Lincoln mother of toddler killed in child abuse case appears in court

Published: Mar. 22, 2023 at 10:18 AM CDT|Updated: Mar. 22, 2023 at 4:26 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - It was an emotional day in a Lancaster County courtroom, as family of 22-month-old Rudy Jr. watched his mother face charges related to his death. The family wore ribbons with his picture and held a photo college for the judge to see during Brittany Cook’s arraignment Wednesday.

“I need to know firsthand what’s happening with the court process,” Rudy Jr.’s nana Cassandra said.

Cook, 31, was charged with child abuse resulting in death. Her boyfriend, 32-year-old Joshua Tackett, was arrested on March 14 and faces charges of child abuse resulting in death and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. Cook is being held on a $1 million bond.

Brittany Cook
Brittany Cook(Lancaster County Jail)

Rudy Jr., who his ‘Nana,’ Cassandra, called Junior, died March 17, five days after Cook brought him to CHI St. Elizabeth because he was unconscious. Lincoln Police said they were called to the hospital on report of a toddler with obvious signs of abuse. Junior had to be flown to Children’s Hospital of Omaha for a higher level of care.

According to court documents, a physician with Children’s Hospital said his injuries were “non-accidental and consistent with multiple incidents of abuse.” The court documents describe severe brain bleeding and swelling, hemorrhaging in both eyes, several broken ribs, injuries on his genital area, a broken tibia and more. The doctor said the injuries suggest an item was used to hurt the boy. The documents said doctors determined there was no brain activity on March 15 and he was removed from life support two days later.

In initial interviews with Cook, police wrote she had told them she put her child down for a nap on March 12 and came back to find him unresponsive. She also told police that since she had started dating Tackett, who is not the boy’s father, she had noticed numerous bruises and injuries on the boy almost daily. Court documents go on to detail a story Tackett told Cook, that a few weeks ago he passed out and fell on the floor on top of the boy. In court documents, police said that Cook’s story has now changed multiple times. It also lays out several instances of her discovering injuries on her child, but not seeking medical care for him.

Cassandra said Junior was a joy to be around at family gatherings.

“He would bounce around and screech and laugh,” she said. “He had the most beautiful contagious bright smile, sometimes it’d be a little crooked. I used to like seeing that.”

Photos of Rudy Jr., brought to court by his family.
Photos of Rudy Jr., brought to court by his family.(KOLN)

Cassandra said Junior loved to play a special spoon game with his dad, had a tight bond with his 8-year-old sister and has many, many loved ones who will miss him. She said he was deaf and described how she communicated to make sure he knew she loved him.

“I wanted him to be able to feel my voice or hear me,” Cassandra said. “And so I would take his hand and I would put it on my throat or put it up my lips. And I would talk to him. Sometimes I’d reach my finger out and he’d grab it.”

Cassandra said Junior would have turned two on April 19. The family is still planning his birthday party.

Both Cook and Tackett will appear in court again April 20. Cook has been ordered not to have contact with any children under 18-years-old. Her other children have been taken into state custody.