National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse

National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse


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EDITOR'S NOTE: Occasionally we bring you articles from local newspapers, web sites and other sources that constitute but a small percentage of the information available to those who are interested in the issues of child abuse and recovery from it.

We present articles such as this simply as a convenience to our readership ...

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  Here are a few recent stories related to the kinds of issues we cover on the web site. They'll represent a small percentage of the information available to us, the public, as we fight to provide meaningful recovery services and help for those who've suffered child abuse. We'll add to and update this page regularly.

We'll also present stories about the criminals and criminal acts that impact our communities all across the nation. The few we place on this page are the tip of the iceberg, and we ask you to check your local newspapers and law enforcement sites. Stay aware. Every extra set of "eyes and ears" makes a big difference.

February 2011 - Recent Crime News - News from other times

FEB - Week 4


Number of children abused or neglected in Colorado rises

by Karen Auge

The number of abused or neglected children in Colorado has risen over the past three years, even as the numbers in other states have declined — with 36 children killed by abuse in 2009, up from 27 in 2007.

After a dip between 2006 and 2007, the rates of confirmed child abuse and neglect in the state have increased: from 8.3 per 1,000 in 2007, to 8.6 in 2008, to 9.1 per 1,000 in 2009, the latest year for which statistics are available.

In 2009, 11,339 of Colorado's 1.2 million children were maltreated, 641 more than the previous year, according to data collected by the Colorado Department of Human Services child welfare division and provided by the Kempe Center, which treats abused children.

During the past two years, 1,236 additional children were abused and neglected compared with 2007.

It is not uncommon for more children to get hurt by adults when a stalled economy piles stress on a family, child welfare experts say.

Still, states across the country — states where the economy is as bad as or worse than it is in Colorado — reported decreases.

That leaves state officials and child advocates stumped.

"Are there more abused kids in Colorado, and if so why? That's not an easy question to answer," said Lloyd Malone, executive director of the state's child welfare division.

Regardless of the cause, state leaders should take notice of the trend, said Dennis Kennedy, executive director of Mount St. Vincent Home.

"I hope we can use this as an opportunity to make a concerted effort to really address this," Kennedy said.

Mount St. Vincent works with the state to treat children emotionally and psychologically damaged by severe abuse.

Nevertheless, there might be a bit of a silver lining in the Colorado numbers, state officials say.

The increase might reflect a new effort to bring consistency to child-abuse investigations across the state and to set clear thresholds for what is and is not abuse or neglect.

Intense scrutiny

That theory is bolstered by statistics Malone cited showing that as the number of confirmed cases was going up, the number of overall calls alerting investigators to suspected child abuse held steady.

That means that investigators confirmed abuse in a higher proportion of referrals.

It could be that retraining efforts have helped investigators do a better job of recognizing abuse and neglect, Malone said.

The state and county agencies that investigate child abuse came under intense scrutiny in 2007 after several high-profile murders of children whose treatment had been previously investigated by various human services departments.

One result was a training academy for new child abuse caseworkers, said Ki'i Powell, the division's research and evaluation manager. Another was greater state supervision of county practices.

Neglect is by far the most common form of child abuse.

Physical and sexual abuse accounts for about 20 percent of all cases, said Dr. Antonia Chiesa of the Kempe Center's Child Protection Team.

Avoiding budget cuts

Chiesa said the team treated 494 abused children in 2009, an increase of more than 22 percent from the previous year.

County agencies charged with protecting children are consistently stretched thin. But as revenue shortfalls buffet government departments across the state, those that investigate child abuse are hanging on, Malone said.

"Our former governor and our current governor . . . have done a remarkable job in the face of horrific budget issues to protect the counties from significant cuts in child welfare," he said.

Chiesa said if there is anything the public can do to counteract the trend of the past three years, it is to speak up.

"Talk to our leaders and legislators and say it's important, and that in these tough times, we must maintain resources for our most vulnerable population, which is kids."


Lufkin police investigating hospital report of drugged one year-old

by Morgan Thomas

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) – Lufkin police are investigating a local hospital's report that a one-year-old patient had allegedly been exposed to dangerous drugs.

