11-Year-Old Zachary Sabin, “Gentle Soul,” Died After Dad and Step-Mom Forced Him to Drink 96 Ounces of Water in 4 Hours

Zachary Sabin
Zachary Sabin.

A couple in Colorado has been charged with first-degree murder this week after a four-month investigation into the death of the man’s 11-year-old son. 

The precious little boy in the photo is Zachary Sabin, a sweet, kind child who was good with younger kids, wanted to work with animals when he grew up, and was, according to his mother, “a very gentle soul.”

A loving family lost that beautiful soul on March 11, 2020, when Zachary died. Police say his father and step-mother, 41-year-old Ryan Sabin and 42-year-old Tara Sabin, are responsible for Zachary’s murder.

At about 6:15 AM on March 11, Ryan Sabin called 911, saying he found his son in his bloody bed with foam coming out of his mouth. When authorities responded to the call, they discovered Zachary dead in his bed in the family home in Black Forest, Colorado, covered in bruises and wearing a urine-soaked diaper. 

An autopsy was performed, but the results were not made public until this month. According to the El Paso County Coroner’s Office, Zachary died of forced water intoxication. Based on information provided by the family, the autopsy report stated that prior to being put to bed, Zachary was forced to drink four 24-ounce bottles of water over a four-hour period without eating, after which he began vomiting, complained of pain in his legs, and became nonverbal and drowsy. The report also notes that the coroner found blood on Zachary’s left eyebrow and forehead, a red contusion to his left eye, and bruises on his head, shin, arms, and buttocks. 

Arrest warrants for Ryan and Tara Sabin were issued on the morning of Tuesday, June 16. Ryan and Tara turned themselves in the same evening and are being held without bail in the El Paso County Jail. 

According to an arrest affidavit, US Army Sergeant 1st Class Ryan Sabin and Tara Sabin face charges of first-degree murder, child abuse resulting in death, and six counts of misdemeanor child abuse, which pertain to Zachary and five other children who lived in the home. Their ages were listed from two years old to fifteen. 

The Colorado Department of Human Services, which investigates reports of child abuse and neglect, had been contacted previously about the Sabin family, although no further details on that are available. 

When deputies interviewed Tara on the day of Zachary’s death, she told them her step-son wore a diaper because he had a hereditary urological problem that caused him to wet his bed. Because of this condition and because they had noticed his urine was “really dark and really smelly,” the couple required Zachary to drink at least two 32 ounce bottles of water a day. 

Ryan, who was also interviewed by deputies, told them that Tara called him on March 10 to tell him that Zachary hadn’t drank the required amount of water that day. When he arrived home, he said, he found Zachary taking sips of water and throwing it up, complaining that he didn’t want to drink it. He told Zachary the reason he was throwing up was because “he was drinking the water too slowly and getting air in his stomach which caused the water to sit on top of it.” (Because… physics, or something?)

Zachary Sabin
(The Sun)

Ryan told investigators he told Zachary to chug the water the way he did in the Army and just “burp it out.” 

While the rest of the family ate dinner, Tara told deputies, Zachary was in tears, complaining that his feet and shins hurt and he couldn’t finish the water. She thought Zachary was being dramatic the same way he complained about doing exercises his physical therapist prescribed. 

After his siblings went to bed, Zachary lay on the floor in the kitchen, where, around 9:00 PM, he told Ryan his legs hurt and began “flailing around and putting on an act.” In response to his son’s “tantrum,” Ryan admitted to police, he kicked Zachary at least twice, demanding he get up. 

Ryan said he then picked up his son and let go, at which point Zachary dropped to the floor, where he hit his head. Ryan picked Zachary up again and carried him out to the deck for a few minutes, hoping the cold air outside would “snap Zachary out of his tantrum.” He then carried Zachary back into the house, where the boy lay on the floor and began snoring. Ryan told the deputies that Zachary then sat up, crossed his legs, slumped forward, and resumed snoring.

Ryan said he told his son it was time for bed, at which point Zachary started walking around the kitchen, grunting and “making other unintelligible noises,” before walking into the mudroom, where he “placed his hands on the wall and just stared at the wall.” 

Father of the Year then, instead of considering that something may be wrong, put Zachary to bed around 11:15 PM. He never woke up.

Zachary Sabin
Zachary in his younger years.

Symptoms of severe water intoxication can include disorientation, confusion, headache, vomiting, drowsiness, muscle cramps, increased blood pressure, vision changes, difficulty breathing, and changes in mental state. Also known as water poisoning, this rare condition disrupts the brain function by diluting electrolytes, especially sodium, in the blood. Drinking excessive water can cause swelling in the brain, increasing pressure in the skull, and can lead to seizures, brain damage, coma, or death. 

