Just look at this beautiful little girl; does she look like the sickly type? Like a kid who might need upwards of seven prescription medications? Like a child who might suddenly suffer from cardiac arrest and die at the incomprehensibly young age of eight?
Sadly, that’s exactly what happened to her. Buckle up; this is going to be a rough ride.
On December 26, 2018, 35-year-old Sherie Titchenell carried the limp, unconscious form of eight-year-old Raylee JoLynn Browning out of the home where both resided to meet arriving EMS personnel. Emotionlessly, Sherie told the medical personnel, who found her calm demeanor unsettling and abnormal, that the little girl was not breathing.
An ambulance rushed Raylee to Plateau Medical Center in Oak Hill, West Virginia, where doctors quickly determined that Raylee was in cardiac arrest and beyond help. When they realized her lifeless body was covered in injuries, including bruises, burns, and lacerations, medical staff summoned the Oak Hill police, who immediately launched an investigation.
At first, Sherie told investigators that Raylee had fallen ill on Christmas Day, suffering a bloody nose due to medication that had been prescribed to her. Sherie’s next tale was that Raylee fell when stepping out of the shower and began shaking uncontrollably, her lips turning white.
Is Sherie the girl’s mother, you might ask? Nope. Step-mother? No again. Well, then, who the hell is she? Let’s break it down.
Raylee lived in a home in Hilltop, West Virginia with her father, 34-year-old Martin Browning, his girlfriend, 36-year-old Julie Dawn Titchenell (who, despite not being married to Marty, often used his surname publicly), Julie’s three children, and Julie’s sister, 35-year-old Sherie Titchenell.
It is unclear if, when, or for how long Marty was romantically involved with Raylee’s mother, Janice Seletyn Wriston, who is currently married to Jeremy Wriston. Raylee JoLynn Browning was born on July 11, 2010. According to Janice’s Facebook page, Raylee’s birth spurred her “to pull myself together and out of that very dark place in life and the abusive relationship i [sic] was in at that time and get it all together because more than anything I wanted to give you a good life and help make all your dreams come true.” This may give some indication of why Marty, and not Janice, had primary custody of Raylee for most of her life.
Janice made a long, emotional Facebook post about Rylee’s case on December 11, 2019. In this post, she alleged that Marty had moved to a new location with Rylee and failed to notify the court of their new address. By the time Janice was able to track them down, she said, it was too late. Here is an excerpt of Janice’s post:
“…there should definitely be rules against or some type of punishment for when said rules are not followed! for parents who have shared custody, for them to move to another residence without notifying courts or notifying the other parent of their new location of the child that they share together..this should not be allowed… Marty had done this to me, moved without notifying me, three times and the court did nothing the first two times and it took months to find them but now this third time…we’ll it’s just to late… To me, in my opinion, for a parent to take a child with out notifying the other parent where they’ll be moving too, then keep the child prisoner… we’ll it just seems to me like kidnapping to me! My Sunshine in now gone forever, nothing is gonna bring her back…and there are just so so many ways it could have been prevented.. so so many…”
The Titchenell sisters came into Marty’s life when Raylee was about two years old. Interestingly enough, this is the age when all three adults Raylee lived with — Marty, Julie, and Sherie — told police Raylee began self-mutilating. While Raylee’s school teachers never reported a single behavioral problem with the girl, the police complaint states that Julie reported that Raylee would “act out” at home. Julie told police that Raylee purposely urinated on mattresses and “random” objects in the house, and that she would “pick at herself” (indicating self-mutilation) for attention or to get a reaction. According to Julie, Raylee even broke her femur at one point by kicking a wall during the night. The little girl was on seven prescription medications when she died, most of which were prescribed for mood disorders and severe autism. Raylee was hospitalized for a variety of injuries between 2011 and her death in December of 2018.
According to the criminal complaint filed by the Oak Hill Police Department, all three adults singled out Raylee for abuse in yet another shocking example of the Cinderella effect, which I have discussed in previous posts, such as those about Arianna Stout and Eduardo Posso. In evolutionary psychology, the term describes a phenomenon in which a child experiences a higher incidence and generally a higher level of abuse or mistreatment when living with at least one step-parent than the child would if she lived solely with one or more biological parents. In this case, Raylee lived with not just her “wicked step-mother,” but also the woman’s (allegedly) evil sister, and unfortunately, Raylee’s dad did nothing to protect her from the wrath of the Titchenell sisters; instead, it seems he joined in the abuse.
The criminal complaint alleges that Sherie, Julie, and Marty would punish Raylee for real or imagined infractions by hitting her with a variety of objects, including metal objects, belts, and wooden spoons, forcing her to sleep on the floor wearing a diaper, banning her from eating, both at home and at school, and refusing to allow her to drink any liquid for up to three days at a time.
While Raylee was allowed to attend school, teachers repeatedly alerted Nicholas County officials about her apparent abuse. At one point, Raylee begged school cafeteria workers for extra food because, she told them, she wasn’t allowed to eat at home. How heartbreaking. It is unclear whether or not Nicholas County Child Protective Services opened a case as a result of the reports from her school. Fayette County investigators have requested any case files that may exist, but as of now, Nicholas County CPS has not provided them with any information.
