In Harm’s Way – Part 2 Of 2

.jpg photo of two Law Enforcement Officers that covered the child abuse death of Tramelle Sturgis
Former Metro Homicide Assistant Commander Dave Wells, and South Bend Police Detective Jim Taylor.

What’s changed since Tramelle Sturgis’s
Child Abuse death?

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, IN (WNDU)  –  After the 2011 child abuse death of Tramelle Sturgis, so many people in our community were committed to figuring out what could have been done differently.  What, if anything, has changed since then?

Indiana’s child welfare system is under the microscope.  Leadership changes, funding cuts and staggering abuse rates have made troubling headlines.

The last director resigned last December in a scathing letter to Governor Eric Holcomb.  Mary Beth Bonaventura blasted the Holcomb administration for cuts and management changes that she said would “…all but ensure children will die.”

In February of this year, federal figures showed a spike in child abuse deaths in the Hoosier state.

Around here, the 2011 death of Tramelle Sturgis still haunts our community.

Warnings were there.  Tips were received.  But still a child died.  Has anything changed?

Tricia Sloma learned what happened after the boy’s death in part two of her series “In Harm’s Way.

Tramelle’s art teacher Sandy Voreis says his artwork stood out.  As she admired his self-portrait, she pointed out some special features.

“He even has a sun out, if you notice, for sunshine,” said Voreis.  “The colors are not dark.  They’re bright, vivid colors.”

Tramelle’s choice of color and content never led on to what was happening at home.

“There is no sadness in that picture,” said Voreis.  “I didn’t catch on what was going on by the picture.”

When the young artist was murdered by his father, Terry Sturgis, the difficult news was shared the next morning at school.

“It was such a shock.  He didn’t let on,” said Voreis, shaking her head.

Tramelle may have never let on to her, but other teachers say they knew.  A teacher and other school staff testified at the murder trial saying they had reported suspected abuse only to be threatened by the angry father.

“It was rough,” Voreis said as she broke down in tears.

While Tramelle’s pictures never revealed his pain, other pictures tell a much different story.

“That’s the image that sticks with me,” said former Metro Homicide Assistant Commander Dave Wells as he thumbed through evidence photos from the murder scene of a 10-year-old boy.

“(The photos) documenting fresh injuries, old injuries, lots of scarring.  Just head-to-toe trauma,” observed Wells, who is now the commander of the St. Joseph County Drug Investigations Unit with the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office.

He joined South Bend Police Detective Jim Taylor for an interview about the Sturgis case.  Taylor used to work for Metro Homicide and investigated Tramelle’s death.  He’s now with the Violent Crimes Division of the South Bend Police Department.

Tramelle’s death remains one of the worst child abuse fatality cases police have ever seen.

Wells and Taylor weren’t surprised that Tramelle and the other children hid their pain so well.  It was part of the killer’s control and a grandmother’s neglect of care.

“(Terry Sturgis) knew those kids were going to school, so he dressed them appropriately so nothing would come back on him,” said Wells.

“And explained to those kids, ‘You better not say a thing to anybody or it’s going to be worse when you get home,’” added Taylor.

“The problem grandma (Dellia Castile) has is that she knew exactly what was going on in that house,” said Wells.  “And it’s her responsibility, it’s all our responsibility to report any kind of abuse like that to children.”

But in the Sturgis case, people did report the abuse.

The Department of Child Services and police were called to the home, but in every instance, officials didn’t find a problem.

Wells says police had very little information to go on from a 911 call placed months before the murder.

“This is what the officers see when they investigate an anonymous tip,” said Wells, as he held up a picture of the Sturgis home from inside the front door. “That’s a pretty clean, nice looking house.  And then there are four or five kids standing here and there are allegations of child abuse, and they’re looking at the kids going…(shrugs) I’m not seeing anything here.”

“You’re limited by how far you can go,” explained Wells.  “Without good probable cause or a search warrant, you’re not going to get into that house any farther than the front doors.”

Remember, in Tramelle’s home, the torture happened in the basement, a sad discovery made only after Tramelle died.

“You walk in and you almost want to go, ‘Are you in the right house?’  And then you hit that basement,” said Taylor.  “And it’s just like, wow!”

“There were certainly signs that were probably missed by all of us,” said Wells.

But most notably DCS.  At one time, all 92 Indiana counties had their own child abuse hotline staffed by local people.  To save money, the state moved to a centralized hotline in Indianapolis in 2010, the year before Tramelle died.

Former South Bend Tribune reporter Virginia Black discovered a call placed to the DCS hotline six months before the murder, with the anonymous caller begging officials to “….go there right now….”  Instead, the Tribune reported, DCS responded the next day and didn’t make contact with the family for three more days.  By then, all seemed fine.