Doctors and nurses are considered mandatory reporters of child abuse under Texas state law. That means if they believe abuse or neglect has happened or happening they have to report it within 48 hours to law enforcement.

Around seven on Saturday morning , LPD got one of those calls.

"Local hospital called and advised they had a child in that was brought in under suspicious circumstances so we sent an officer to investigate," said Corporal Trent Sobolewski.

Emergency Room staff at Memorial Hospital we're concerned with the condition of a one-year-old patient taken in by his mother, Julia Goodwin, 30 of Lufkin.

"The child was awake and breathing on its own, but wasn't real responsive," said Sobolewski.

Standard drug tests indicated the baby had ingested a dangerous drug, possibly PCP.

"Things found on the drug screen that are also used in illicit drugs," said Sobolewski.

Anytime a child is taken to the E.R., the doctors and nurses who work there say looking for signs of abuse of neglect is always in the back of their mind.

"We look for are things like suspicious bruises in various stages of healing... Bruises on their back, their legs," said Jeremy Belschner, E.R. Nurse Practitioner at Memorial Hospital.

Belschner says they also listen for inconsistencies between the child's injury and the story behind it.

"If they say they've fallen down in their ankle, but you look at their leg and they have a big spiral fracture all the way around their leg. A spiral fracture is usually indicative of a twisting injury," said Belschner.

Sobolewski says Lufkin hospitals are good about reporting alleged abuse quickly.

"As soon as there's anything that's pointing in that direction, we need to get involved. For nothing else but the safety of the child," said Sobolewski.

LPD's investigation into the allegedly drugged one-year-old baby is ongoing.

"Criminal investigation division is doing a follow-up. They will be working with Child Protective Services as well," said Sobolewski.

No arrests in this case have been made. According to Lufkin police, the baby was transported by air to Texas Children's Hospital in Houston for further treatment.

The current condition of the baby is unknown.


Judge adds 9 more years or prison time for ND man

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A federal judge tacked on nine years of prison time for a Grand Forks man already sentenced to 30 years for what a state judge called "probably the most heinous child abuse case" he's seen.

Timothy Olson of Grand Forks was sentenced in July 2009 to serve three decades in prison for molesting a young girl over a period of seven years. Olson had pleaded guilty to felony sexual abuse of a child.

A federal charge of possession of material involving the sexual exploitation of minors was filed after the state case. Olson pleaded guilty in November 2010 to possessing images and video files depicting children engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson ordered Olson to serve nine years at the end of his state sentence.


Child custody expert linked to lewd Web photos

Joseph Kenan was removed from one case and has been challenged in others after posting the photos.

by Kim Christensen and Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times

February 27, 2011

A prominent Beverly Hills psychiatrist who has helped decide hundreds of child-custody disputes was thrown off one recent case and has been challenged in at least two others after posting lewd photos of himself on Facebook and allegedly promoting illegal drug use, unprotected sex and male prostitution.

Dr. Joseph Kenan, president of the American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry, is also being investigated by the Medical Board of California on at least four complaints by parents who hired him to do custody evaluations, according to records and correspondence reviewed by The Times.

Among the postings on Facebook and other websites under the slightly different names of "Joe Kegan" and "Joe Keegan" were photos showing Kenan baring his buttocks to the camera in public and another of him posing with a friend holding a cake that explicitly depicted a sexual act, court records state.

The litigation over Kenan's fitness sheds light on a highly influential, but lightly regulated, group of experts — the evaluators who advise family courts in contested custody cases. Evaluators can earn fees of tens of thousands of dollars for assessing parents' fitness.

Critics of the system say the courts do a poor job of overseeing the work of people who often play pivotal roles in the lives of vulnerable children. A recent state auditor's report faulted two courts in Northern California for how they vet custody evaluators' qualifications and training.

Kenan's detractors have been particularly vehement.

"This man should not be allowed to determine whether any father or mother is a good parent," said Deborah Singer, who persuaded a court commissioner to remove Kenan from her child-custody case last year after she discovered explicit postings on Facebook and elsewhere on the Internet.

Singer and another parent who sought to disqualify Kenan, Deborah Zolla, say their concerns were sparked, in part, by his demands for tens of thousands of dollars, which they considered excessive fees, to develop custody plans for their children.

