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Norton Shores mom accused of torturing, killing son faced 'similar allegations' in custody case

Shanda Vander Ark, then Shanda Ferguson, voluntarily surrendered custody in 2012, court documents show.
Credit: 60th District Court

NORTON SHORES, Mich. — Days after her arrest for open murder and child abuse, we're learning more about the woman accused of repeatedly torturing her 15-year-old son.

Shanda Vander Ark appeared in Muskegon District Court Friday following her arrest at the family's home in Norton Shores.

Speaking out Monday, the Muskegon County prosecutor said the case numbered among the most disturbing he’d handled in his more than 20-year career.

Data obtained by 13 ON YOUR SIDE showed Shanda Vander Ark, also known as Shanda Ferguson, had 18 different addresses between Oklahoma and Virginia before settling into this quiet stretch of Norton Shores.

It’s where 15-year-old Timothy Ferguson, the alleged victim, came to live with his mother beginning in 2021.  

“It just pains me as a parent, knowing that in this particular situation, this young man went through, who knows how many days of just absolutely feeling like he was being tortured,” Muskegon County Prosecutor DJ Hilson remarked.

Near the family’s home on Matthews, neighbors told 13 ON YOUR SIDE Vander Ark seemed something of a recluse – that they had seen the family only rarely since they moved in.

Those most familiar with Vander Ark and her children believed the teen had special needs and couldn’t have imagined what investigators said transpired behind the home’s unremarkable gray façade.  

“I've been doing this for a long time,” Hilson said. “Something like this comes across your desk, and it’s recognized that there are other things that are a bit more evil than what you're used to seeing.”

Timothy’s body showed signs of malnutrition and hypothermia, according to information revealed in court, alleged by investigators to have been caused by ice baths and deprivation of food.

On the rare occasion Hilson said the victim had been given food, investigators revealed it was a diet that consisted mostly of bread or bread soaked in hot sauce.

It’s also possible, investigators said, the circumstances which led to the teen’s death may have been documented years earlier.

“There was some CPS involvement in the State of Oklahoma that involves similar allegations to what we’re facing here in Michigan,” Hilson said. “Ultimately, as opposed to a court actually terminating her parental rights, my understanding is she voluntarily left the home.”

Years prior to Vander Ark’s appearance in Muskegon County’s 60th District Court for last week’s arraignment, records showed she was embroiled in a divorce and custody battle with the father of four of Vander Ark’s children in Oklahoma.

A January 2012 exit order from Oklahoma juvenile court signed by then-Shanda Ferguson and Eric Ferguson reveals she waived custody rights voluntarily prior to a formal decision to have them terminated.

A checklist showed the court allowed Vander Ark only supervised visitation, while an attachment below limited that period to three hours per month.

The couple’s children were also named in the order by age, including the victim, then five-year-old Timothy Ferguson.

Credit: District Court of Oklahoma County

“Now, what happens between the time when that happens, and ultimately, how she and the children get here to Michigan is something that investigators are still kind of looking into,” Hilson related.

Hilson went on to explain investigators had initially interviewed the teen’s biological father, Eric, but that they were working to coordinate a formal interview as the process continued.

He said two other children were living with Vander Ark at the time of the alleged abuse, including a seven-year-old.

Vander Ark is next due in court July 21 for a probable cause hearing.

Her request for bond was denied.


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