Hampton Roads leads region in Child Abuse and Neglect deaths
HAMPTON ROADS, VA – Some of the most vulnerable people in our community are dying at an alarming rate.
Child deaths from abuse and neglect are on the rise, and local groups are working to educate parents and make everyone a partner in prevention.
The Eastern Region Child Fatality Review Team says the rate of kids dying from child abuse and neglect in this area is the second-highest in the state — which is why is they’re working to increase awareness of the issue.
“So many of these deaths are accidental, but some of them are intentional and we have to worry about those, too. Some people just aren’t safe parents, and we need to protect children from those parents as well,” said committee member Betty Wade Coyle.
The committee says 14 children in Hampton Roads died from abuse or neglect last year. Five of those children were infants who never reached their first birthday, and five more victims were 3 years old or younger.
The team reviewed 49 cases of abuse or neglect that were investigated by local agencies last year, including the including the death of 5-year-old Levi Robertson in Isle of Wight.
His mother and her boyfriend were found guilty of manslaughter after the child was found unresponsive in January.
“Our number seems high compared to the rest of the state, but that’s because, in some ways, we feel it’s because we’re counting better than other areas,” explained Coyle.
Coyle says the three factors that contribute to the largest number of cases are substance abuse, mental illness and domestic abuse.
The committee says children are also dying in unsafe sleep environments.
Coyle says the safest way for babies to sleep is “alone, on their back, in a crib.”
Poverty is an underlying issue, but more can be done to help parents, like providing safe housing options and home visiting programs for families who are high-risk.
Aunt of Dallas boy found dead in landfill arrested
DALLAS, TX – The aunt of an 18-month-old Dallas boy whose body was found in a landfill has been charged with child endangerment.
Chrystal Jackson was arrested Thursday morning. Her bond was set at $35,000. Conditions of her release stipulate she is to have no contact with any child. She must also submit to random drug testing, not consume alcohol or possess a deadly weapon.
Chrystal reported her nephew, Cedric “CJ” Jackson, missing on July 10. She told police she put him to bed the night before and said he was gone when she woke up the next morning.
An Amber Alert was issued for Cedric because another child living in the apartment said they saw someone take Cedric in the middle of the night.
Jackson’s boyfriend, who has a lengthy criminal history, later confessed that he had swaddled Cedric in a blanket to “restrict” his movement.
Johnson explained the 18-month-old got up one night and “made a mess” by getting into ketchup packets, so he wrapped him tightly to prevent him from getting up in the night, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.
Johnson said the boy began throwing up and became unresponsive after he unwrapped him. He said he performed CPR on the boy for 30-45 minutes before putting him in a dumpster, the affidavit states.
C.J.’s body was found at a Rockwall landfill after the dumpster had been emptied.
C.J. was placed in his aunt’s care by Child Protective Services in May under an agreement with the child’s biological parents. It’s not clear why her boyfriend was caring for him instead.
CPS removed six other children’s from Jackson’s home following Cedric’s death. Two are Jackson’s children and four are Johnson’s children.
A custody hearing is set for later this month, and CPS says it is reviewing how it handled C.J.’s placement into Jackson’s home.
One mother who lives in the same complex as Chrystal Jackson said this will help justice be served for C.J.
“It’s sad. I feel like justice should be served for the baby, you know. It’s crazy,” Heather Johnson said.
[REPORTER: “To hear that he died in such a terrible way under her care, what goes through your mind as a mother?”] “It’s just, you have to watch everybody, I mean, the closest people that you think, I mean, stuff happens,” she responded.
Blue ribbons wrapped around trees with C.J.’s name line the streets surrounding the aunt’s condominium where he was reported missing.
A neighbor said they were put up in and around the area where DPD officers and volunteers searched for the little boy.
Baby dies after being left in day care van
JACKSONVILLE, FL – After a 4-month-old baby found unconscious Wednesday afternoon in a van at a Westside day care died, the co-owner of the center was arrested, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said.
Darryl Ewing, 56, was booked into the Duval County jail at 8:18 p.m. on a charge of child neglect, according to online jail records.
Police said the infant girl was found still in a child safety seat inside the van at Ewing’s Love and Hope Preschool on Lenox Avenue about 1 p.m, nearly five hours after the vehicle used to pick up children was parked out front.
Jacksonville firefighters tried to revive the baby and took her to Wolfson Children’s Hospital, but the child could not be saved.
