LAYTON -- Police often suspect the stepfather or the mother's boyfriend first when a child dies from injuries caused by abuse, experts said.
"Oftentimes it's the boyfriend of the mom or the stepdad," said Karen Coleman, prevention specialist with Prevent Child Abuse Utah in Ogden.
"They do not have the emotional connection with the child because they have not had a lengthy relationship with the child, so in a moment of stress they don't have the same tools or history with the child to deal with the situation and they lose control quicker."
Police believe the death of 4-year-old Ethan Stacy was caused by his stepfather, Nathanael Sloop, 31, of Layton.
Formal charges are expected to be filed in 2nd District Court today against Sloop and Ethan's mother, Stephanie Sloop, 27.
Layton police wrote in a probable cause affidavit that Stephanie Sloop did not get medical attention for her young son, though she knew he needed it after he was beaten by Nathanael.
The reason was "because Nate would harm her if she tried to do so," according to the document.
Also according to the document, Stephanie Sloop did nothing to prevent Nathanael Sloop from abusing her son.
Teresa Brechlyn, violence prevention coordinator with the Department of Health, said even though Utah has one of the lowest child homicide rates in the country, too many of those murders are committed by men.
"Many times the mother of the child will hide (the abuse) to protect the boyfriend because he is the one who will make things better, or she fears he will turn and do something to her," Brechlyn said.
Ethan traveled from Florida to Utah on May 1 to spend the summer with his mother, police said.
The abuse apparently started a short time later and continued over several days. The Sloops were married on May 6 in Farmington after they locked the little boy in a bedroom in their Layton apartment. The Sloops told police they found Ethan dead on Sunday and buried him in a wooded area near Powder Mountain, according to the document.
Ethan's death is being felt across the nation, said Brent Platt, executive director of the Division of Child and Family Services.
"I'm getting e-mails and phone calls from people not just here in Utah, but across the nation," Platt said. "Communities need to talk about how they can reduce child abuse and neglect."
Platt said one reason given for not reporting suspected abuse is the thought, "I'm just going to make a bad situation worse."
But that is not the case.
Patti VanWagoner, deputy director of DCFS, said many times when parents meet with a DCFS investigator or social worker, they discover there are resources and services that can help them, which can keep families together.
"We are not trying to be punitive, but to help and advocate for the families," Platt said.