HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - By all accounts Ernie Bahm was a healthy, happy boy -- active and radiant.
"His smile can make anybody's day," his mother said.
Jerlee Bahm's memories of her son bring joy and tears. He died May 20. Jerlee and Christopher Bahm were separated. Ernie was in his care when he called.
"He told me that Ernie had passed away," she said. "He found him unresponsive. His nose and mouth was bleeding."
The autopsy said Ernie had an upper respiratory tract infection but no evidence of significant trauma. The cause of death is undetermined. But Jerlee suspects more.
Christopher was a corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps. She said he came home from a deployment to Afghanistan a different man. He was abusive at times.
"He was diagnosed with PTSD and traumatic brain injury," Jerlee said.
She asked the Marine Corps to examine Ernie's death and to justify why Christopher was given custody. But to no avail.
"I'm just left with so many questions," she said. "How did the Marine Corps let a marine with brain damage take care of a child alone?"
State Rep. John Mizuno has written letters on Jerlee's behalf to her husband's commanding officer and to the U.S. departments of justice and defense.
"I'm hopeful that coming from another governmental agency will open a door. Perhaps they will follow up with a formal investigation," he said.
After Ernie's death Christopher Bahm went AWOL, was discharged, and has had limited contact with his wife. She believes he's homeless.
"He told me that he is living outside of Wal-Mart somewhere in North Dakota," she said.
Jerlee said when she asks him about Ernie, Christopher insists he doesn't know what happened. Ernie's older brother, Ethan, wonders why his baby brother is gone.
"I can't even explain to him how he died," Jerlee said. "No mother should ever have to go through that."
Ernie Bahm was sixteen months old when he died. He could only speak a few words. His mother is convinced there's more to know about what silenced him.