Category Archives: Family Secrets

The Last Days Of A 5-Year-Old

.jpg photo of 5-year-old Boy, who had skin breakdown or bedsores, and was tied down, or was so weak or malnourished that he was unable to move at the end of his life.
5-year-old Elijah Lewis suffered a level of abuse that went far beyond what they typically see, “It would fall into the category of torture, really.”

Medical experts say Elijah Lewis appears to have been ‘tortured’

Autopsy raises new questions about texts sent by New Hampshire child’s mother

The sores were something you’d see on someone living in a derelict nursing home — or someone held in restraints.  The malnourishment hinted at weeks, if not months, without adequate food.  And then there was the trauma to the head.

The final days of 5-year-old Elijah Lewis’s short life remain shrouded in mystery, but medical experts say the recent autopsy findings alone suggest the shaggy-haired little boy from Merrimack, N.H., suffered a level of abuse that went far beyond what they typically see.

“It’s more than just . . .  minor medical neglect,” said Alice W. Newton, medical director of the Child Protection Program at Massachusetts General Hospital.  “It would fall into the category of torture, really.”

The autopsy results also raise new questions about text messages sent by the boy’s mother, Danielle Dauphinais, 35, who is being held without bail in New Hampshire along with her boyfriend, Joseph Stapf, 30.  In the January texts sent to a friend and obtained by the Globe, Dauphinais said she argued with Stapf’s mother for giving Elijah too much food, saying “this child will eat till he pukes.”   Stapf’s mother, according to Dauphinais’s text, said it was “child abuse” to withhold food from a child.

Five-year-old Elijah Lewis had fentanyl in his system and died from violence and neglect, autopsy finds

Reached Monday, Dauphinais’s attorney, Jaye Rancourt, declined to comment on the messages, saying that “without verification that this is actually a text message from my client,  I can’t really respond.  This could be a complete fabrication.”

The texts match a detailed description of the messages given by the person who originally received them.

Questions about the circumstances of Elijah’s death have only grown since his body was discovered in the woods of Abington, Mass., on Oct. 23, following a 10-day search that included law enforcement agencies from at least five states.  Since then, authorities have released little in the way of details as they continue to investigate.  Meanwhile, relatives and people who lived near the child’s home in Merrimack say they seldom saw the boy in the months leading up to his disappearance.

The Massachusetts medical examiner’s office last month ruled the boy’s death a homicide, determining the cause to be “violence and neglect, including facial and scalp injuries, acute fentanyl intoxication, malnourishment and pressure ulcers.”  Pressure ulcers, more commonly referred to as bedsores, are typically found in bedridden people unable to change position.

But neither Dauphinais nor Stapf has been charged with murder. Instead, they are being held on charges of child endangerment and witness tampering related to their alleged attempts to mislead investigators trying to determine the boy’s whereabouts in October. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Mom accused of encouraging people to lie about whereabouts of missing 5-year-old N.H. boy, prosecutors say

It remains unclear how involved New Hampshire’s Division for Children, Youth and Families was with the boy prior to his disappearance.  The agency has declined to comment on the case, though authorities have said that DCYF initially reported the boy missing to law enforcement on Oct. 14, and Dauphinais told a friend last June that she’d been in contact with the agency.

Texts sent by Dauphinais to another friend and obtained by the Globe make it clear that she had serious concerns about her son, including the amount he ate, at least nine months before the boy was discovered missing.

In a text to a friend on Jan. 7, Dauphinais complained that Stapf’s mother, Joanne — with whom the couple shared a home — was feeding the boy against her wishes.  Dauphinais said Joanne Stapf would also “baby him and love on him” even when Elijah acted up.
“I made Elijah a decent plate of food and she insisted on giving him seconds,” Dauphinais wrote in a January text.  “I told her no because this child will eat till he pukes and then eat some more. I also told her that he’s having cake after so there is no need for seconds.”
“She said I was wrong and that was child abuse,”  Dauphinais continued.  “She said that she’s an Italian grandma and that she considers this child abuse in her family. Like wtf!”

The 5-year-old boy was found dead and his mother jailed. ‘What the hell was happening in that home?’

According to two physicians who spoke with the Globe, both of whom specialize in cases of child abuse or neglect, the details outlined in the autopsy report paint a particularly grim picture.  Though neither is involved with the case or privy to case files, both described the autopsy findings to be extreme, even within the realm of neglect cases.

“This is not like an everyday thing,” said Dr. Suzanne Haney, a Nebraska-based child abuse pediatrician who serves as the chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Child Abuse and Neglect. “This extreme of a case, fortunately, is very rare.”