“Tragically, today a family has just been notified of the gut-wrenching loss of their precious baby girl,” Department of Children and Families Secretary Chad Poppell said. “DCF immediately opened a joint child death and child care licensing investigation in coordination with law enforcement. We will continue to support this family as they mourn the loss of their baby girl.”
Police said the center cares for about 14 children and no other children were injured.
Investigators said they learned Darryl Ewing was the driver of the day care van that picked up the infant and other children earlier Wednesday morning and no other employees were on the van. According to detectives, the van arrived at the day care about 8:25 a.m., and children were off-loaded and taken into the center.
Investigators said Darryl Ewing then parked the van in front of the day care and left the vehicle unattended with the 4-month-old still strapped in her car seat in the third row of the van.
At 1:03 p.m., according to the Sheriff’s Office, the infant’s mother called to make after-school arrangements for all of her children and it was discovered the baby had never been checked into the day care. Police said day care employees went to the van and discovered the infant still strapped in her child seat, unresponsive, and called emergency services.
Throughout the afternoon, the building was surrounded by police tape, officers, evidence technicians and homicide detectives, including the JSO chief of investigations.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, further investigation revealed that Darryl Ewing was responsible for maintaining a separate driver’s log documenting all children that are placed onto the van, which was separate from the parental log signed by parents. Detectives viewed the driver’s log, which they said showed Darryl Ewing had logged in two of the infant’s siblings, but not the infant.
Police said they learned, based on interviews with other day care center employees, that it is the van driver’s responsibility to check and make sure children are offloaded from the van at the day care center.
“It was determined the suspect’s actions (and lack thereof) failed to provide the victim with the necessary supervision and provide services to protect the victim’s physical health, all which was essential to the victim’s well-being and contributed to the death of the victim,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, Darryl Ewing refused to talk with detectives when he was taken to the police station to be interviewed and that’s when he was arrested. Police identified him as the co-owner of the day care center, though the day care’s website lists Darryl Ewing as the director.
Duval County jail records show he has been arrested at least four previous times.
The state said will be immediately suspending the day care center’s license because it wasn’t aware children were being transported.
While the center has a valid license with DCF since 2016 and inspectors have not found any Class I violations in its quarterly inspections, the agency said it didn’t know the day care center was transporting children, so it never monitored transportation standards.
The state said parents have already been contacted to let them know the center’s license is being pulled.
The other owner of the business, Gloryian Ewing was arrested 18 months ago on two counts of child abuse. While those charges involved her own teenage children — police said they were beaten with an extension cord — she was arrested at the day care center in December 2017.
After Gloryian Ewing, 51, completed a pretrial intervention, the charges were dropped.
DCF records show the center’s license was not affected by the owner’s legal troubles. The center had no violations in its last three quarterly inspections by the DCF — most recently on April 15.
The last time inspectors found any issues at the facility was last July when the report noted a lack of documentation of worker training and outdoor equipment, and field trip forms were not available for review. Since the center has been open, the facility has received two Class II and 13 Class II violations.
News4Jax meteorologists estimated that the temperature inside an enclosed vehicle parked in the sun at midday Wednesday could have reached 123 degrees.
A woman who lives in the neighborhood didn’t want to give her name but said her children used to attend this day care center and her heart breaks for the baby’s family.
“Luckily they were grade-school age, but they were left on that same day care van,” the woman told News4Jax. “It’s sad. I just wish that day care was shut down. It really, it’s not the best day care.”
Another woman who works at a different child care center calls it a tragedy.
“It’s just heartbreaking right now to know that a child has lost its life,” Lisa Brown said. “Just coming to day care and being taken care of and not returning home. I think about my own grandkids.”
The Sheriff’s Office and DCF continue to investigate the infant’s death.
ALBUQUERQUE, NM – A child that died on Tuesday had not even seen their first birthday. The person who reported the death claimed the baby drowned, according to the Albuquerque Police Department.
They have not yet said how the baby died, but that the circumstances are suspicious.
The community is hurting — wanting to know exactly what happened or if someone is to blame. That will all come out in the investigation, according to APD.
As police continue to investigate, the community is coming together to say enough is enough.
“Burying a child is the worst nightmare anyone can go through and then at the hands of a parent, boyfriend, girlfriend, whatever the case may be, it’s a nightmare,” said Veronica Rael-Garcia, an advocate whose daughter was killed in a road rage shooting.
Rael-Garcia knows that hole left behind after a child dies. Her daughter, Lilly, was killed in a road rage shooting when she was just four. It was a case that shook the community.
“The community is upset, they’re scared, they want answers,” said Crystal Gutierrez-Baca, an advocate with New Mexicans Against Child Abuse. “So now more than ever we need the community to join us.”
