Is there anything sadder than the obituary of an infant?
I’ll tell you one thing sadder: when that infant’s obituary was published in the first place due to the negligence of someone tasked with keeping her safe.
Even sadder than that? When that person’s negligence receives little more than a shrug and a “that’ll happen” from those expected to uphold law and order.
At just 16 weeks old, Remi Joan Cowan was ripped from the arms of her loving parents, and the person responsible for her death was never charged. According to Remi’s parents, she was never even investigated, despite the coroner requesting her death be further explored. His recommendation was ignored by the county district attorney.
For over a year, Remi’s family has grieved the loss of their precious little girl while the rest of the world went on around them. The patience and grace of this family is admirable; still, anyone’s patience is bound to wear thin at some point.
Recently, Remi’s godmother, Marjaneh Frelin, reached out to me and asked if I could look into Remi’s story. As soon as I learned the details of what happened to Marjaneh’s goddaughter — and what didn’t happen afterward — I was fully committed to telling Remi’s tragic story of untimely death, suspicious circumstances, and lack of justice.
Matthew Cowan and Ashley Tedesco met in January of 2016 and married on November 17, 2017. Ashley brought with her into the marriage two beautiful girls, Juliana and Sawyer, and the couple was also blessed with their first child together, a little girl they named Cali.
In the late spring of 2018, Matt and Ashley discovered they were pregnant again, to their great surprise, as Ashley had recently had an IUD placed to prevent pregnancy. As it turned out, she was already pregnant when the IUD was placed.
The pregnancy was stressful and complicated, but this miracle baby was determined. Despite all odds, Remi Joan Cowan was born on February 13, 2019 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, joining Matt, Ashley, and their three girls, Juliana, who was almost 12; 9-year-old Sawyer; and one-and-a-half-year-old Cali.
Matt considered Remi his early Valentine’s present, and in fact, Remi turned out to be a daddy’s girl. Not only did Matt choose Remi’s name, but they also developed a special bond.
In Matt’s own words, “Times became even more stressful, but fulfilling. I will not overshadow the truth, Ash and I went through one of the most trying times in our life, with the pregnancy and then trying to manage 2 pre-teen young ladies, a rambunctious one year old, and now a newborn.
“Cali was and is consumed with having her mother by her side. So through the trying times and a few stressful parenting arguments, Remi and I developed a special connection and bond. I had what I felt Cali and Ashley had. I loved every second of it.
“Remi was perfect… an Angel! She ate every 2 hours, she slept for 2 hours and then woke up and watched Daddy take care of things around the house while she swung. She LOVED being held. And I got an enormous, unimaginable, and fulfilling smile on her face when I would come home from work, or if she smelt me, or heard my voice. It was perfect!”
After Remi was born, Ashley returned to work as administrator of a healthcare organization. Matt stayed home for the first two and a half months of Remi’s life. When he returned to work, he and Ashley felt comfortable sending their infant daughter to the same person who provided day care for Cali. Ashley’s mother, Mindy, was best friends at the time with a woman named Crystal, whose daughter, Meghan Borgess, had watched Cali during the day for about ten months, and she agreed to take Remi in, as well.
Meghan’s last name was somewhat notorious in Williamsport since the July 22, 2016, when her cousin, 28-year-old Brittany Renee Borgess, made a frantic call to 911; barely intelligible, Brittany told the dispatcher she had driven to work, forgetting her live-in boyfriend’s 4-year-old daughter, Samaria Motyka, was in the car. Samaria, who was found unresponsive around 3:30 PM, curled up on the passenger side floor with her head on the seat, died after spending six hours locked in Brittany’s SUV on a day when outside temperatures crested at 97 degrees, rendering the temperature inside the car at 120 degrees. When taken to Williamsport Regional Medical Center, Samaria’s internal temperature was measured at 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
Brittany Borgess, who was tasked with taking Samaria to day care that fateful day but said she forgot, was quickly charged with involuntary manslaughter, endangering a child, and recklessly endangering another person. In November of 2018, she was acquitted of all three charges, but she was found guilty of a summary charge of leaving a child unattended in a car while it was running, because she admitted to leaving Samaria in the car while she ran her son into his day care the morning of Samaria’s death. Meghan’s penalty for causing the death of her boyfriend’s 4-year-old daughter? A $25 fine.
