Tragedy Unfolds as Father Shakes Newborn Son to Death

Warning: Distressing content. In a “sudden loss of control” a young Sydney father violently shakes newborn son so hard that he ended up in hospital. His 10-week-old son, Ryan, later died from his injuries, including extensive brain, eye and spinal injuries.

This week, Ryan’s father Martin Saunders learned his fate as he stood in the NSW District Court and recalled what exactly happened that awful night.

‘I didn’t mean to, but I shook him’

On 13 December 2019, Martin Saunders was taking care of his baby, Ryan. He was alone at the time as his partner, Rochelle Kennedy was at work.

Martin fed Ryan a bottle at 10pm and then, in an act of frustration and anger, gave his son five or six “short, quick” shakes while holding him under the arms.

Ryan was struggling to breathe and a panicked Martin called his mum. During the phone call, he revealed to her that he “shook him” and was “scared”.

Ryan was rushed to hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest but it was too late. His family switched off his life support the next day after scans revealed he had suffered extensive brain, eye and spinal injuries.

father shakes newborn
Rochelle and Martin say goodbye to their son.

‘Couldn’t handle parenting’

This week Martin pleaded guilty to the offence and told the NSW District Court and Judge Penny Hock that he wasn’t thinking straight and “couldn’t handle parenting”.

The court also heard that Martin had a history of mental health struggles and just days before the incident, he had lost his job, found out his mother had cancer and was dealing with the death of his grandfather.

I wasn’t coping to begin with just what was going on in my life, like before this happened, and it’s just tipped it off. It happened so fast and violent.

The court also heard that Martin and his partner, Rochelle were having problems and he had recently stopped using drugs, including ice and marijuana.

Father jailed for three years

Martin was sentenced to a maximum of five years and three months in jail, with a non-parole period of three years, after being convicted of manslaughter.

The court believes the tragic incident was caused by a combination of grief, drug withdrawal and personal struggles. 

The death of a child that was only 10 weeks old at the hands of his father … is a tragedy for the family involved and for the wider community,” Judge Penny Hock said.

She also said she was satisfied with Martin’s remorse, deeming the act “spontaneous, arising from a sudden loss of control”. She also believes he is unlikely to ever commit such an offense again.

With time served he will be eligible for parole in December 2022.

Our thoughts go out to everyone affected by this tragedy.

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Avatar of Jenna Galley

Born and raised in Canada, Jenna now lives in Far North Queensland with her tribe. When the mum-of-three is not writing, you can find her floating in the pool, watching princess movies, frolicking on the beach, bouncing her baby to sleep or nagging her older kids to put on their pants.

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