MUSKEGON, Michigan — A Michigan woman convicted of starving her disabled teenage son to death became physically ill while testifying in court on Friday. Shanda Vander Ark, 44, had to be cleared from the courtroom after violently vomiting upon viewing pictures of her emaciated son’s body shortly before his death.
Vander Ark testified that she had given 15-year-old Timothy Ferguson a warm bath — a detail disputed by her older son, Paul Ferguson. Timothy was found dead in July 2022, wrapped only in a tarp, in a closet Vander Ark forced him to sleep in. An autopsy determined that he died from malnourishment and hypothermia, weighing a mere 69 pounds.
During the trial, prosecutor Matt Roberts presented photographs of Timothy’s bruised and severely wasted body to Vander Ark. “He look like that when you put him in the bathtub?” Roberts asked. Overwhelmed, she immediately vomited into a garbage can near the stand. Vander Ark, who faces mandatory life in prison, was absent from the courtroom when the jury returned a guilty verdict of murder and child abuse.
In her defense, Vander Ark’s attorney, Fred Johnson, argued that she did not fully comprehend the harm she caused her son and was unaware that he was starving to death. However, text messages and admissions from Timothy’s older brother contradicted Johnson’s claims. Paul Ferguson, 20, allegedly confessed to giving Timothy an ice bath for hours at his mother’s behest on the day of his death. He also revealed that Vander Ark force-fed her son hot sauce and subjected him to other forms of abuse, including shackles and sleep deprivation.
The trial further exposed Vander Ark’s unsettling behavior, as she instructed Paul to taunt Timothy with a frozen pizza roll and pour hot sauce on his genitals. Paul admitted to complying with many of his mother’s deranged demands, describing his attachment to her as a form of “Stockholm Syndrome.”
The judge will sentence Vander Ark on January 29, with mandatory life in prison awaiting her. The case highlights the tragic consequences of neglect and abuse and the need for better protection for children with disabled children who have special needs.