I have addressed hot car deaths in the past in my post about Lorenzo and Brooklyn Velasquez. In that case, however, it was clear that the mother (coincidentally also named Brittany) intentionally left her children in the car as an alternative to day care. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I’m a strong proponent of Dr. David Diamond’s research into the theory of “forgotten child syndrome,” which was discussed in a 2009 piece in the Washington Post called “Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime?” That article, without a hint of exaggeration, changed my entire way of thinking about the subject.
In fact, Dr. Diamond’s testimony at the trial of Brittany Borgess is thought to have played a large part in the decision of the jury to acquit her on all three criminal charges. I can’t say I’ve made up my mind one way or another on Brittany’s degree of guilt in this case; I’d have to do a lot more research to form an opinion.
Either way, Samaria’s death was a horrific, preventable tragedy. May that sweet, playful little girl rest in peace.
Anyway, Meghan Borgess had nothing to do with that case, and her mother was, as I mentioned, best friends with Ashley’s mother, so it seemed like the perfect arrangement. Either Ashley or Matt would drop Cali and Remi off at Meghan’s house each morning on their way to work. The Cowans provided Meghan with a type of rocking baby seat/bassinet apparatus called a Rock-n-Play, identical to the one in which Remi slept at home, to ensure their daughter had a safe, comfortable place to nap while in Meghan’s care.
Some mornings when either Ashley or Matt arrived at Meghan’s house to drop the girls off, Meghan was not home, so they would leave Cali and Remi with Meghan’s mother, Crystal, who always said Meghan was at counseling and would be back soon.
By early June, the girls had been going to Meghan’s house for three or four weeks. The Cowans had started to notice Meghan seeming, at times, drowsy, irritable, or otherwise “off” somehow, so they had begun transitioning Cali and Remi to a new babysitter, planning to send them to Meghan’s house a few days per week in the meantime to make the switch less traumatic for the girls.
On the evening of June 5, Matt and Ashley had a disagreement that they left unsettled, so the next morning, Matt, regrettably, left the house without kissing his wife and the four girls goodbye or telling them he loved them. “That decision alone will haunt me for the rest of my life! I will forever regret my decision to leave that morning without faithfully kissing my wife and children.”
Matt went to work as usual, laughing and joking with coworkers as he went about his job, finishing earlier than he normally did. “I told myself that since Ashley has done so much for the family and managing my crazy hours,” he said, “I would go get the girls from the babysitter and be home before she was done work!”
Ashley took Remi and Cali to the babysitter’s house and went to work like she always would. It was 3:58 PM on June 6, 2019 when Ashley received a call from Meghan Borgess, which she was unable to answer. She returned the call four minutes later.
When Meghan answered the phone, Ashley couldn’t understand her at first. What she was hearing didn’t make sense. All she could hear was Meghan repeating, “And she was purple; she was purple!”
Immediately, Ashley sensed the babysitter was talking about Remi.
Ashley bolted from the building, so flustered she initially forgot her car and had to run back for it. Crazed with panic, she drove as fast as she could to Meghan’s house, nearly getting sideswiped as she maneuvered through traffic. By the time she arrived, the ambulance was pulling away, and Ashley jumped out of her car and attempted to chase it on foot. Meghan’s mother, Crystal, drove Ashley to the Williamsport Regional Medical Center, where the frantic mother ran to the ambulance in time to see one of the many EMTs gathered around a gurney administering CPR to her helpless 16-week-old daughter.
“The vision of seeing my LIFELESS child with her arms hanging out to her sides is the most agonizing and debilitating sight I have ever witnessed,” Ashley later said in a post on a Facebook page dedicated to Remi, “and still to this day it haunts me.”
At some point during the chaos, Ashley called her husband, who was still finishing up at work. Matt couldn’t make sense of Ashley’s screams, but he picked out three horrifying words: Their youngest daughter’s name, “Remi,” and the heart-stopping sentence, “She’s dead!”
While Matt rushed to meet his wife at the hospital and Remi was whisked into the emergency room, Ashley was escorted by a hospital employee into a separate room down the hall from the area where multiple medical professionals fought to keep Remi alive. “I remember seeing all the nurses and physicians looking out at me as I walked by,” Ashley wrote, “and I started to beg them, ‘please, please help her, please! That’s my baby!’”
Within ten minutes, Matt arrived at the hospital and was led into the room, where he found his wife face down on the ground, screaming. Seconds later, a doctor entered the room, told the terrified couple that Remi still did not have a heartbeat, and asked if they could stop CPR.