Crystal Gutierrez-Baca is teaming up with Rael-Garcia to be the voice for those children. The goal is that other people and leaders from around our state start making a change.
“There should be programs out there in the city and the state so that if somebody feels overwhelmed they’re able to reach out,” said Rael-Garcia. “I wholeheartedly believe if we had tougher laws that may be something that does deter it. Who knows?”
Gutierrez-Baca and Rael-Garcia said the conversation needs to start now. In recognition of Child Abuse Awareness Month, they’re putting together the third annual March Against Child Abuse this Saturday. It will be at the Bataan Memorial Park from noon to 3 p.m.
Leiliana was beaten with a bamboo switch and belts and thrown against a wall. Her mother, 33-year-old Jeri Quezada, pleaded guilty to felony injury to a child as part of a plea agreement that will lock her behind bars for 50 years.
State District Judge Robert Burns told Phifer that life behind bars was insufficient for what Leiliana suffered.
“I think this is the worst case I’ve ever seen,” Burns told Phifer.
“Hanging a little girl in a locked closet was savage. You should die in a locked closet,” the judge said.
Jurors deliberated for about four hours before delivering the guilty verdict.
Many were visibly shaken during the three days of testimony, during which they were shown photos of Leiliana’s battered body.
The little girl was covered from head to toe in bruises and had at least 30 bruises on her back from where she was whipped.
Defense attorneys John Tatum and Stephen Miller argued that Quezada is a liar who was trying to save herself by blaming Phifer for her daughter’s death.
“She set Charles up because that was the only way to get out of this,” Miller said.
Leiliana’s death exposed a staffing crisis in Child Protective Services. The girl’s paternal grandparents reported possible abuse to the state agency months before she was killed.
Quezada was a known drug user and had run-ins with child protection authorities in Texas and Illinois, where she received probation for hitting her stepson.
Quezada had five children, including Leiliana, with three different men. The surviving four children are living with relatives.
“Charles Phifer does not have any motive to hurt or do anything to this child,” Miller said. “He’s living in a house rent free with no obligations. Why would he screw that up?”
“She’s the one who keeps having kids she doesn’t want,” he said.
A medical report presented by defense attorneys shows that Leiliana had bruises on her body at least a month before her death. Defense counsel argued that the prior abuse shows Quezada was responsible for her girl’s death.
During trial, Quezada admitted that she would sometimes hit her daughter. She said she used a switch made from bamboo to strike the little girl’s legs.
Prosecutors Eren Price and Travis Wiles argued that Quezada and Phifer were responsible for Leiliana’s death but that Phifer was the one who was alone with the child for hours the day of her deadly beating.
Price disputed the defense counsel’s accusation that Quezada was simply saving herself by pinning Leiliana’s death on Phifer.
“I’m not sure the next 50 years in prison can be considered saving your own skin,” Price argued.
The prosecutor said someone needed to shed light on what happened to Leiliana, and Quezada’s story was backed up by evidence.
A strand of the girl’s hair was found embedded in the wall where Quezada said Phifer threw the girl. Leiliana’s DNA was also found on gloves used by Phifer, a DNA expert testified during the trial.
Quezada said she saw her daughter vomit in the living room and then Phifer put on gloves, grab the girl by her cheeks, lift her from the ground and pour Pedialyte down the child’s throat.
The mother also said Phifer showed her where he had tied up Leiliana in a dark, tiny closet in the living room. Leiliana’s wrists were bound behind her body and she was “strung up” so she couldn’t sit.
“There’s nothing warm and fuzzy about this story,” Wiles said during closing arguments. “The last loving arms that reached out for Leiliana Wright were the strong, loving arms of a stranger.”
During the trial, a paramedic who tried to save Leiliana cried recounting how badly bruised the little girl was.
Wiles said Quezada’s story about the 48 hours or so before Leiliana’s death is corroborated by cellphone records.
Those records showed Quezada was away with her youngest child for much of the day. She testified she went with her family to eat at an Arlington steakhouse that night. Quezada’s mother confirmed.
Leiliana stayed with Phifer.
“This man was trusted not just with her care but her life, and he took it,” Wiles argued.
Quezada returned to the Grand Prairie home after 9 p.m. She said that when she got there, her first concern was using heroin with Phifer.
She later asked about Leiliana, and that’s when she discovered her daughter was in the closet.
“In life, Leiliana Wright deserved peace. In her death, she deserves justice,” Wiles said.