Nikki Warner pets her son’s chihuahua and his companion as she reflects upon the short life of her son.
By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
KALAMA – She has her son’s small dog, Dexter.
She has one of her toddler’s slippers, that she dug out of a cardboard box from the shed at the vacated house in Vader.
Nikki Warner has toys, framed handprints and photos arranged in a shrine surrounding a tall ocean-blue glass urn next to her bed.
But she doesn’t have her son.
Jasper James Henderling-Warner was 3 years old when he died while in the care of a married couple, parents to three of their own children. The household moved to the south Lewis County town about two weeks before his short life came to an end on Oct. 5, 2014.
Danny A. Wing, 26, and Brenda A. Wing, 27, were arrested a month later. And last year, they pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter. The coroner said the child died from ongoing abuse and neglect.
The husband is serving a 34-year term in prison. The wife is expected to be sentenced today.
While news coverage of the case has portrayed the single mom as handing her son over to the Wings for a year, because she was homeless and couldn’t care for him, that’s not exactly accurate, according to Warner.
The arrangement was intended to be temporary, she said, the initial plan was only for a week.
Warner has been waiting. Waiting for the trips to the courthouse in Chehalis to be over. In her pocket, she carries the page she read to the judge when Danny Wing was sentenced. With minor adjustments, she’ll read the same words to the judge this afternoon.
The now-22-year-old said she doesn’t mind speaking about her son.
“Some days, it will hurt too much to talk about him,” Warner said. “But other days, it makes me feel better.”
Warner grew up in Woodland, adopted into a large family when she was in grade school. At 17, she moved to a high school in Vancouver, because there was a teen pregnancy home and daycare to support students in her situation.
That’s where Jasper was born, she said.
It was going okay, until he was about a month old, she said, but then she filed complaints that his formula was being used by others at the daycare, and his diapers weren’t changed often enough, she said.
“I dropped out, to be a stay-at-home mom,” Warner said.
Then Jasper’s 21-year-old father went back to his old girlfriend.
“Jasper was super smart,” she said. “He was crawling pretty good by the time he was eight months, and by 10 months, he was running.”
Calm, a good listener, and definitely a cuddler, she said.
The two of them moved in with a friend and the friend’s mother. It might seem odd, she said, but the friend was Jasper’s dad’s ex-girlfriend.
“Me and her became good friends and Casey could visit his son,” he said. “That worked out for a few months.”
Then another girlfriend’s mother took her and Jasper in, she said.
Eventually, Warner made contact with her birth mother, who had an extra bedroom in her Vancouver-area trailer. They lived there a year, maybe a year and a half, she said.
Her son was a boy whose favorite foods were hot dogs – he could eat four at one sitting – and Gummy hot dogs.
Jasper loved water, she said.
“We had a routine, bath after dinner, a lavender bath,” she said. “Thirty minutes of relaxation and winding down.”
Also part of her child’s routine, was splashing all the water out of the tub and then racing to his closet to try to dress himself before she could even get a diaper on him, she said.
“He would pick out his own movies he wanted to go to sleep with,” she said.
Her little boy was super friendly, she said, good with other kids.
Then Warner’s mom ran off with a boyfriend, and there were bills to pay.
With no driver’s license, no car and having never held a job other than work study in school, she reached out to friends.
“I had to have a friend get me hooked up with a church, for help,” Warner said.
A roommate moved in, but then the rent was going to be due again, she said.
“I was hanging out with Danny and Brenda, they would come over and help with food,” Warner said.
The Wings were more like family than friends, she said, because one of Warner’s adopted brothers, Jeff Warner, is Danny Wing’s blood brother.
Jasper would go to their house, a motel, for sleep-overs with their kids on weekends, she said. The Wings were waiting for a house to open up in Longview, she said.
Warner said she got an opportunity of work for a week, cleaning and organizing a man’s barn for $20 an hour. It was in Chico, California, but a friend paid for her ticket, she said.
Brenda Wing told her they could take care of Jasper until she got back, she said.
“I didn’t see any warning signs,” Warner said on a recent day as she looked back to the summer of 2014. “They were clear of drugs, they seemed normal.”
Warner said she herself has been on and off drugs since she was 14 years old, but she was two weeks clean at that time.
And now, she has one year and two months behind her, she said as she reflected on the present.
“If I used again, Jasper would be mad,” she said.
Back to the summer of 2014: The day before Warner was set to leave for California, they all went to Taco Bell and then to a park where they played on the swings and slide.
“I said, let’s write a piece of paper, in case something happens while I’m gone,” Warner said.
The note they all three signed named the Wings guardian to Jasper, from July 31, 2014 to July 31, 2015.
It was in case he had to go to the doctor or anything, Warner said.
Jasper had a mohawk. Warner had got him a Ninja Turtle bubble machine. They went back to the trailer to get his stuff.
“I kissed him, I told him it’s okay,” she said. “Then he left, and that’s the last day I seen him.”
One week in California turned in to two.
Warner returned to find her friend had abandoned the trailer, somebody broke a window and the police showed up, she said.
“So I gathered up all my stuff and took it to my friend Josh’s in Oregon,” he said.
Warner talked to the Wings and told them she would be job searching there, putting in job applications at different places, she said.
The Wings told her to take her time, and do what she needed to do, she said.
“They said ‘oh yeah, we’ve been taking him fishing, he’s loving it’,” Warner said. “They’re telling me how good he’s doing, and he’s enjoying it.”
The friend in Oregon City lived with his parents, who didn’t know he was sneaking Warner in through the back door, or even that she lived there, she said. That didn’t last.
Warner’s sister brought her back to Washington.
“My ex-boyfriend took me in, I slept in a tent in his backyard for five nights,” she said. “Then I ended up living in a truck with one of his friends.”
Though she didn’t have her own phone, she was able to keep in touch with her son using other people’s phones, at first.
“I would talk to Jasper and he would tell me how he loved me, he went fishing, he had fun with rocks and stuff,” she said. “And I would tell him, ‘Mommy’s still trying to find a place and then you won’t ever have to leave my side again’.”
Brenda Wing told her she would bring Jasper to see her but that never happened, Warner said.
They often wouldn’t take her calls and when they did, they would make excuses, she said.
Warner said news accounts of the case keep repeating that the Wings brought Jasper to visit her in mid-September, but they didn’t. It was a telephone conversation on Sept. 21, she said.
“After that, they wouldn’t answer their phone for like two weeks,” she said. “That’s when I found out Danny was in jail, for fighting a cop or something.”
Warner got the phone call on Oct. 6, and learned her son had died.
The evening before, police and firefighters responded to the house on the 400 block of Main Street in Vader, told that a child was unconscious and not breathing. He was rushed to Providence Centralia Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
In person, Warner doesn’t mind answering questions, but she doesn’t speak of what the police say Jasper endured in the final weeks of his life.
“I already feel guilty I put trust in Danny and Brenda,” she said.
Today, she’ll go the courthouse in Chehalis, hopefully for the last time, and see the end of the court case. She’s prepared to tell the judge what sentence she believes is appropriate for Brenda Wing.
“I don’t want her to be able to see or smell daylight, or touch a kid again,” Warner said. “She’s a monster.”
The hearing in Lewis County Superior Court is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
For background, read “Sentencing delay looms again in Vader toddler death case” from Tuesday January 5, 2016, here