Ashley said she yelled at him, “No! Go ten, fifteen, minutes, years, I don’t care, keep going!”
Matt recalled insisting: “Don’t fucking stop!”
Five minutes later, the doctor returned, telling the Cowans their daughter had a pulse and was being prepped for a life flight to Geisinger Hospital in Danville, Pennsylvania.
(We’ve become acquainted with Geisinger during some cases I’ve recently covered; Ky’mani Moore was hospitalized there with a bowel obstruction prior to his death; Kendall Doss was scheduled for brain surgery there that never took place; and, sadly, Arabella Parker died at the same hospital.)
Ashley was permitted to accompany her daughter in the helicopter, where they were rushed into the Pediatric ICU by a number of nurses and doctors. “I felt like I was signing my life away as I provided permission for the physicians to attempt to revive my baby with central lines, atrial lines, ventilation, and whatever else was necessary,” she wrote.
Eventually, the Cowans were allowed in the room with Remi, who was on a ventilator and sprouting with tubes and wires. A doctor told Ashley and Matt that Remi’s organs were failing and that their precious 16-week-old baby had been given medication to paralyze her temporarily, as she had begun suffering seizures.
The couple watched in despair as Remi’s brain waves were monitored by an electroencephalogram (EEG). The machine detected no activity.
“I remember just holding her hand and telling her how much I love her,” Ashley wrote. “I remember questioning God and asking why He was allowing this. Her body continued to become colder and colder. I knew there wasn’t a single chance she’d return, I think she was already gone, but the Lord was giving us time to accept what couldn’t be changed and say goodbye. The hospital allowed us to spend the night with her, as our parents, my brothers, and my best friend took turns being by her side.”
The next morning, the Cowans were told that Remi had no brain activity, all of her organs had essentially failed, and she was being kept alive only by machines. Ashley and Matt were forced to make the unimaginable decision to remove Remi from life support.
“We had no choice but to stop the machines and accept that the Lord somehow had ‘bigger and better’ plans for her,” Ashley wrote.
After the gathered family members said their goodbyes, Matt cradled his daughter in his arms, and a respiratory therapist removed her ventilator. At one hundred and fourteen days old, Remi Joan Cowan took her last breath and died in her daddy’s arms.
Remi’s tiny body was sent for an autopsy.
Imagine leaving home one day as parents of four beautiful girls, and the next time you step through the door, only three remain.
Ashley and Matt’s tiny, precious little girl was laid to rest on Friday, June 14, 2019 at 2:00 PM at Sanders Mortuary in Williamsport, after which she was buried in Montoursville Cemetery.
While Matt and Ashley were caught up in a whirlwind of grief and medical activity on June 6, police interviewed the babysitter, Meghan Borgess. Meghan told them that Remi had been spitting up profusely that day. Around 2:00 PM, Meghan said, she grew tired and decided to take a nap in her bed with Cali. She put Remi down to sleep on her stomach on a daybed in Meghan’s bedroom.
Meghan told investigators she set her alarm for around 4:00 PM, because she knew either Ashley or Matt would arrive soon thereafter to pick up the kids. When she awoke, she told police, she found little Remi purple and not breathing.
At that point, Meghan called Ashley.
After their daughter’s death, Matt and Ashley struggled to make sense of the babysitter’s story. They had provided Meghan with a Rock-n-Play for Remi to sleep in. The daybed was usually covered in piles of clothing and was located all the way across the bedroom from Meghan’s bed, as opposed to the Rock-n-Play, which was fully portable and could easily be pulled next to her own bed. Also, Remi was accustomed to sleeping in the Rock-n-Play, since she slept in one at home, as well.
If Remi was spitting up as profusely as Meghan had reported, why would she place the 16-week-old infant on her stomach, out of sight, and fall asleep for two hours?
On top of that, why would someone who was being paid to care for the Cowans’ children feel it was appropriate to take a nap in the first place?
As it turned out, Meghan Lynn Borgess had a few skeletons in her closet that Ashley and Matt now wish they knew about sooner. Public court records reveal a robust history of legal troubles for the babysitter born on April 7, 1981.
In 2000, at the age of 19, Meghan was charged with DUI and hindering apprehension or prosecution. After pleading guilty to both charges, she was sentenced to a period of confinement from two days to twelve months and a maximum of six months probation.
