🔴 Matthew Whitehead was found strangled to death in his Horsham, PA home

🔴 His mother drove to Cape May and left car in the ocean

🔴 A man's belt was found in the SUV

The mother of a boy found strangled to death in his Pennsylvania home Tuesday morning has been charged with first-degree murder.

The dead body of 11-year-old Matthew Whitehead was found by his father Tuesday morning in the master bedroom after his mother had left the house with her vehicle, officials said.

Matthew had been strangled by his mother, Ruth DiRienzo-Whitehead, as he slept around 9:30 p.m. Monday, Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele said. According to the criminal complaint in the case DiRienzo-Whitehead used her husband's belt.

DiRienzo-Whitehead then drove the Highlander to Cape May, where she drove the car into the ocean off Beach Avenue at Cove Beach. When she could no longer drive the SUV, she got out and walked to Wildwood Crest where police took her into custody.

Steele said a man's dress belt was found on the floor of the driver's side.

Map showing Horsham, PA and Cape May, NJ
Map showing Horsham, PA and Cape May, NJ (Canva)

Mom's motivation for murder, officials say

According to the criminal complaint DiRienzo-Whitehead told police on Seaview Avenue that she knew what she had done. DiRienzo-Whitehead told investigators her son was crying off-and-on all day about the family's financial struggles and she did not want him to grow up with them.

Matthew Whitehead attended Germantown Academy in Fort Washington. The school in a statement obtained by 6 ABC Action News said he was "an extraordinary child with a smile as bright as the sun" and called his death a "devastating tragedy."

DiRienzo-Whitehead is being held in Cape May awaiting extradition to Pennsylvania on first-degree murder, third-degree murder and possessing an instrument of crime charges.

Dan Alexander is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dan.alexander@townsquaremedia.com

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