Newborn’s death ruled a homicide after Rock Hill woman buries son in yard

Ostrowski Rock Hill Police

A Rock Hill woman gave birth to a baby boy at her home in May after hiding the pregnancy from her family, then buried the newborn in her backyard after he died minutes later, police say.

Tara Lynn Ostrowski, 37, of Bailey Avenue, was arrested Tuesday and charged with unlawful conduct toward a child, according to Rock Hill police reports. She was placed in the city jail, where a judge later denied bond.

The York County Coroner’s Office on Wednesday ruled the death of “Baby Boy Ostrowski” a homicide. Toxicology tests showed the presence of the prescription painkiller hydrocodone and methamphetamine.

Rock Hill officers began investigating after a mental health worker on May 26 reported that she had received information from an anonymous informant, who said Ostrowski gave birth to a boy on May 18, according to a police report. Ostrowski “kept the pregnancy secret from her family and husband,” the informant said, and told the informant about it on May 25.

The state Department of Social Services told police it “had no knowledge of a recent baby turned over to a safe haven.”

“According to the information received,” the report states, “the baby did not survive, so Ostrowski buried the newborn in the backyard” of her home.

On Wednesday, cars were parked outside Ostrowski’s Bailey Avenue home, but knocks at the door went unanswered.

Mike and Ann Ostrowski said they had no idea their daughter-in-law was pregnant, and neither did their son.

“I didn’t find out till my son got off work,” Ann Ostrowski said. “My son came here and he was upset – very upset. He didn’t know anything about it.”

Earlier that day, DSS representatives knocked on Mike and Ann Ostrowski’s door and asked when they had last seen their son, Ann said. The DSS representatives wouldn’t say what they were investigating, and didn’t mention Tara’s name.

Mike Ostrowski said Tara Ostrowski never showed signs of pregnancy.

“She’d gained a little weight in her tummy,” he said.

Tara Ostrowski has a young daughter, Ann Ostrowski said, but she lost custody of her two or three years ago. Her son, who has a child of his own, said previously that he didn’t want more children, Ann Ostrowski said.

“He came in here crying,” she said, “and he said, ‘If she’d have just told me, it’d been OK.’”

The Ostrowskis described their daughter-in-law as smart and having “a heart of gold.” She briefly attended Winthrop University, they said, where she paid her way and maintained a 4.0 GPA before dropping out.

They spoke with Tara Ostrowski after the baby’s body was recovered but said she never gave a reason for not having told her family about the pregnancy or not receiving medical care.

“She probably got scared, didn’t know what to do and probably thought that was the best thing to do,” Ann Ostrowski said. “She’s really a good person. I just don’t understand why she didn’t call 911.”

The baby’s size was consistent with 35-36 weeks gestational age, Coroner Sabrina Gast said. Arrest warrants state the baby was alive when he was born and lived six to eight minutes.

Gast said she was “unable to determine” the baby’s cause of death.

Detectives went to the home and spoke with Tara Ostrowski, who admitted to having given birth and showed detectives where the baby was buried, police said. The body was taken to the morgue at Piedmont Medical Center.

Tara Ostrowski was taken to Piedmont Medical Center in emergency protective custody. She told police the baby had “labored breathing and then stopped breathing and became unresponsive,” the arrest warrant states.

Officials say Tara Ostrowski took non-prescribed pain medication during pregnancy.

The charges against Tara Ostrowski came after a two-month investigation by a team that specializes in child fatalities, 16th Circuit Deputy Solicitor Willy Thompson said Wednesday. The team includes representatives from the coroner’s office, the solicitor’s office, the law enforcement agency investigating the death and any first responders involved in the case.

The team decides whether there should be further investigation or if any charges should be filed, Thompson said. In this case, they decided to charge Tara Ostrowski with unlawful conduct toward a child.

“There’s no evidence that she intentionally killed the child,” Thompson said. “... The facts of this case don’t lend themselves to a manslaughter.”

Thompson said unlawful conduct toward a child, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison upon conviction, is a greater charge than involuntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum of five years in prison.

Included in that investigation were an autopsy and toxicology testing. Thompson said investigators were able to charge Tara Ostrowski quickly after those results came back.