She managed to keep her nose clean, so to speak, for the next several years, but it seems she was storing up all her illegal behavior for one big burst. In September of 2008, at the age of 27, Meghan was arrested on multiple charges, including burglary, criminal trespassing by breaking into a structure, and forgery, all second degree felonies; conspiracy to commit burglary, a first degree felony; and misdemeanor charges of accessing a device issued to another, theft by unlawful taking, conspiracy to commit theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property, and possession of a controlled substance. By pleading guilty to the burglary charge, the rest of her charges were dismissed, and Meghan was sentenced to 12 months in an intermediate punishment program (IPP).
IPP is a sentencing alternative designed for offenders convicted of drug and alcohol related crimes, which are those motivated by the offender’s use of and/or addiction to alcohol or drugs. It is considered a less restrictive form of confinement than a prison term. According to Lycoming County President Judge Nancy L. Butts, “Intermediate punishment is a form of sentence that has some sort of a treatment component to it.” Some offenders sentenced to IPP are sent directly to the Lycoming County Pre-Release Center, which is a minimum security facility where inmates can be eligible for work release programs. It is still considered confinement, but it is less restricted than county prison, and it allows for some freedom to attend drug court, counseling, and other treatment components.
It is not clear where or how Meghan Borgess spent her 12 months in IPP, but court records reveal that she violated drug court guidelines at one point, was found in contempt, and became delinquent on fines she had also been ordered to pay.
Meghan received a few traffic citations throughout 2009 and 2010, mainly for driving without a license, insurance, and/or vehicle registration. In June of 2010, she was charged with a parole violation, and in December of 2011, she was removed from her treatment program.
Then, in 2013, 32-year-old Meghan was arrested after attempting to shoplift 27 items at K-mart in Loyalsock Township. The total value of the items was $172.44. She was transported to Lycoming County Prison, where, during a search, officers found her carrying contraband. She was charged with a second-degree felony count of possession of a controlled substance and a misdemeanor count of retail theft – taking merchandise. Meghan pleaded guilty to both offenses and was sentenced to confinement of six to twelve months.
Her last arrest appears to have been in November of 2016, once again for use or possession of drug paraphernalia. The following January, at the age of 35, she pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 months of probation and 50 hours of community service.
Meghan apparently still owes the court upwards of $1,600 in delinquent fines.
It’s safe to say, based on her legal history, that Meghan has dealt with some substance abuse issues in her lifetime. Ashley and Matt, forgiving, faithful people who believe in second chances, were aware that Meghan had a history of drug use, but they were told she was clean and doing well for quite some time when they allowed her to begin watching Cali as an infant. In truth, by that time, Meghan had just barely finished probation for her last arrest.
After Remi’s death, the Cowans asked investigators to have Meghan drug tested, but they were told that could not be done, because Meghan would test positive for synthetic opioids.
Remember how I mentioned that oftentimes in the morning, Matt or Ashley would leave the kids with Meghan’s mother, Crystal, because Meghan was supposedly at counseling? Only after their daughter’s death, they learned that “counseling” actually meant Meghan’s visits to the local methadone clinic, where she was receiving daily doses of methadone before returning home to care for Cali and Remi.
The Cowans were never made aware of the fact that their trusted babysitter was under the influence of a narcotic commonly used as part of drug addiction detoxification and maintenance. According to RxList, side effects of methadone can include anxiety, nervousness, restlessness, insomnia, weakness, and drowsiness, among others. Had Matt and Ashley known Meghan was taking this narcotic, which can be highly addictive itself, they would never have trusted her with their babies.
As far as the investigation into the criminal culpability of Meghan Borgess for the death of Remi Joan Cowan, after her initial interview with police on the day of the incident, she was never questioned again. “They asked her to take a lie detector test, but she declined,” Ashley told me. “They never had her back in for more questioning and basically took her word for everything.”
Surely the autopsy results would have prompted further investigation, right?
Preliminary findings by Montour County Coroner Scott Lynn revealed that Remi’s death was unintentional… but preventable. It was inferred that co-sleeping was a primary suspicion of Remi’s death; the coroner believed that Remi suffocated either when Meghan Borgess rolled over on her or when Remi rolled into the pillows and blankets and was unable to free herself, with no help from her unconscious babysitter.