So what’s changed?

“Well, we certainly made great progress on the hotline, and that is due to Tramelle,” said St. Joseph County Circuit Court Judge John Broden.  Broden was a state senator at the time.  He said the discovery of that call woke up the Indiana Legislature.

“There had been isolated concerns over parts of the state that calls were being dropped.  Complaints weren’t getting through.  It wasn’t until Tramelle’s death and the incident surrounding Tramelle’s death,” explained Broden.  “That instantly brought it to the forefront.”

Today, there’s still one child abuse hotline number, but now calls are answered in five locations: Vanderburgh, Lawrence, Marion, Blackford and St. Joseph counties.  It’s staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

“It was no longer just a South Bend, St. Joseph County issue.  It was a statewide issue,” said Broden.  “And Tramelle’s death did cause significant changes and improvements to the child welfare system.”

But there’s still a lot of work to be done at the state level.

While shrinking funds and leadership changes are debated downstate, officials on the front lines back home are working closer together to make sure another child like Tramelle doesn’t get missed.

Sloma asked St. Joseph County Prosecutor Ken Cotter if our area children are better off than they were seven years ago.

“Locally?  Yes,” said Cotter.  “I think we have a much better relationship with DCS now than before this occurred.”

Cotter noted the biggest change with local DCS officials.

“I think the biggest change is in communication between the information that they are gathering and passing it along to law enforcement so that we can act as well.”

But the most important partnership is the community, and everyone plays a role.

“When you think a child is being abused, gosh darn it, contact someone so we can find out so that we can do the best investigation that we can,” urged Cotter.

“I think a lot of people have learned from this as a community,” said Taylor. “Enough’s enough.”

Our community is forever changed by one little boy.

“It’s something we will never forget,” said Voreis.  “What scares me is other children that are going through this, and not speaking up and not saying anything.  We don’t want something like this to happen again.”

Governor Eric Holcomb ordered a full review of the Department of Child Services after the DCS director’s resignation.  That report is expected in June.

The new DCS Director, Terry Stigdon, released this statement to WNDU on Friday afternoon:

“The children DCS serves aren’t just names in a system—each and every one of them has a story, and we find those stories are filled with pain.  In my short time as director, I’ve been meeting with passionate DCS employees across the state who show up to work every day trying to make a difference in a child’s life.  My job is to remove obstacles that are in the way of that child having a safe and stable home.  I look forward to the results of the CWG assessment because the recommendations will act as a guide for how we can improve and identify our needs – which fulfills the ultimate goal of keeping our children safe.”

Remember, if you suspect child abuse, please report it.

In Indiana, the child abuse and neglect hotline is 1-800-800-5556.

In Michigan, the number is 1-855-444-3911.

We have incredible community resources for families who are broken by abuse:

YWCA
ywcancin.org/site/pp.aspx?c=6oJKL0PuF8JSG&b=7960705
1-866-YES-YWCA

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)
sjccasa.org
574-233-CASA

Casie Center
casiecenter.org
574-282-1414

Youth Services Bureau
ysbsjc.org

St. Joseph County Family Justice Center
fjcsjc.wordpress.com
574-234-6900

Oaklawn
oaklawn.org
574-533-1234

Family & Children’s Center, Healthy Families
fccin.org/healthy-families.html

Child and Parent Services CAPS, Elkhart County
capselkhart.org

Indiana 2-1-1
For helpful information, just dial 2-1-1

Prevent Child Abuse St. Joseph County
pcasjc.org

Healthy Families in St. Joseph County
fccin.org/healthy-families.html
574-968-9660
Voluntary home visiting program providing new parents with support, parenting skills, information on child development and community resources.

KidsPeace
kidspeace.org

NYAP – National Youth Advocate Program
nyap.org

The Villages in Elkhart
villages.org/venue/elkhart-the-villages-office
Information about becoming a foster parent

White’s Residential & Family Services
whiteskids.org
Information about becoming a foster parent

In Harm’s Way – Part 1 Of 2

.jpg photo of two cousins that was abused with all children in the family
Jon’Nae Copprue, 18, was just 12 when cousin Tramelle Sturgis, 10, lost his life.

South Bend Child Abuse survivor remembers cousin’s death

** WARNING: Graphic MaterialTrigger Warning

SOUTH BEND, IN (WNDU)  –  Child abuse is a dark secret that seems to only come to light when a child is badly hurt, or worse, dies.

Federal figures showed a sharp rise in child abuse fatalities in the US with most of the increase happening in two states: Indiana and Texas.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, from 2015 to 2016, Indiana’s child abuse death toll more than doubled from 34 to 70.

