A tragic incident has unfolded in Illinois, where a 10-year-old boy, Zion Williams, was discovered dead in a garbage can behind his home, dressed only in Spider-Man pants. The cause of death is believed to be an unintentional self-inflicted gunshot wound.
During a court hearing, a detective testified that two of Zion’s siblings informed investigators that the boy had been “playing” with a loaded firearm prior to his death. This information was revealed in courtroom footage released by a CBS affiliate in Rock Island, Illinois.
The court proceedings were part of the case against Zion’s mother, 37-year-old Sushi Staples. Staples is facing a series of felony charges, including obstruction of justice, failure to report the death of a child under 13, destruction of evidence, and concealment of the death. The latter charge stems from allegations that Staples disposed of her son’s body in the trash, where it remained for nearly a year.
Authorities suspect that Staples chose not to report her son’s death in order to continue receiving certain state benefits. During a preliminary hearing, Detective Jonathan Shappard of the Rock Island Police Department shared that Zion’s siblings had told detectives that Zion had accidentally shot himself while playing with a handgun in the family’s basement.
The ownership of the gun and how Zion obtained it remains unclear. Shappard also testified that Staples initially denied having a son during her interview. She later confessed to moving Zion’s body, stating she didn’t want her other four children to find his body in the basement. Shappard noted the presence of dryer sheets in every vent of the house, presumably to mask the odor of Zion’s decomposing body.
As reported earlier, police discovered Zion’s body in a garbage can in the family’s backyard garage in July. Staples was arrested following the discovery. Officials estimate that Zion’s body had been in the canister for at least eight months, suggesting that the child died in December.
Rock Island County Coroner Brian Gustafson concurred with the estimated time of death. Heather Tarczan, a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, referred to Zion’s death as a “profound tragedy.”
Tarczan explained that when the department receives concerns about a child’s welfare that fall outside their jurisdiction for an investigation, they refer the case to local law enforcement. In this instance, an anonymous call to the department’s hotline in July 2023 led to a welfare check on a child. The caller was advised to report their concerns to local law enforcement, and the department also contacted law enforcement directly to ensure a report was filed.
Gustafson added that in Illinois, when a death occurs under potentially criminal circumstances, two investigations can be conducted – one by the police and one by the coroner’s office. After both investigations are completed, the two parties collaborate to uncover the truth.
Staples is currently being held on a $500,000 bond and is scheduled for her next court appearance on November 27.