Baby Riley Alston couldn’t speak for himself, but we cay say it for him: Thank you, Magon Rutledge.
Just over a year ago, when Rutledge was 17, she and some friends gathered at the home of Riley and his parents on Rance Drive in the Sandy Beach subdivision. Riley was 8 months old at the time.
What Magon, now an 18-year-old senior at Granbury High School, did that night may have saved the life of Riley. It also qualified her to be the Hood County News Person of the Year.
Magon said she had been to the Alston home with friends once, a couple of months before, but was only slightly acquainted with the Alstons.
Magon said that when she went back to the bedroom to look in on Riley, what she saw enraged her. Riley was in a severely emaciated state, weighing only about 9 pounds, and was covered in feces, urine and vomit, according to investigators from the Hood County Sheriff’s Office. A few days later, Magon compared Riley’s body to a skeleton, and described it as “something you’d see in Holocaust movies. It’s surreal, but it’s burned into my brain. It’s never going to go away.”
Although Magon said she tries not to think about what would have happened if she hadn’t been at Riley’s home that night, other people still do.
“Magon saved Riley Alston’s life. Without her intervention, I am certain that Riley would have died,” said Hood County District Attorney Rob Christian, adding that he was “glad to see the Hood County News recognize a young person, who exhibited courage and compassion.”
Sheriff Roger Deeds had called Magon a hero at the time – a sentiment that led to the HCN headline, “Baby Riley’s Hero,” on the article that described the incidents that night and led to the arrest of Justin Alston and his wife, Riley’s mother Brittany Nicole Oliphant-Alston.
Magon testified in 355th Judicial District court early last month when the Alstons were facing a first-degree felony count of injury to a child with serious bodily injury. They were found guilty and sentenced to 60 years in prison.
“It definitely took a lot of courage for her to step forward and do that and bring it to our attention, to help a baby and save a life,” Deeds said. “(Riley) probably would not have been alive if she hadn’t took the initiative to get involved.”
Last week after school, Magon indicated she still couldn’t shake the sad image of Riley’s ultra-frail body and sunken facial features.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” she said. “When I saw Riley the first time, he looked so distant.”
Even though she was in the home of virtual strangers and she had no idea how Justin Alston would react, she was bold enough to insist that Riley needed immediate medical attention.
Justin Alston didn’t give a favorable response. He told Magon they would take Riley to a doctor later, and she sensed Justin was fearful that he might be in trouble if authorities learned of Riley’s condition.
She said he seemed nervous but wasn’t being aggressive toward her. Then she added, “I wouldn’t have been surprised if he would have acted out angrily. Basically, he was freaking out. He said, ‘I guess I don’t know how to be a father.’”
Magon didn’t know how Justin – a grown man, four years older than her, in his own domain – would react to her demand. She also was taking another risk that she said didn’t cross her mind at that moment – that she could get in trouble for being there without permission.
Magon got her friend Caleb Fuller to call his dad, off-duty paramedic Paul Fuller.
Paul Fuller transported Baby Riley to Lake Granbury Medical Center before he was transferred to Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth, where he was listed in critical condition.
Paul Fuller said he told Justin Alston that he believed Riley had no more than 48 hours to live. He later told the HCN that the home had “probably 150, 200 beer bottles and cans littering the entire living room.”
Magon’s mother, Tina Baker Rutledge, said she wasn’t angry at Magon for going there that night because she trusts her to behave responsibly. Tina said she didn’t smell alcohol on Magon’s breath when she picked her up later.
“I was just so proud that she didn’t think about that because she did the right thing,” Tina Rutledge said.
Magon still said she believes she did “what anybody else would” in that situation.
Tina Rutledge also had additional praise for what her daughter did – including her testimony at the criminal trial of Riley’s parents.
“I watched Magon through all this, and I was just so proud of her,” Rutledge said. “And to go to court and testify to make sure she got justice for the baby. She’s an extraordinary young woman, and I’m just so proud of her. She doesn’t even look at herself as a hero.”
Rutledge also has two other daughters – 15-year-old Chelsea, currently living with her dad in Nebraska, and 12-year-old Breanna, a student at Acton Middle School. “She’s pretty humble about it. I don’t think she realizes that not many people would have done it.”
Rutledge said they have gone through some things in the past that made Magon grow up faster than she might have otherwise.
“She is beyond her years,” she said of Magon. “She is an old soul. She doesn’t think like normal kids do.
“I tried to teach (the children) to be really strong, but soft at the same time.”
Under the care of a foster family, Baby Riley began to gain weight and grow stronger. Photos of the healthier Riley were shown to the jury, in stark contrast to the horrific pictures they saw of him after he was hospitalized at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth.
“It looked like pictures of a normal baby boy, bright and excited,” Magon said. “I just hope his start on life doesn’t impact the bright future he can have – all the happiness.
“I just want him to be worry-free. Just be a kid. I hope he gets all the love he deserves. It’s hard to put into words. It’s such an emotional thing.
“All he wants is love and attention, and he was being pretty much forgotten. A child is the most innocent thing in the world. To me, it’s the most heinous act of cruelty.”
Riley is now in the custody of Justin’s parents.
Magon said she will be attending Tarleton State University in Stephenville next fall. She wants to become a psychiatrist – which will require pre-med, followed by medical school, followed by a five-year internship.
“I don’t want to limit my field,” she said. “I want to work with real trauma patients. I want to help the mentally unstable, the mentally ill.
“I understand psychiatry can be a difficult field, but I have such an interest. It’s going to be something I want to do, so I think it will come easily.”
She said she’s hoping that she can get enough financial aid and grants to avoid having to pay back a large loan.
It shouldn’t be surprising that her interest in psychiatry stems from wanting to provide assistance to others.
“I like hearing life stories, and hearing about problems,” Magon said. “I like helping people, so psychiatry falls into that.”
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