Kenan declined to be interviewed for this article. In a written statement submitted in Singer's case, he said the Facebook page was never meant for public viewing. He closed it and asked other websites to remove photos of him, Kenan wrote.

"Ms. Singer misunderstands the bawdy humor I occasionally present to my friends, as evidenced by some of those pictures. I do NOT promote what she is concerned I promote. My comments are entirely in jest. In fact, my comments serve to educate the community's problems through satire."

Kenan's lawyer, Donald S. Eisenberg, said the doctor's private life had no bearing on his professional performance. He said Kenan's detractors were unhappy with his evaluations or trying to avoid paying his fees. In court papers, he called the allegations inadmissible hearsay, conjecture and innuendo.

"His entire livelihood is being crushed by information … that is quite irrelevant to the work he does," Eisenberg said. "These allegations show what lengths, in some litigation, that people will go to try to unwind unfavorable opinions expressed by qualified experts in their child custody cases."

Singer and Zolla, who also cited the Internet postings, made their objections to Kenan before he completed evaluations in their cases.

At a hearing last Aug. 3, Family Law Commissioner Steff Padilla dismissed Kenan from Singer's case after reading descriptions of Facebook photographs in her disqualification motion.

In at least one other case, however, a court commissioner in Pasadena ruled the other way, denying a mother's request to remove Kenan from a case involving the custody of her 11-year-old daughter.

"You're saying Dr. Kenan should be disqualified because of a goofy Facebook page. What on earth does it have anything to do with this court?" Commissioner Mary Lou Katz asked in denying the removal motion.

State law sets requirements for evaluators, but county courts oversee their appointments and handle any complaints. The Los Angeles County Superior Court requires private evaluators like Kenan to submit sworn declarations detailing their training and experience, including at least three years of working with families in custody disputes, but does not vet the information or conduct background checks.

Court records show that Kenan, 41, has been involved in at least 250 custody cases in the last 10 years. Kenan began working with the court's custody evaluations office as a medical intern in 2002 and was a part-time employee there from 2004 to 2009, said Margaret Little, Superior Court family law and probate administrator.

When he became a private contractor, his name was added to a directory posted on the court's website, Little said. The list is for the convenience of parents seeking a private evaluation and is not meant to be an endorsement, she said.

Court officials told The Times they had received no complaints about Kenan.

Unlike evaluators on the court's staff, who work at a fixed rate, private evaluators set their own fees, which can be more than 10 times as much, sometimes leading to clashes with clients.

Singer paid Kenan a $7,500 retainer last May, court records state, and she and her lawyer said they were taken aback when he later asked for tens of thousands of dollars more to finish his report.

Her attorney, Dennis E. Braun, said in court papers that Singer already had custody of her daughter, now 5, and supported her financially. Singer's estranged husband had barely seen the child in two years, was serving a one-year jail sentence for a probation violation and faced additional felony charges upon release, the records state.

When Kenan asked for an additional $35,000 and offered to send a "runner" to her house for a $20,000 check, she became alarmed and researched him on the Internet, leading her to the explicit photos, her court papers say. After he was removed from the case, Kenan voluntarily returned the $7,500 retainer to Singer, who later won full legal and physical custody of her daughter.

Some of Kenan's Facebook postings — all since taken down — appeared to promote illicit drug use, including a picture of a woman holding a large straw while kneeling on a mirror with lines of white powder. Another was a photo of Kenan with a party banner that read "It's snowing," a phrase alleged in court papers to refer to crystal meth or cocaine.

Sheriff's deputies have been called to Kenan's home at least twice, records show, once in late 2007 to quell a raucous party and again last Oct. 23 on a report of a possible drug overdose death. The death proved to be from natural causes and no drugs were found in the dead man's body. But coroner's investigators found a burnt meth pipe in the room where he died.

"Dr. Kenan has no idea what that is, or where it came from," his lawyer, Eisenberg, said of the pipe. "He is not a drug user, has never been a drug user and denies any drug use. Period."

Many of Kenan's Facebook postings were explicitly sexual and included ads for parties he co-hosted at nightclubs, including some that appeared to promote unprotected sex. One ad promoted a gay porn site and, which features male escorts for hire.

