School workers were worried about whether the tiny 6-year-old boy was getting enough food.
His parents allegedly restricted his diet, possibly for religious reasons, and teachers noticed his lunch usually was something small — such as a rice cake and applesauce.
Then a kindergarten teacher saw bruises.
That led Pierce County prosecutors to charge the boy's 27-year-old father with second-degree child abuse. He pleaded not guilty at arraignment Thursday, and Court Commissioner Meagan Foley set his bail at $75,000.
Charging papers give this account of the alleged abuse:
School officials called the Sheriff's Department on April 19 after the teacher saw the bruising and noticed the boy was having trouble sitting.
A sheriff's deputy spoke with the 6-year-old, who said his father hit him with a belt 10 times for stealing a waffle at school.
The deputy talked to the child about going to a hospital, and the boy said that was against his religion.
He was still taken to one, where he told a nurse the bruising came from a "whooping from dad for stealing food".
Asked about a scar on his hip, he said: "Same thing."
The boy had many deep bruises across his body, and some injuries looked like defensive wounds, according to medical records.
At some point while he was with authorities, he said: "I'm starving."
He didn't have enough food at home, he said, because his family couldn't afford it.
An emergency room doctor wasn't sure if that were the case, or if food was being withheld on purpose. Medical records showed the boy was allowed to eat only things that grow from the ground, and some seafood without scales.
The father reportedly also followed the restricted diet, based on religious beliefs.
During one interview, the boy described a time his father beat him "for stealing a sandwich, a goldfish he shouldn't eat, and a teddy bear," deputy prosecutor Erica Eggertsen wrote in the declaration for determination of probable cause.
The child said he had to take his clothes off and do exercises, such as push-ups, before the beating.
And he said his dad had hit him with a belt, a paddle and punched him in the stomach.
Child Protective Services put the boy in protective custody.
He told an investigator he felt safe at his foster home, where he was allowed to eat two breakfasts.