This is another excerpt from Janice’s Facebook post from December 11: “Last time I seen ray, the sunday I had to take her back to the meeting spot she’d asked if she could come live with me.. I told her absolutely!! As soon as she was big enough to tell the judge her wishes there shouldn’t be no problems with it.. She told me that ‘daddy Sheri and Julie would be mad…’ but asked ‘can we go talk to the judge today?’…then she asked if she’d ever have to go back if she got to stay with me, I told her when the time comes it shouldn’t matter what marty Julie and Sherie have to say or even if they do get mad.. that it should be up to her. Its all about what’s best for you and makes you happy. I remember her asking if we could try to do it when she turned 9 and I told her we could try..but I remember telling her most kids are 12 or 13 when they get to decide, but we still could try…That was the very last time we talked .. our last conversation…”
If that’s not the saddest thing I ever read, I don’t know what is. According to her mom, that little girl wanted nothing more than to get away from her abusers, but she was afraid to tell anyone just how bad things were. By the time anyone found out, it would be far too late for Raylee.
Photos of Julie and Marty courtesy of Marty’s Facebook page
According to a report authored by Oak Hill Police Department detective Sergeant James Pack, Sherie reported that she, Raylee, and Julie’s three children slept in Raylee’s bedroom on Christmas Eve. Raylee was sick on Christmas Day and spent the day on a mattress on the floor of her bedroom. On the morning of December 26, Sherie told police she gave Raylee breakfast in her bedroom along with three of her medications. At about 10:30 that morning, Raylee got into the shower, where her nose started to bleed. She had been suffering from nosebleeds for several weeks prior, Sherie said, which a doctor told them were a side effect of Raylee’s medications. Sherie said that Raylee fell when she got out of the shower, and after cleaning up the little girl’s nosebleed, Sherie carried Raylee to her bedroom and propped her up with pillows on the mattress on the floor. At that point, Sherie told police, Raylee was shaking “nonstop” and making snoring noises, her pupils shrinking to tiny pinpoints and her lips turning white.
According to Sherie, Raylee’s blood sugar dropped frequently, although Marty reported they did not check the level every day. Sherie said Raylee’s glucose level on the morning of December 26 was 125. I was unable to find a single report or even a hint that Raylee had ever been diagnosed with diabetes, hypoglycemia, or any such illness.
Sergeant Pack’s complaint alleged that Sherie’s reported timeline of the events of December 26 was contradictory and suspicious. Court documents add that statements made by Marty and Julie also contradicted Sherie’s timeline. None of the adults were able to explain the injuries on Raylee’s body other than the excuse that she was known to self-mutilate.
During a search warrant executed on the family’s home, police found a claw hammer near the mattress where Raylee evidently slept. In a nearby drawer, they also found a vibrator. Julie was unable to explain how the hammer and the sex toy ended up in the bedroom that Raylee apparently shared with Sherie. This detail is all the more disturbing when added to the fact that in addition to the previously reported injuries to Raylee’s body, police documents allege that at the time of her death, the little girl’s rectum was found to be torn.
Guys, I am adamantly against the death penalty for a multitude of reasons, but the implications of that previous paragraph have me dreaming up some pretty horrible methods of torture I’d love to see exacted on these three (allegedly) vile human beings.
According to the medical examiner who performed Raylee’s autopsy, she most likely died from a severe septic infection “due to necrotizing Bronchopneumonia with diffuse alveolar damage of uncertain etiology.” The report opines that the infection should have been more than apparent to her caregivers before she died.
A doctor who once treated Raylee said she believes the little girl was the victim of medical child abuse based on the number of medications Raylee was on and the fact that she was subjected to frequent blood draws. Alarmingly, even though Raylee’s growth seemed to have stopped around the time of her sixth birthday, she had never been evaluated by a pediatric endocrinologist.
Since Raylee’s death, Marty has posted several articles and informational graphics about sepsis on his Facebook page, apparently trying to make it appear that he just had no idea (insert wide, innocent blinking eyes here) that his little girl was so sick and therefore could in no way be held responsible for her death.
Yeah, well… police had a different opinion on the subject. The criminal complaint filed on December 9, 2019 with the Fayette County Magistrate Court states that “it is clear that all three adults at the home failed to properly and proficiently care or provide care for the child with proper nutrition, water, and medical attention, which inevitably caused the death of the 8-year-old child,” according to WOAY. After a nearly year-long investigation, on Monday, December 9, Sherie Titchenell was arrested by the Fayetteville Police Department on charges of death of a child by parent, guardian, or custodian and child neglect causing death. Marty Browning and Julie Titchenell turned themselves in to the Oak Hill Police Department and were each arraigned on the same charges Sherie faces. Bond was set at $100,000 for each of them; Julie and Sherie both posted bond and walked out of jail this morning. Marty is still behind bars.