There’s a lot of blame to go around, from the state’s opioid crisis to an overwhelmed child welfare system.

But ultimately, it’s what’s going on behind closed doors, the abuse and neglect that put children in harm’s way.

Around here, there’s one case that shook our community to its core: the death of 10-year-old Tramelle Sturgis.  It’s been nearly 7 years since his murder in a South Bend home.

“At least once a day I drive by this house, but I never stop,” said Detective Jim Taylor.  “This is the first time.”

Taylor may be a 20-year veteran officer with the South Bend Police Department, but what happened inside a house on West Washington still gets to him.

“It’s probably, if not the, worst case we’ve ever worked,” said Taylor.  “Just to stand in front of this house brings back so much horrific terror.”

Ten-year-old Tramelle Sturgis lost his life during a night of torture in the basement.

Tramelle and his older brother suffered countless blows and burns from their father, Terry Sturgis.

Their grandmother, Dellia Castile, was upstairs, and while she knew about the ongoing abuse, she didn’t stop it.

Both are in prison.

“He fought for so long.  Not just him, but his brothers and sisters.  The rest of those kids in that house,” said Taylor.

Eight other kids lived in that house.  They were siblings and cousins who faced a much different sentence as survivors of child abuse.

“Nobody knew what happened.  People might say they did, but nobody knew what happened but the ones that lived in the home,” said Jon’Nae Copprue.

Jon’Nae is one of the children who lived in the home.

“I felt like one of us was going to die.  I felt it and I always said it,” said Jon’Nae.

She was just 12 years old.

“I always felt like something was going to happen.  Somebody was going to get hit too hard and go to the hospital or one of us was going to end up dead.  I always felt like it was going to happen,” she said.

It did happen, to Tramelle.

“I’m not happy about him being dead, but I’m also like maybe this was our way of getting out.”

Jon’Nae is 18 now and lives in a foster home outside of the Michiana area. She’s pregnant with her third child and finishing up her GED.

“I’m slowly still trying to deal with it.  I can say I’m dealing with it better than I used to, because I got kids and they are amazing,” Jon’Nae said.

Jon’Nae and her siblings were being raised by their grandmother when the abuse took place.  Jon’Nae spoke exclusively with WNDU’s Tricia Sloma about what it was like to live in that home.

Jon’Nae says she was abused by her mother, her older sister and her cousin’s killer, her Uncle Terry.  He was the person she feared the most.

“He was always upset, he was always angry,” remembered Jon’Nae.  “Always ready to release his anger on somebody.”

“The way that the power of his arm when he was swinging, then whoopin’ us with poles and sticks and anything he could get his hands on.  You bound to break a bone or anything,” said Jon’Nae.

“(They) hit us with crowbars, extension cords, anything they could pretty much get their hands on,” explained Jon’Nae.

Terry made sure their injuries weren’t visible.

“We really didn’t wear dresses, shorts or anything like that because we had bruises,” said Jon’Nae.  “We would wear long thermals to cover scars up.”

Jon’Nae says she’s never had a best friend, and kids at school were mean.

“I would not want to be around other kids because I feel they would hate on me, see my scars, they would pick on me.  So I would be just like, alone,” said Jon’Nae.  “I felt like I was the only one, other than my brothers and my sisters.  I just felt like nobody, nobody cared.”

Months before Tramelle’s death, the Department of Child Services (DCS) was called to the home.  There was another time that police showed up.  But in every instance, authorities found nothing wrong.  The kids were instructed to lie.

“So it was like nobody cares.  After a while I think we just stopped caring.  It was just a normal thing to us.  It was just life,” said Jon’Nae.  “It was going to happen forever.  Probably until we moved out of the house.”

Or until, in Tramelle’s case, someone died.

“November 4, 2011.  The worst day of my life.  The day my cousin died.”

Jon’Nae was upstairs with her grandma that night.  She heard and witnessed things that will never leave her.

“You can still hear the screams.  I went downstairs and I seen a couple of things myself.  My cousins being tied up to poles, naked.  Just being tied up to poles, mouth was taped.   They was getting hit in the head.  Punched in the chest.  It was something I’d never seen before.  Worse than he ever did anything,” recounted Jon’Nae.  “That night?  I don’t think anybody could forget it.  And after that it just went downhill from there.”

After Tramelle’s murder, Jon’Nae and her siblings were separated from her cousins and put into foster care.  She admits to acting out and acting up.

“I can say for a while I was really aggressive.  My head was messed up.  After that I was really angry.  I just wanted to fight everybody.  Smoke.  Drink.  Do anything to hold the hurt in,” said Jon’Nae.  “I didn’t care about what anybody said.  I just wanted everything to end.”