"If any of my clients were doing what he's doing, trust me, they would lose custody of their kids," Braun said. "Yet, he is the one making recommendations to the courts — and which the courts have been following."

Hours after he was disqualified from Singer's case, Kenan took himself off the court's directory of evaluators, although he continued to work on some custody cases and accepted at least one new one — Deborah Zolla's — last October. Days before a March 2 disqualification hearing in that case, Zolla and her estranged husband settled their custody dispute, rendering Kenan's involvement moot.

As word of his removal from Singer's case has spread, however, other clients have complained to the medical board or sought to boot him from their cases.

Some lawyers who have worked with Kenan said he was well regarded.

Anja Reinke, a veteran family law attorney, said that although she hasn't always agreed with Kenan's recommendations, she's had no major problems working with him on a half dozen or so cases. Kenan "quickly got a very good reputation" and was particularly knowledgeable in cases involving complex mental illnesses, she said, adding: "I think he's competent."

A volunteer assistant clinical professor at UCLA, Kenan is nearing the end of his term as president of the American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry, which has about 250 members.

Dr. Dean De Crisce, the president-elect, said that Singer complained about Kenan to the association but that it lacks the "legal, financial, and investigative power" to act on complaints and relies on investigations by other bodies, including state medical boards.

Kenan "is respected for the work he does" and his fees are in line for someone with his background, De Crisce said. As for Singer's reaction to the photos, he said: "It's understandable that those were not pictures of the kind of person she would want to determine the fate of her family.",0,1019822,print.story


  Scott Brown Reveals Past Child Abuse in Memoir

by Heidi Walsh

Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown's memoir, Against All Odds, will hit bookshelves this Monday.

The anticipated account reveals a surprising past of child abuse leaving state residents to wonder what hidden motivation lurks behind Brown's sudden cleansing of the soul.

In an interview on 60 Minutes last Sunday, Senator Brown claims he never spoke about the sexual abuse that happened multiple times with a summer camp counselor, but he hopes the book's publication will inspire others to overcome similar obstacles.

"He said, ‘if you tell anybody I will kill you,'" said Brown to 60 Minutes reporter Lesley Stahl. "When people find people like me at that young, vulnerable age, who are basically lost, the thing that they have over you is, they make you believe that no one will believe you."

While writing the book gave Senator Brown emotional disclosure with his childhood, its publication conveniently comes as he prepares for a 2012 re-election campaign. According to a recent New York Times article, Brown hopes to raise up to twenty-five million from book sales for campaigning.

Yet, book sales are not the only thing Massachusetts residents are suspicious about in Senator Brown's new revelation; besides financial gain, citizens such as Elaine Conley, 66, of Medford say they won't be fooled by Brown's possible sympathy tactic.

"It must have been heart-breaking for him long term considering he posed for Cosmo," said Conley shaking her head. "He hasn't done anything for us as Senator so he's trying to sell a book to make money. I think some people will unfortunately buy it."

During last year's senate race for Ted Kennedy's longtime chair, the republican, Scott Brown won the Senate seat and shocked the country as he placed the final vote against Obama's planned healthcare bill. Since then, Conley is not alone with her distrust with politicians, but some are hopeful that Brown will set an example for the rest of the country's lawmakers.

"It makes me think he's being more honest than others by being more upfront about the skeletons in his closet," said John Handcock, 44, of Merrimack, New Hampshire. "I think everybody has a chance to better themselves even though he may be just doing this for sympathy. How do you trust a Democrat or a Republican these days?"

Senator Brown has hinted at how the book has impacted his role as a senator looking at the political field with a "bring it on" attitude after the challenges he faced in his youth. Thus far, Brown has gained the reputation as a flip-flopper in his career by voting on the republican side by voting for tax bills and yet supported the Democrats stance on "don't ask, don't tell."

With every bill Brown looks at, he insists neither party nor his past play a part in how he's voting. In the coming months when Brown tours with his new memoir, many believe this vow will help him stick in the public mind.

"He's still going to be a moderate Republican as he was years ago," said Christelle Bastile, a student at Fisher College. "Maybe he's doing this to remind people he's still here and maybe to keep himself in the mainstream. He has the right charisma and he'll probably get the empathy vote."

