On April 11, 2022, Van Erick Custodio, 42, was arrested for child abuse with severe bodily injury for injuries his 6-week-old, adopted (pending) son sustained, Lucas Birchim. Custodio’s charges were upgraded to first degree murder when Lucas died as a result of his injuries.
Van Erick Custodio
Van Erick Custodio was a 42-year-old former computer science teacher at Belmont Abbey College and former adjunct professor for the University of North Carolina – Charlotte. He was married and a father to one adopted daughter. According to his professional website, Custodio was involved in several businesses until he began college at the age of 30. He states on his website that he earned a B.S. Information and Computer Science, and M.S. Information and Computer Science, both from the University of California, Irvine. He lists his experience in the areas of “Product Design, Video Editing, Motion Graphics, Video/Audio Production, and Graphic Design.”
Due to medical reasons, the Custodio’s could not have biological children. They adopted a young girl to grow their family. Four years later, they were given the opportunity to adopt 6-week-old, Lucas Birchim, with funding assistance through the non-profit organization, Both Hands. The couple had also appeared in a fundraising video that had been posted on the platform, Go Fund Me, where they asked for donations to assist with adoption fees. They had completed all the necessary processes, including federal, state, and local child abuse checks, criminal background checks, and home studies. Lucas Birchim’s adoption by the Custodio family was pending at the time of his death.
The Death of Lucas Birchim
On April 1, 2022, at approximately 10:00 a.m., emergency services and the Gastonia, North Carolina Police Department responded to a 911 call of a 6-week-old male in cardiac arrest. Upon arrival at the Custodio home, emergency personnel found the infant not breathing, without a pulse, and suffering critical injuries. They resuscitated him while rushing him to a local hospital. Emergency room personnel inserted a breathing tube and stabilized him enough to transport him to Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina. Physicians noted severe life-threatening injuries to the child, consistent with severe child abuse. A judged immediately signed off on an arrest warrant for Van Custodio, who had disappeared.
On April 11, 2022, 6-week-old Lucas Birchim succumbed to his injuries. The same day, investigators acted on an anonymous tip and located Van Custodio in York County, North Carolina. He had been hiding at a rural lake house on Lake Wylie, a man-made reservoir that straddles the state line between North Carolina and South Carolina. He was extradited back to Gaston County, North Carolina, two days later.
Initially, Custodio was charged with one count of felony child abuse, causing severe bodily injury. A judge set his bail at $500,000. Prosecutors added immediately the charge of murder in the first degree for the death of Lucas following his death. The judge did not grant bail for the added murder charge.
Lucas Birchim’s injuries were noted as “a skull fracture with brain bleed, a broken rib, no cough or gag reflex, possible seizures, and multiple fractures in each leg,” all of which Custodio admitted to in his sworn statement to investigators.
Both Hands is a highly respected, 501 (c) 3 non-profit, Christian organization in the state of Tennessee, United States. According to their website, they are a “small team of motivated change-makers who believe in God’s call to care for widows and orphans.” Following the initial report of Lucas Birchim’s injuries, they issued this official statement:
‘Our team is incredibly devastated about this news. We find these actions atrocious and pray for healing for this child. We strive for all children to be placed in safe and loving homes, so our hearts are broken.”
University of North Carolina – Charlotte
When the first report was released regarding Custodio’s initial charges, The University of North Carolina issued the following statement:
“UNC Charlotte hired Van Erick Custodio on a limited, temporary contract to teach one class this semester in an adjunct capacity. He has been placed on administrative leave, and another faculty member will cover this class for the remainder of the semester.”
Belmont Abbey College
Van Custodio began teaching computer science at Belmont Abbey College in 2019. Upon learning of his arrest, they issued this statement:
“He recently took family leave and was not actively working for the college. Effective 4/13/2022, he was suspended from teaching at Belmont Abbey. Our prayers and hearts are with those impacted during this time.”
According to the Gaston County Sheriff’s Department Inmate Summary, Van Erick Custodio is in their custody, awaiting trial. His official charges are Child Abuse, Severe Bodily Injury (Docket Number: 22CR53246) and Murder, First Degree (Docket Number: 22CR053440). This remains an open investigation. Currently, no trial date has been announced.