Both doctors described the bedsores, in particular, as highly irregular in a developmentally normal child.  The painful, circular lesions are almost never seen in young, physically mobile patients, leading them to believe that Elijah could have been restrained in some way prior to his death.

“Skin breakdown or bedsores is not something you’d ever see in a healthy 5-year-old,” said Newton.  “That, to me, speaks to being tied down . . . or [being] so weak or malnourished that he was unable to move at the end of his life.”

Added Haney, “If you combine malnourishment and pressure ulcers, I’m thinking he was either restrained or his malnourishment was to the point where . . . he was unconscious or semiconscious for a period of time.”

Either condition would’ve been a red flag to doctors, said Newton — but it’s unclear whether Dauphinais ever took Elijah to see a physician in New Hampshire.

Born in Arizona in 2016, the boy spent much of his early life in the custody of his father following his parents’ contentious 2017 divorce.  In divorce paperwork, Timothy Lewis accused Dauphinais of being “violent and impulsive” and having a “history of domestic violence and substance abuse.”  A decree approved by the court blocked Dauphinais from spending time with her son.

Last May, however, for unclear reasons, Elijah arrived in New Hampshire to live with Dauphinais and her boyfriend, Stapf.

Though initially excited by her son’s arrival, Dauphinais, two friends said, soon became exasperated by what she described as the boy’s myriad behavioral issues.  In texts to a friend last summer, Dauphinais likened her son to a serial killer, saying she felt no connection to the child and that she wanted him “gone.”

‘I want him gone.’ Elijah Lewis’s mother messaged a friend just months before his mysterious death

One friend, Michelle O’Brien, who has known Dauphinais since both were teenagers, told the Globe she’d provided the name of a pediatrician to Dauphinais, but did not know whether she ever followed up on it.

The office of New Hampshire Attorney General John M. Formella, which is handling the case, has declined to release records of previous police visits to the home that Dauphinais and Stapf shared, though neighbors said police were a common presence at the residence, which backs up to a quiet lake.

New Hampshire Representative Kimberly Rice, who chairs the House committee on children and family law, acknowledged that the state’s child welfare agency has suffered from staffing issues that have left it hamstrung.

“I don’t think they’re doing a bad job at DCYF,” said Rice.  “We have positions that need to be filled that are funded, but the people aren’t there, and if the people aren’t there, I don’t know how you continue to hold an agency accountable when you can’t get the positions filled.”

Investigators pledge to find justice for 5-year-old boy after body found buried in Abington woods

As the criminal case moves forward, meanwhile, Moira O’Neill, director of the New Hampshire Office of the Child Advocate, said her office would be opening an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Elijah’s death.

Appointed by New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu in 2018, O’Neill provides oversight of the state’s child protection services, as well as “holding systems accountable,” according to the state website.

But with a small office currently engaged in other cases, she cautioned that the process could take up to a year to complete.

“If what’s reported in the newspapers is correct,” O’Neill said, “it does sound as though this was a preventable death.”

He Cared So Much For Her That He Threw Her In A Culvert To Rot For 2 Weeks

.jpg photo of man convicted of killing Sherin Mathews
Defendant Wesley Mathews was escorted from the 282nd Judicial District Court on Wednesday after receiving a life sentence for the death of his 3-year-old adopted daughter, Sherin Mathews.

Richardson dad who let 3-year-old Sherin Mathews die ‘over milk’
gets life in prison

DALLAS, TX  –  A Richardson father was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for dumping the body of his adopted 3-year-old daughter in a culvert after he says she choked to death on milk.

“This whole thing was about anger and frustration over milk,” lead prosecutor Jason Fine said, arguing that Wesley Mathews had been force-feeding the girl.

Sherin Mathews’ father deleted internet searches, messages before her body was found, prosecutors say

Jurors spent about three hours deliberating the punishment for Mathews, who this week pleaded guilty to injury to a child in the October 2017 death of Sherin Mathews.

The World Lemmings Love So Much

They were unanimous in their decision, which elicited little reaction from the 39-year-old defendant.  Mathews stared straight ahead as the verdict was read and did not look at jurors.

Mathews Held On Million Dollar Bond

His wife, Sini Mathews, quickly left the courthouse without commenting on the sentence.  Originally charged with child abandonment, the registered nurse had her case dismissed earlier this year by prosecutors who said they couldn’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

Mother Of Sherin Mathews In Same Building As Wesley

Before his capital murder trial was to begin Monday, Mathews pleaded guilty to a lesser charge: injury to a child by omission.  On Wednesday, he said he accepted whatever decision the jury came to for his punishment, even if it were a life sentence.