Court documents allege that once, when Raylee was grounded for three days and the punishment Sherie gave her was that she was not allowed to drink anything, in desperation, Raylee drank water from the toilet.
All three of Julie’s children are currently in foster care.
Julie frequented the beauty pageant circuit. She was a fourth runner-up in the Miss Spectacular America National Pageants in July 2019, in which she represented West Virginia. She was crowned the 2018 Ms. Oak Leaf Festival Queen, and she earned the same title for 2019, but after her arrest, she was unceremoniously stripped of her title, according to pageant spokeswoman Jessica Poticher.
It doesn’t matter how many of these stories I read or how many I cover on this blog; it will never cease to disappoint, sadden, and horrify me when a parent fails to protect a child the way Marty Lee Browning so catastrophically failed his daughter.
Raylee’s funeral was held at Tyree Funeral Home on Saturday, January 12, 2019, after which she was buried at Lee Webb Cemetery in Dothan. Because this is ultimately Raylee’s story and because she deserves to be remembered as the sweet, bright, loving little girl she was, I want to end this post with some of her mother’s recollections of the beautiful spirit Raylee exuded during her short eight years on this earth.
Raylee JoLynn Browning loved to play with her dolls and play dress-up. Raylee and her little sister, Jaylyn, loved playing together. Jaylyn sleeps with a picture of Raylee in a princess frame, and at night, before going to sleep, she tells Janice, “This is Raylee, my sister, Mommy. I love my sister.” Raylee last saw her older brother, Wyatt, when she was six years old, but her mother fondly remembers that she would kiss her brother’s cheek every time she hugged him.
Raylee and her siblings loved summertime; they played in the sandbox together and threw water balloons at each other. “They would play so hard that bedtime was never really a challenge,” Janice said in one of her Facebook posts.
Janice, who described Raylee as “my innocent, beautiful, smart, happy, loving daughter/ my baby girl / my sunshine,” listed several things that Raylee loved:
“To get to come live with us, her mommy step dad and all her siblings…
She wanted to go to church every Sunday. She loved Sunday school…
She had so much love for so many people and so many things…
She loved to go swimming…
Loved to sleep in her footed rapunzel pjs…
Loved to be loved on…
Loved to wake up early and watch the sunrise with me…
She loved her rapunzel doll and her Anna doll…
Loved that she was a big sister…
She loved when I sang u are my sunshine to her ( I can’t really sing but she loved it )…
Loved for me to read books and tell made up stories at bedtime…
Loved those sticker tattoos…
Loved to go to NINA and Pawpaws…
She also Wanted to learn how to ride a horse one day and wanted to go to the beach…
She Loved learning games in her iPad…
She LOVED school and all her teachers…
She wanted to do good in school and graduate from college to be a school teacher ( I say this again Raylee LOVED her school teachers!)…
She said she wanted to be a mommy one day like me and love her kids like I loved her ‘with ALL my heart’…
“My goodness I loved every lil ounce of her!! I loved my Sunshine, loved her soft kind sweet loving heart of gold, loved her adorable giggle when she laughed, loved her button nose, loved to snuggle with her, loved to wake up to her on the mornings she’d stay just so we could snuggle till the sun was up! I loved to watch the Disney movies with her, I loved to color with her, loved the words she’d whisper when the sun came up, ‘mommy the suns awake…’”
“She had this smile and this kind of love in her heart that anyone would just smile seeing her.”
Click here for more of my coverage on Raylee’s case.
Sources: Montgomery Herald, Bluefield Daily Telegraph, The Washington Post, PEOPLE, WVVA, The Register-Herald, Find A Grave, WOAY
[…] catalysts for positive change in the systems designed to protect children.A couple of months ago, I covered the horrific case of West Virginia eight-year-old Raylee Browning, who, according to the medical examiner who […]
I’m sorry, but if that thing is what’s considered a “beauty queen” down there in West Virginia, then what in the name of sweet baby Jesus was going on with the runners up?
Was she the only one who turned up? Were the judges blind? Was it fucking opposite day?
I just have so many questions!!
When I was listening to the show and you described her as a pageant mom type, I had a vague picture of what she might look like and then I come to the blog to check her out and I legitimately laughed out loud irl. What a monstrosity.
I’m not intending to take away from the seriousness of what they done to that poor, sweet, defenceless, baby girl. I hope they rot in hell, I wish they could be water boarded daily and have their nails and teeth pulled off by pliers. I wish that every single day they had to feel the terror, pain, and helplessness that they caused that little girl to feel.
I just had to share how ridiculous it is that this ogre won best pig in show at the livestock pageant and thinks she’s miss world, what a delusional sub human piece of shit.
This article BROKE MY HEART…I’m sitting here in my living room with tears running down my face! My heart breaks for Raylee’s mom…The descriptions of Raylee sound like the descriptions of literally millions of little girls all over the United States and the World. The torture this beautiful, little girl endured is BEYOND comprehension and truly nauseates me. I know without doubt, that she is in Heavenfree from the horrendous pain and fear that she endured and enjoying the amazing Sunsets in Heaven. Rest In Peace sweet angel!