Sergeant 1st Class Ryan Sabin in May of 2020
Sergeant 1st Class Ryan Sabin in May of 2020.
(Defense Visual Information Distribution Service)

Another child who lived in the home told police he saw Zachary throw up at least ten times. He also said it was common for the children to stay up well past their bedtimes until their chores were completed. 

Why did it take four months to arrest Ryan and Tara Sabin? According to Jacqueline Kirby, spokeswoman for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, it sometimes “takes us months to finish an investigation to determine if criminal charges need to be filed.” 

Post officials confirmed for The Gazette that Ryan Sabin is an 18-year army veteran and public affairs sergeant at Fort Carson. He served time in both Iraq and Kosovo and earned the Army Commendation Medal four times. 

As for Tara, she was the Chief Financial Officer for a nonprofit agency called TESSA, which, according to its mission, “will provide free and voluntary services to people who identify as experiencing domestic violence.” Her biography on a cached copy of the website states that Tara has worked for multiple nonprofit organizations and wanted to “use her knowledge and skills to make a difference in the lives of survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.”

Tara Sabin
Tara Sabin.
(AAF Colorado Springs)

Too bad she didn’t use her knowledge and skills to make a difference in the lives of the six children she and her husband are accused of abusing. Or to save the life of the one they allegedly murdered.

For what it’s worth, Tara is currently on an unpaid administrative leave of absence. You know, while she’s in jail. For murder

In Colorado, anyone who “causes the death of a child who has not yet attained twelve years of age and the person is in a position of trust with respect to the victim,” the offender is automatically charged with first degree murder. 

Both Ryan and Tara’s first appearance in court is scheduled for 8:30 AM on June 23. Another hearing, this one noted as a disposition hearing for both defendants and as a pre-trial readiness conference for Ryan, is scheduled for 2:00 PM on July 14. I could find no information on whether or not the other children were taken into state custody or placed into the care of family members.

Zachary Sabin and mother Angela Tuetken
Zachary and his mom, Angela, on his 6th birthday, when Angela surprised Zach and his class with cookies.

Most importantly, the world lost a very special boy on March 11, 2020, and he deserves to be remembered.

Zachary Joshua Sabin was born on September 2, 2008 in Wichita Falls, Texas. According to his obituary, he is survived by his mother, Angela Tuetken, his step-father, Matthew, and nine brothers and sisters, as well as multiple extended family members. He was in fifth grade at Explorer Elementary School in Colorado Springs.

Zachary’s mother, Angela Tuetken, told The Gazette that he was a voracious reader who could burn through a series of books in a week, like the Harry Potter series, which was his favorite. “It would blow my mind; he could out-read me.” 

She said that Zachary loved animals and wanted to be a veterinarian or a zoologist when he grew up. “He hasn’t changed his mind on that since he was little. That kid was very adamant; he knew what he was going to do.”

Her son loved being outside, she reminisced, remembering him staring at ladybugs when he was little. 

Below is a video Angela posted of Zachary opening presents at Christmastime.

Zachary Sabin and mom Angela Tuetken
Zachary and his mommy.

Since Angela and Ryan divorced in 2011, Zachary and his brother rotated weeks at their parents’ houses, spending one week with their mom and step-dad and then one with their father and stepmother. In addition to his brother, Angela said, Zachary also had four half-siblings and four step-siblings. “He was really good with the little ones. He would always make sure they were safe, play with them a lot, help them get their shoes on,” Angela said. 

She added that before car rides, he would buckle in his younger siblings, sit between them, and ensure they had their snacks. 

Zachary Sabin
My heart aches for this sweet little man.

Several family members listed favorite memories of Zachary in his obituary, as well. His brother’s favorite was marching around the house together, singing “The Ants Go Marching In” at the top of their lungs. Other siblings recalled playing “Goat Simulator,” one of Zach’s favorite games, on Xbox together; one mentioned spending a lot of time playing in their room together and doing everything together. Another “laughs at the memory of him playing cheesy music and dancing goofy dances,” while a younger sibling “remembers that Zach is kind and he gave her a ring for playing with him.” Others mentioned playing Minecraft with Zachary, who taught him how to use a controller; playing building blocks and Nerf guns together; and “pushing trucks around the house with Zach and building train tracks with him.”

How utterly heartbreaking. My heart goes out to Angela, Matthew, all of Zachary’s siblings, and everyone who knew and loved him.

Zachary was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado springs. Contributions in memory of Zachary can be made to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. 

Click here for my ongoing coverage of Zachary’s case.

Zachary Sabin
Rest well, handsome boy.

Sources: The Colorado Springs Gazette, The Sun, KKTV, Colorado Judicial Branch court records, Medical News Today, Scallywag and Vagabond

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