Despite recent critiques, Senator Brown remains a strong advocate for sexual abuse victims, including a bill that closed loopholes in multiple sex offender laws. His book tour will begin in Boston on Tuesday and will continue across the country before returning to New England.

Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown's memoir, Against All Odds , will hit bookshelves this Monday. The anticipated account reveals a surprising past of child abuse leaving state residents to wonder what hidden motivation lurks behind Brown's sudden cleansing of the soul.

In an interview on 60 Minutes last Sunday, Senator Brown claims he never spoke about the sexual abuse that happened multiple times with a summer camp counselor, but he hopes the book's publication will inspire others to overcome similar obstacles.

"He said, ‘if you tell anybody I will kill you,'" said Brown to 60 Minutes reporter Lesley Stahl. "When people find people like me at that young, vulnerable age, who are basically lost, the thing that they have over you is, they make you believe that no one will believe you."

While writing the book gave Senator Brown emotional disclosure with his childhood, its publication conveniently comes as he prepares for a 2012 re-election campaign. According to a recent New York Times article, Brown hopes to raise up to twenty-five million from book sales for campaigning.

Yet, book sales are not the only thing Massachusetts residents are suspicious about in Senator Brown's new revelation; besides financial gain, citizens such as Elaine Conley, 66, of Medford say they won't be fooled by Brown's possible sympathy tactic.

"It must have been heart-breaking for him long term considering he posed for Cosmo," said Conley shaking her head. "He hasn't done anything for us as Senator so he's trying to sell a book to make money. I think some people will unfortunately buy it."

During last year's senate race for Ted Kennedy's longtime chair, the republican, Scott Brown won the Senate seat and shocked the country as he placed the final vote against Obama's planned healthcare bill. Since then, Conley is not alone with her distrust with politicians, but some are hopeful that Brown will set an example for the rest of the country's lawmakers.

"It makes me think he's being more honest than others by being more upfront about the skeletons in his closet," said John Handcock, 44, of Merrimack, New Hampshire. "I think everybody has a chance to better themselves even though he may be just doing this for sympathy. How do you trust a Democrat or a Republican these days?"

Senator Brown has hinted at how the book has impacted his role as a senator looking at the political field with a "bring it on" attitude after the challenges he faced in his youth. Thus far, Brown has gained the reputation as a flip-flopper in his career by voting on the republican side by voting for tax bills and yet supported the Democrats stance on "don't ask, don't tell."

With every bill Brown looks at, he insists neither party nor his past play a part in how he's voting. In the coming months when Brown tours with his new memoir, many believe this vow will help him stick in the public mind.

"He's still going to be a moderate Republican as he was years ago," said Christelle Bastile, a student at Fisher College. "Maybe he's doing this to remind people he's still here and maybe to keep himself in the mainstream. He has the right charisma and he'll probably get the empathy vote."

Despite recent critiques, Senator Brown remains a strong advocate for sexual abuse victims, including a bill that closed loopholes in multiple sex offender laws. His book tour will begin in Boston on Tuesday and will continue across the country before returning to New England.


Child welfare program bigger than one case

by William C. Bell

People who work for child welfare agencies take great pride in what they do. Frontline caseworkers, supervisors and administrators go into this challenging field to improve the lives of vulnerable children and families in their communities.

The most horrifying and heartbreaking thing that can impact the lives of members of the public and government officials is when a child is seriously injured or dies as a result of child abuse or neglect.

As a former child welfare commissioner, I know personally the sorrow and devastation that must have been felt in Kentucky when 20-month-old Kayden Branham died in 2009. I understand how difficult this tragedy is for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the community at large. I also know the strong need to hold someone accountable for this and all other tragedies.

In far too many jurisdictions across the country, the need to hold someone accountable leads to a quick conclusion that the entire system must be broken because a tragedy occurs. I would urge those involved in Kentucky as well as other states in similar situations to proceed with caution. The desire for quick fixes must be resisted. The functioning of a system should never be judged totally by its glaring failures or its shining successes.

Casey Family Programs, the foundation I now lead, supports public child welfare agencies in their efforts to help strengthen families and ensure every child has a safe, stable home. Despite severe budget constraints, many states, including Kentucky, are finding ways to improve services and achieve these goals and should be judged on the totality of their work, not the results of a single case.

