Slain Lancaster girl ‘a child to be celebrated’

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comMarch 6, 2013 

— Blue-eyed, dark-haired Soren Victoria Chilson laughed at horror movies.

“What 5 year old do you know that laughs at horror movies?” said her aunt, Sarah Chilson-Cole. “She knew better. She knew it was on TV.”

Soren enjoyed a good swim, played video games with her father and liked to “annihilate” her cousins’ toys.

“You could always tell when Soren” had been in Chilson-Cole’s daughters’ room, she said. “Their floor would be covered in toys. She loved all the toys they had.”

She loved her father more.

“She was the light of his life,” Chilson-Cole said. “She idolized her daddy.”

This week – for the third time in barely six months – Chilson-Cole and the rest of her family have had to say goodbye to a loved one. In September, her mother died of cancer. A few days before Christmas, Jeremy Chilson – Soren’s father and Chilson-Cole’s brother – died.

And early Tuesday, police say, Soren, who just turned 5 in January, was beaten to death at her home on Craig Farm Road, which she shared with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend, Phillip Bryan Gleason, 27.

At about 12:40 a.m., Gleason called police to report a problem with Soren. When deputies arrived, they found the girl unresponsive in the bathroom. Paramedics took her to Springs Memorial Hospital, where she died.

Authorities began to investigate the girl’s death after finding her injuries suspicious.

Preliminary autopsy results show that Soren apparently died from blunt force trauma to the head, Lancaster County Coroner Mike Morris said. Investigators gathered statements from Gleason, as well as “physical evidence from the scene,” according to an arrest warrant.

Lancaster County Sheriff Barry Faile would not say what kind of head injuries Soren suffered or what object might have been used to hurt her. He would not discuss whether more arrests or charges are pending.

Police questioned Gleason, who was left alone with Soren while her mother went to work. By Tuesday evening, they had charged him with homicide by child abuse. On Wednesday, he appeared before a magistrate in a Lancaster County courtroom, where bond was denied.

Homicide by child abuse is a felony that, upon conviction, carries a penalty of 20 years to life in prison.

Jeremy Chilson and Soren’s mother, April Victoria Snipes, separated in April when Chilson disagreed with Snipes’ decision to take a third-shift job, Chilson-Cole said.

Soon after, Snipes and Gleason began dating, she said, and spending time with Soren became more difficult for her.

“This Bryan guy...he had a very imposing demeanor,” she said. “He was very domineering. I met him and didn’t like him.”

The last time Chilson-Cole saw her niece was in November, when the family spent Veterans Day in a park in Columbia.

“She did not want to leave her daddy,” Chilson-Cole recalled.

More than a year ago, Chilson-Cole, her husband and four children left Lancaster and moved to West Columbia. Before that, it wasn’t uncommon for her to babysit Soren or see her nearly every day.

“Soren was just vivacious,” Chilson-Cole said. “She was sweet, smart and spunky.

“She was definitely a child to be celebrated,” Chilson-Cole said, “and in the spitting image of her daddy,” who “spoiled her rotten.”

“I was there at the hospital when she was born. (Jeremy) was never prouder than when he held Soren.”

Losing Jeremy Chilson was a “blow,” his sister said. Losing Soren has been devastating.

“My dad” – Soren’s grandfather – “is broken,” she said. Soren and her father are “together now.”

Still, “we’re so, so mad,” Chilson-Cole said, “it could’ve been prevented.”

‘Good ol’ country boy’

Gleason is a student at Winthrop University, studying political science.

On Wednesday, he was suspended, school spokeswoman Rebecca Masters said, and is “not allowed to be on Winthrop’s campus for any reason unless he first has permission of the Campus Police.

“Upon his release from jail, he has the legal right to a disciplinary hearing should he request one.”

Jose Paramo, a Winthrop student who attended classes with Gleason, said he was shocked to learn that this “good ol’ country boy” had been charged with homicide.

“We sat together in class and talked a lot,” said Paramo, adding that Gleason often referred to his girlfriend as his “wife.”

“He was a pretty smart guy.”

Paramo, also a political science major and one of many leaders in the Student Veterans of Winthrop University group, said he had tried to recruit Gleason into the veterans group, which aims to help student veterans transition to civilian and college life after their time in the service.

Gleason never attended the meetings. Military officials could not be reached Wednesday to confirm when and where Gleason served in the military.

Paramo and Gleason took a political science course called Model United Nations, which gives students the chance to act as diplomats and debate real-world issues during an annual conference that attracts swarms of high school students to the campus. Gleason represented the Philippines, Paramo said.

Gleason has no known criminal history in South Carolina, state records show, but he does have several traffic citations.

One of them, a citation for driving too fast for conditions, stems from a 2004 incident in which troopers said Gleason, then 18, traveled off the right side of S.C. 5, overcorrected to the left and struck a guardrail. His truck went down an embankment, according to The Herald’s archives.

His passenger, then-16-year-old Stephanie Doss, was critically injured and flown to Carolinas Medical Center. Within a week, she was released from the hospital.

Gleason, at the time a senior at York Comprehensive High School, was traveling 65 mph in a 55 mph zone, troopers said, and he and Goss were on their way to the school prom.

Soren’s funeral is scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday at Antioch Baptist Church in Lancaster. A burial will follow in the church cemetery.

Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082

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