with God,” she said. “What we were doing was prolonging it for us to still have him with us.”
After the couple came home from the hospital, they found an orange and white onesie with a monkey on the chest in the dirty clothes basket.
Pearman said it does not smell like Ayden any more, but she still sleeps with it every night.
She said she finds it comforting to wrap the onesie in a blanket and holds it like a baby when she misses Ayden.
“It’s kind of like holding him,” she said. “Even though he’s not there, you can still feel his spirit.”
Pearman’s father Terry Pearman said he and his son were at church July 14 when Ayden was rushed to the hospital. He believes Brooks is innocent and wonders what would have happened had they been at home instead.
“We would have been the three people that that baby would have been in our care,” he said. “Would the three of us been locked up over there, with the three of us here with the child?”
Pearman said she believes with the right attorney, the evidence and character witnesses that have seen John interact with Ayden, the court system will find John innocent.
“I believe that John is going to be set free,” she said. “But you’ve got 12 people on a jury that you’ve got to convince. … I know that in my heart, my mind and my soul, I know John did not do this to our son.”
Contact Jane Dail at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-329-9585.