Across the country, fewer children are entering foster care and child protection agencies are getting better at assessing safety and risks in the families they investigate.

The most successful child welfare agencies have strong and sustained leadership that has a clear and unwavering vision. They also have the commitment of political leaders, community partners and the courts to undertake the multi-year endeavor required to improve outcomes.

Kentucky has demonstrated these qualities and is producing some solid results. The state's child welfare agency has developed an improved system for the review and oversight of individual cases. This approach has brought more eyes and experience to analyzing critical steps taken in cases.

Current data suggest that child safety has improved overall in Kentucky. The state is doing better than the national average in preventing victims of child abuse or neglect from having to experience that trauma a second or third time.

Child welfare has a broad, complex and delicate mission, one that impacts the most vulnerable population at the most pivotal times in their lives. There is a growing consensus in the field that more children can be served and kept safe in their homes.

Through an intensive process that brings in child welfare experts from inside and outside the agency, Kentucky is exploring new territory to seek and find extended family members for children who have been in foster care for up to four years. This process, called Permanency Roundtables, has found new families for 36 percent of children whose cases were reviewed. These children otherwise would still be in foster care.

Kentucky is also improving training for supervisors and frontline staff, including instruction on specific medical issues such as bruises, burns, bites and infants who are born addicted to drugs. It is using data to make better decisions and track staff performance, it is providing nurse consultants to support investigations, and it is using Temporary Assistance to Needy Families funds to provide services to keep vulnerable children safe in their own homes and strengthen their families.

Of course, more can be done. In order for child welfare agencies to do what's best for children, states like Kentucky need the flexibility to spend federal child welfare dollars on services that strengthen families and make vulnerable homes safe for children. The federal government has tried a new, more flexible, funding approach in a few states — including Oregon, Indiana and Ohio. The results so far suggest greater flexibility can improve results for children.

The public has high expectations of child welfare, as it should. Like other government agencies, it is a steward of the public trust, and it also cares for the state's most precious resource — its children. The public is right to demand accountability.

It is important to remember, however, that child welfare needs to be judged on its whole, and not just on its glaring failures or its shining successes. While Kentucky has challenges and continues to mourn a loss, it is comforting to know leadership is putting practices in place that will honor Kayden by giving more children a safer and brighter future.

About the author William C. Bell is president and CEO of Casey Family Programs, an Oregon-based national foundation committed to improving the lives of vulnerable children and families in America.


Man accused of luring sexual assault victims

Crime. A 26-year-old Calgary man has been charged with sexual assault against three teenagers.

Staff Sgt. Leah Barber of the Calgary Police Service child abuse unit said police received reports from three different families about a man who met their daughters, brought them to his home and sexually assaulted them.

Two victims are 13 and one is 14.

"In each case, the victims met the man through a mutual friend," said Barber.

"The man then established contact with each victim through social media websites," she said.

"Through online conversations, it's alleged that each victim was convinced to go to the man's residence, where the assault took place."

Evan Robert Leon Geddes faces charges of sexual interference with a child under 16 years and three counts of sexual assault.

He is to appear in court on Monday.


Florida deadly for kids at risk

As DCF reduces its protective caseload, the toll of abuse and neglect leads the U.S.

by Carol Marbin Miller, Miami Herald

The details of Nubia Barahona's death are grisly: soaked in toxic chemicals, decomposed and stuffed in a garbage bag, she was found rotting on the shoulder of the interstate on Valentine's Day. Authorities believe she had been stashed in a septic tank for weeks before her adoptive father dug up her corpse.

Statistically, however, Nubia's story is rather common: She is one of hundreds of Florida children who died of abuse or neglect during the last decade after child welfare authorities had performed at least one investigation into their welfare. Florida not only leads the United States in the number of such deaths, but it dominates the nation.

In the wake of a controversial decision by child welfare administrators to halve the number of children taken into state care - while, at the same time, reducing the number of children receiving protective services with their birth families - the number of deceased children with a child protection investigative history almost doubled, from 35 in 2001 to 69 in 2009. No statistics are available for 2010.

