Wanted! Melissa Ringhardt, babysitter responsible for child's death

Melissa Ringhardt (right) and John “Johnny” Allen Read

Law enforcement officers are searching for 19-year-old Melissa Ringhardt of Vidor after she allegedly violated the terms of her probation on charges of Endangering a Child resulting from an October 21, 2013 incident in which five-year-old John "Johnny" Allen Read fatally shot himself while Ringhardt, his babysitter, was asleep on the job, according to Orange County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Clint Hodgkinson.

A news release from OCSO reveals a warrant has been issued for Ringhardt's arrest on a Motion to Revoke Probation (MTRP) for Endangering a Child.

"This is not a new Endangering a Child case," the release reads. "This is a violation of the probation she received from the court for the original offense that occurred on Oct. 21, 2013."

The warrant was issued for her arrest on June 25 when she failed to follow the conditions of her probation, Hodgkinson said.  Ringhardt reached a plea agreement on the case and was sentenced to four years probation by the court. According to Orange County District Attorney John Kimbrough, she now faces six months to 24 months on state jail felony charges if the judge revokes her probation. Kimbrough said the judge would be the one to assess any punishment for Ringhardt's probation violation, which he said stemmed from Ringhardt's failure to report to adult probation and failure to pay various mandatory fees.

"It's really all up to the judge. He may not revoke her," said Kimbrough, who commented that he hopes the judge revokes her probation considering the seriousness of the initial charges. He added that if her probation is revoked, she will likely have to serve her sentence "day for day." He explained that in many cases, convicted criminals receive long sentences but have time shaved off for good behavior or other considerations. However, with state jail felony cases, convicted criminals typically serve every day of their sentences. Rather than being sentenced to ten years and getting out in two, as is common in certain types of cases according to Kimbrough, if revoked and sentenced to state jail time, Ringhardt would serve the entire span of six to 24 months as ordered by the judge.

Johnny Read was reportedly home with Ringhardt, who also lived at the residence on Roberts Street in the Quiet Village neighborhood off Highway 12 in Vidor. Ringhardt had been staying with the Read family: Johnny Read, parents Kayla and Joe Read, an 18-month old toddler and a 6-month old baby, for approximately two months and had been left in charge of Johnny and his six-month old sibling at the time the shooting occurred, deputies reported.

Initially, Ringhardt told investigators that she was in another room of the residence and went to check on the children after hearing a noise. Upon questioning, however, Ringhardt admitted to investigators that she had actually been napping in the bedroom of the house after smoking marijuana and could not find Johnny Read when she awoke. She then reportedly discovered the boy deceased on the floor of the living room with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. She told investigators that she had been carrying the weapon around the house in the waistband of her pants because she was scared to be alone at the residence. The homeowners’ owned the gun and presumably allowed her access to the weapon, which they normally stored in a safe at the home, Hodgkinson said. When she went to the bedroom to sleep, she took the gun from her waistband where she was carrying it and placed it on the coffee table in the living room where the 5-year-old boy had easy access to the loaded weapon, according to OCSO.

After finding the boy injured on the floor of the living room, Ringhardt took Johnny Read and the baby to their grandparents’ house on nearby Scott Road because the residence on Roberts had no telephone. Emergency responders rushed to the scene but were unable to revive the boy, who was pronounced deceased by Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Judge Rodney Price. The child was transported to the Jefferson County Morgue for an autopsy.

“We don’t know all the details,” Hodgkinson said on Oct. 21, 2013, also indicating the investigation was ongoing and charges could follow.

The very next day, OCSO deputies reported they arrested Ringhardt at approximately 3 p.m. at a residence off Willow Bend Drive in Vidor without incident. She was booked into the Orange County Jail for abandoning or endangering a child, a state jail felony. Ringhardt pleaded guilty to the charges in February 2014 and was sentenced to four years probation.

Deputies have been unsuccessful in their attempts to locate Ringhardt in relation to her recent alleged probation violation but believe she could be in the Dallas area, they report. Anyone with information regarding Ringhardt's whereabouts should contact the sheriff's office at (409) 883-2612.

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