The coroner was not satisfied that Meghan’s story added up in light of his findings and refused to rule Remi’s death an accident. It was not SIDS, and there was no trauma. Her cause of death was officially ruled as cardiac arrest due to cerebral hypoxia. He recommended the Lycoming County District Attorney’s Office send Remi’s case to be reviewed by a medical/legal team in Harrisburg, but the District Attorney declined to push the case further. According to Ashley, who spoke with the coroner after the fact, he was very unhappy that the Lycoming County prosecutor failed to follow his recommendations.
I reached out to the coroner via email and telephone, but I have yet to hear back.
“Anyway you look at it,” Ashley wrote, “my Remi suffocated and the thought of her trying to take just one last breath is the most heart wrenching, sick pain I have ever felt.”
I’m just going to leave this here: according to an organization called Prevent Child Abuse Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law (CPSL), which was signed into law in 1975, is defined as intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly doing a number of things, one of which is “creating a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury to a child through any recent act or failure to act;” another is “causing the death of the child through any act or failure to act.”
Good info to have. You know, just in case it comes in handy someday.
“NOTHING has been done,” Ashley lamented.
“I just hope that Remi’s story is proof of how much our justice system fails so many victims and their families.”
A civil lawsuit is pending against Meghan Borgess on behalf of Ashley and Matt Cowan.
Since September of 2019, Ashley has maintained a Facebook page called Remi’s Teachings through the Lord: the Loss of a Child, where she frequently posts eloquent, beautiful blog entries about her daughter, her grief, her emotions, and her faith. Ashley’s strength is an indescribably powerful inspiration, and the fact that she has allowed herself to progress through the various stages of grieving while documenting them through expressive prose may offer other bereaved parents hope that they, too, can survive the worst pain and torment life can offer. I cannot recommend the page strongly enough.
In January, Ashley wrote about walking through the Montoursville Cemetery, reading the names and epitaphs on the headstones, when she noticed how many of them, particular in the baby/children’s section, bore only temporary grave markers.
Ashley wrote, “The financial factors that play a role in honoring a deceased loved one isn’t something that many of us, especially younger individuals, think about. We expect to grow old, watch our children grow up, marry, have their children, etc.. Yet, our perceptions of death aren’t always Gods plan for us and when it’s our time to leave this world, we won’t be late for that appointment.
“So approximately 250 yards away from where my sweet Remi Joan’s body lies, there I stood, numb, in the middle of that cemetery, wondering how I could ensure I fulfilled the Lords purpose for my daughters short life here on earth.
“…Direct me, oh Lord. Use my sweet Remi as a vessel and help me spread your goodness to others…
“I can’t remember if I was walking away from that children’s section or driving out of the cemetery, but I remember thinking how desperately I wanted to put a headstone on every plot that had a temporary one which was years old. I remember thinking if it wasn’t for the outpouring of love and generosity of so many people throughout the community, I wouldn’t have had the privilege of honoring my sweet Remi the way I desired. As my mind continued to ponder about the financial factors that so many families are burdened with, I couldn’t help but wonder how many families feel they aren’t able to honor their loved one the way they want due to finances. It’s not just a headstone, the burial plot, or cremation. There is also the transportation fees, casket, embalming, paperwork, service fees, and the list goes on and on.
“I felt that the Lord was calling me to start an organization to do His works.
“Remi’s Purpose, Inc. is a non-profit organization (soon-to-be 501(c)(3)) founded to provide financial support to bereaved families for cremation or burial services and/or burial plot and/or headstone.”
As soon as Remi’s Purpose gains its 501(c)(3) status, I will be sure to share the information on my blog and podcast Facebook pages. What an honorable, meaningful, and beautiful way to keep Remi’s memory alive.
That, too, is why we’re here right now: to remember Remi Joan Cowan.
According to Remi’s obituary, “She enjoyed smiles, snuggles, kisses and smooches, being rocked, and tubby time. Remi’s biggest smile of love was when she was with her mom, dad and sisters. In her short life Remi touched the lives of many… All who knew her will remember her always as their perfect angel.”
Rest in peace, Remi. You will never be forgotten.
I had the pleasure and the privilege of interviewing Remi’s mother, Ashley, for this coming week’s episode of Suffer the Little Children Podcast, which will be available on Tuesday, July 28, 2020 on your favorite podcast listening platform, including YouTube.
Click here for any future updates on Remi’s story.
Sources: Ashley Cowan, Marjaneh Frelin, The Sun-Gazette, Facebook, GoFundMe, Remi’s Teachings Through the Lord: the Loss of a Child Facebook page, Prevent Child Abuse Pennsylvania, RxList, court documents