Jon’Nae estimates she’s been in nine or ten foster homes, juvenile detention and residential care.

“Me and the foster parents got into it because we didn’t know each other.  It’s kind of scary going into different homes and different families because you don’t know anything about them, they don’t know anything about you they don’t know about your emotions.  They don’t know about your past,” explained Jon’Nae.

“I’ve been in so many schools.  I’ve never stayed in a school since I’ve been in the system.  Since I’ve been in foster care,  I’ve never stayed in a school more than six months,” said Jon’Nae.

Jon’Nae wishes her grandma never went to prison.

“My grandma, she never whooped us,” defended Jon’Nae.  “For people that think she’s more responsible.  She’s responsible in a way, but everything is not up to her.”

When Sloma pointed out that Castile was the only adult living in the home that could’ve stopped it, she replied,  “Yeah, but imagine you having fear. Imagine you having a lot of fear.  You don’t know what’s going to happen.  You have fear of him and you also have fear of losing your family.”

“If it was all up to her, it was all up to us too.  Because we stayed there.  We got mouths, we could’ve said something.  We was old enough to say something, but it’s the fear that got to us.”

It was the fear and trauma that fractured a family.

“I miss him every day,” said Jon’Nae.  “That’s one of my biggest scars, and the other scar is not having that family.”

Jon’Nae says she’ll never forget Tramelle and doesn’t want you to forget him either.  She would like to continue her education and someday work in the legal profession helping victims of child abuse.

If you would like to report child abuse, please contact authorities at the following numbers.

In Indiana, the child abuse and neglect hotline is 1-800-800-5556.

In Michigan, the number is 1-855-444-3911.

Rhode Island Has AntiChild Agenda

Bulls Are Born and Clothes Do NOT Make
A Woman

Editorial by Robert StrongBow

PROVIDENCE, RI  –  Rhode Island enacted a law which prohibits parents from seeking psychological help for their gender dysphoric children.

Last year, the State of Rhode Island made it illegal for a licensed medical professional to counsel a child away from the desire to change his/her gender identity, yet it remains legal to inject that same child with hormone blockers and cross-sex hormones.

College of Pediatricians Calls Transgender Ideology ‘Child Abuse’

March 2016
The American College of Pediatricians warns educators and legislators that “a life of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex” is dangerous for children.

In a strongly worded statement issued today, the professional association of pediatricians says “a person’s belief that he or she is something they are not is, at best, a sign of confused thinking.”  It describes such thinking as problem that exists in the mind and not the body and “it should be treated as such.”

PULLING NO PUNCHES

NOW, you tell me how a “Prepubescent Child” is going to KNOW, much less ASK, FOR or ABOUT puberty blockers.

WE THE PEOPLE have allowed PEDOPHILES to not only enact laws that make it impossible to raise Children as was intended, but also to Parent Children and pass along their AntiChild, homosexual agenda.  Both of these are no less than FELONY CHILD ABUSE.

“Pediatrician: ‘Transgender’ ideology has created widespread Child Abuse.”

“Transgender ideology is not just infecting our laws. It is intruding into the lives of the most innocent among us — CHILDREN!”

“The fact that in normal life and in psychiatry, anyone who “consistently and persistently insists” on anything else contrary to physical reality is considered either confused or delusional.”

Gender Ideology Harms Children

September 2017
Dr. Michelle Cretella, MD, FCP, president of the American College of Pediatricians, is a prominent expert in children’s health who has battled against the relentless promotion of transgender ideology as it impacts kids.

“The active promotion of transgenderism has resulted in massive uncontrolled and unconsented experimentation upon children and adolescents,” Cretella warned.  “This is child abuse.”

More Backpage Indictments Filtered Found On Research

.jpg photo of Backpage website Co-Founder
Jim Larkin, Backpage Website Co-Founder.

Three North Texans charged in Backpage
indictment

“I do not appreciate the media filtering my search engine results, most particularly when it involves Children being Abused or Trafficked, so here are the names of the 7 defendants charged:”

“The seven defendants charged in the indictment are Michael Lacey, 69, of Paradise Valley, Arizona; James Larkin, 68, of Paradise Valley, Arizona; Scott Spear, 67, of Scottsdale, Arizona; John E. “Jed” Brunst, 66, of Phoenix, Arizona; Daniel Hyer, 49, of Dallas, Texas; Andrew Padilla, 45, of Plano, Texas and Jaala Joye Vaught, 37, of Addison, Texas.”
~ Robert StrongBow ~

.jpg photo of Backpage website Co-Founder.
Michael Lacey, Backpage Co-Founder

“Website founders Michael Lacey and James Larkin are charged with facilitating prostitution and money laundering.”