Head Of TX CPS Vows To Get Better

“I’m more than happy to take it,” he said Wednesday morning.

Life is precisely what prosecutors advocated for in closing arguments.  They argued that Mathews built a public persona of a good father, but ultimately failed to protect Sherin.

Fine accused Mathews of killing the girl and said the father acted out of anger because she wouldn’t finish the milk a doctor had prescribed for her nutrition.  The father wanted to exert power over the girl, Fine said.

“He is a liar,” Fine said.  “He had to be in control.”

Rafael De La Garza, Mathews’ attorney, defended his client against the murder accusation.  He argued prosecutors couldn’t prove Mathews committed murder, otherwise he would have stood trial on that charge.

De La Garza contends that, by pleading guilty, Mathews was accepting responsibility for Sherin’s death, the result of his inaction when the child began to choke.  The attorney fought against the perception that Mathews didn’t care about Sherin, and said his client will live with the consequences of her death for the rest of his life.
“You can see from the videos, you can see from the photos that they loved and adored Sherin,” De La Garza told the jury.

Photos and home videos played for the jury during the trial weren’t enough for Fine, however.  He argued that Mathews showed his true colors with his behavior after Sherin’s death.

“Great guys and great dads, they don’t stick their daughters in trash bags and dump them in sewage drains,” Fine said.

A day before prosecutors and the defense rested their case Wednesday, Mathews took the witness stand Tuesday to describe the night the toddler died.

He told jurors that Sherin choked while drinking milk in the family’s garage but he didn’t call for emergency help or alert his wife — a registered nurse — because he was scared Child Protective Services would get involved.

Crippled by fear, Mathews testified, he put the girl’s body in a culvert, where it was found about two weeks later.

“I could not absorb what had happened.  I could not believe that in a very quick time my child had gone from me,” Mathews said Tuesday.  “I was really, really paralyzed.”

Mathews took the witness stand again Wednesday morning, when Fine grilled him on multiple inconsistencies between the account he told police and his testimony Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Mathews told the jury he brought the girl into the garage to see a new lawnmower to calm her down so she could drink her milk, and that he had played piano to pass the time — two things Fine said he never told police.  Mathews also testified that he gave Sherin CPR, which Fine said also deviated from what he told police.

PROTECT ALL CHILDREN

.jpg photo of Child Abuse Graphic
Be The Difference, Protect ALL Children From Child Predators.

End The Silence: a documentary to shine a light on Child Abuse on the eastern shore

SALISBURY, Md  –  It’s an ugly topic that is swept under the rug far too often, child sex abuse.  It’s a taboo subject both nationally and right here on the eastern shore.

Now a documentary, shot on the eastern shore by Urban Vision Works, is telling the stories of several eastern shore women.  Their tragedies, their hardships, and their triumphs.

End The Silence: a documentary

The statistics are shocking.  According to Victims of Crime, a website with national statistics on child abuse, one-in-five girls, and one-in-twenty boys, are victims of sexual abuse.

“These numbers are incorrect, the actual statistics are:  Child rape occurs every two minutes.  1 in 3 girls will be sexually molested before the age 17, and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually molested before the age 17 (1 in 5 in Canada).
A sex offender will molest an average of 120 victims, most of whom do not report it, and 90% of molesters abuse children they know.”
Robert StrongBow

“What we learned and what I personally learned is once you start talking about it, once you actually get somebody not to be hush-hush and quiet and talk about it then you realize they know somebody who knows somebody,” says Oasis, the executive producer of the documentary.

The idea for the documentary was born from Wanda Martin Palmer, the founder of #ProtectOurGirlsCampaign.

Wanda says she and her daughter were victimized by the same person, prompting her to create the campaign, which she now uses to give resources and information to other victims.

“She’s going to make sure that it goes to the highest level as it can possibly go,” says Javenna Smith Myrieckes, director of the film.

End The Silence, which centers around Palmer, brings out a series of emotions, from anger to sadness.

“A couple of the young ladies have such extreme experiences that what makes it difficult for them to go on is that some of the predators and violators are still in their family structure,” said Javenna.  “And then, I start to find out about their victories and their healing, and I actually start to get a little afraid. Because it’s a subject matter that not everyone wants to avoid and ignore.”

The hope is this film will accomplish its two main goals.  To show victims that there are ways to get the help they need, and to begin the conversation, a conversation long overdue.

“It’s not going to be the perfect discussion, it’s uncomfortable.  But it’s necessary,” said Javenna.

End The Silence will premiere at the Black Diamond Lounge in Fruitland on August 24, and again at the Senator Theater in Baltimore on August 30.

You can find out more information at endthesilencedocumentary.com.

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.