April 9, 2018

PHOENIX, AZ  –  The founders of Backpage.com and five others at the classified site have been indicted on federal charges in what authorities say was a scheme to facilitate prostitution by running ads for sexual services and hiding their revenues.

An indictment unsealed Monday alleges that Backpage.com on some occasions had helped customers edit their ads so they would stay within legal limits while still encouraging commercial sex.

In one area, the indictment reads, “for several years, Backpage’s official policy, when presented with an ad featuring child prostitution, was to delete the particular words in the ad denoting the child’s age and then publish a revised version of the ad.”

It also says that Backpage claimed it does everything in its power to alert the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children whenever it becomes aware that a child is being advertised on the website.

But the indictment alleges that Backpage implemented policies to limit referrals to NCMEC.

The indictment says a top official emailed another saying, “If we don’t want to blow past 500 (referrals to NCMEC) this month, we shouldn’t be doing more than 16 a day.”

Other documents are referred to in the indictment saying a training document instructed website moderators not to send emergency alerts to NCMEC in response to complaints filed by the grandparents or other extended family being advertised on the website.

Website founders Michael Lacey and James Larkin are charged with facilitating prostitution and money laundering.

They are already facing state money laundering charges in California.

Larry Kazan, who represents Lacey, didn’t return a call seeking comment. There is no listing for Larkin’s attorney.

Seven defendants charged in the indictment include three people from North Texas, 49-year-old Daniel Hyer, of Dallas, 45-year-old Andrew Padilla, of Plano, and 37-year-old Jaala Joye Vaught, of Addison.

Authorities also have seized Backpage.com and its affiliated websites.

Julia Walsh, a sex trafficking survivor from the DFW area, says that she was sold for sex on Backpage for almost 3 years.

By age 19, she says men were paying as little as $40 for sexual encounters.
Walsh says she was trafficked from 2010 to 2014, and that her first trafficker was her boyfriend.

“They would post an ad about me, and we’d get over like 50 calls within an hour that’s just how many people are visiting the website,” Walsh said.

Walsh says she would have at least 200 sexual encounters with customers weekly.

“Probably about 210. Sometimes more and sometimes less. It depends what city we were in and what time of day it was,” Walsh said.

Now 26, Walsh says she was rescued during a police sting in 2014.

That was just two years before agents raided Backpage’s Dallas headquarters. On Monday, Attorney General Ken Paxton said that evidence was taken during the raid that was crucial to crafting the 93-count indictment.

At the time, CEO Carl Ferrer was arrested on pimping charges.  He isn’t charged in the indictment, but throughout the documents, a person with knowledge about the company is constantly referenced and is only identified with the initials “C.F.”

Tonya Stafford, a sex trafficking survivor who helps rescue women and children sold for sex online, applauded the website’s demise.

Stafford was sold for drugs when she was 13. From 1988 to 1997 she was held against her will.

Through her program “It’s Going to Be Ok, Inc.” she helps find new homes for sex trafficking victims.

She said she often visited Backpage for rescues.

“If a parent calls me or messages me saying their child is missing…I have to go through page after page,” Stafford said.  “That’s the hardest part.”

On June 23rd, Stafford will be hosting the 2nd Annual Stop The Traffick Walk near Bachman Lake.

CA Woman Kidnapped, Trafficked With Child In TX

.jpg photo of man arrested for alleged human trafficking
Devanshu Gupta, 26

Irving Police Arrest Pair For Alleged
Human Trafficking

IRVING, TX  –  The Irving Police Department is investigating a case of human trafficking that happened during the past few months.  On Sunday, April 15, 2018, officers responded to a call where a victim reported escaping from a prostitution enterprise.

.jpg photo of woman arrested for alleged human trafficking
America Anderson, 20

The victim, a young adult female, was kidnapped from California and brought to a home in the 200 block of Rolston Road against her will.  While there, she was forced into prostitution by two suspects, America Anderson, 20, and Devanshu Gupta, 26.

They would advertise the services on a variety of websites, then take the victim to various local motels to meet with customers.  Also at the home was a second victim, a juvenile female, who was also being held against her will and forced to participate in prostitution.

The responding officers and detectives quickly identified the suspects and took them into custody after seeing them leave the home with the juvenile victim.  Both are currently being held in the Irving City Jail on charges of Trafficking of Persons, Trafficking of Child, Compelling Prostitution ($100,000 bond each charge) and Aggravated Promotion of Prostitution ($50,000 bond).