Over the past six years, 41 percent of all children who died of abuse or neglect in Florida had been the subject of at least one prior contact with child protection authorities, the state Department of Health reports. The average for all other states: about 12 percent.

In 2008, the number of Florida children with a history of abuse or neglect reports who later died made up almost half of the U.S. total.

The statistics are noteworthy because state child welfare workers can only protect children whose plight comes to their attention. When children with no history of prior state contact perish, their deaths are equally tragic but far less preventable.

The spike in child deaths with a prior investigative history occurred during a time of significant change in state child-welfare policy.

Beginning in 2003, when then-Department of Children and Families Secretary Jerry Regier initiated a campaign to reduce the number of children in out-of-home care - a campaign that continued under the administrations of DCF Secretaries Lucy Hadi, Bob Butterworth and George Sheldon - the number of Florida children removed from their parents decreased from 30,200 then to 18,300 currently - a 39 percent decline in the yearly total.

But that's only part of the story. The number of Florida children under so-called protective supervision - meaning authorities allowed them to remain with their parents while caseworkers monitored the home and provided services geared toward improving safety - also declined dramatically, from 17,300 in 2003 to 7,350 in 2008, the last year for which such statistics are available. That is a 57 percent decline.

"In our quest to reduce the number of children in care or under state services, the state of Florida has placed children dangerously at risk - and there's no doubt about it,'' said Cheleene B. Schembera, a 27-year DCF child-welfare administrator and inspector general who worked as a district administrator in Miami in 2003, just before the state's sea change began.

When a child dies a terrible and preventable death, said Schembera, who retired and now works as a consultant, observers always ask: "How did this happen to this particular child? But they never look at the broader issues,'' she added.

'Methods are strong'

Joe Follick, DCF's Tallahassee spokesman, said administrators had not been able to review the death statistics, but added: "It is impossible and dangerous to compare states when the parameters vary so widely.''

"Florida investigates every child's death, while other states do not,'' Follick said. "We are confident our methods are strong since they allow us to detect trends that other states do not. Statistics are a wonderful tool, but when used inappropriately they can provide a terribly skewed and inaccurate measurement."

He added: "Every one of this department's 13,000 employees devotes their life to helping others. Each child's death is a tragedy that is felt individually and personally. No statistics can fairly measure this daily commitment and passion.''

Nubia and Victor Docter (their original last name) presented particularly thorny challenges to Florida's child welfare system. They were taken from their birth parents in 2004. The twins' mother was a drug addict and prostitute; their father was charged twice with molestation. They were placed by DCF caseworkers, and a Miami judge, in the West Miami-Dade home of Jorge and Carmen Barahona, who later adopted the children. The Barahonas already had two other children adopted from foster care.

Administrators may well have placed the youngsters in greater danger, unwittingly. After the twins' adoption, the state's abuse hotline received four reports that Nubia was being abused and neglected. Nubia, the state was told, was starving, bruised, dirty, unkempt, and afraid of her parents. All of the reports were made by employees of the girl's school, Blue Lakes Elementary. The allegations all were investigated, and closed as unfounded.

DCF's top Miami administrator, Jacqui Colyer, now acknowledges that, perhaps, investigators were too quick to accept Carmen Barahona's explanations for Nubia's condition, and too slow to require that the family submit to state supervision.

Preserving families

Few states have seen the child welfare pendulum swing more dramatically than Florida. In the late 1990s, state administrators, reeling from a series of ghastly and controversial deaths, emphasized keeping children safe, even if it led to larger foster-care caseloads.

Following the Thanksgiving 1998 death of 6-year-old Kayla McKean - whose father beat her to death in a rage because she soiled her underpants, though authorities had been told repeatedly her life was in danger - then-DCF Secretary Kathleen Kearney declared that protecting at-risk children was her greatest priority. Foster-care caseloads, as a consequence, rose to their highest levels, peaking at 35,500 in 2001.

But the frantic removal of children from their birth parents - one children's advocate called it a "foster-care panic'' - did little to stanch the tide of deaths among kids known to the child protection system. Two years later, when Kearney left the agency, DCF reported the same number of children with prior abuse or neglect investigations who later died, 35.

At the same time, well-respected children's advocates and research groups, including the Casey Family Programs, were reporting that states could reduce the number of children in foster care safely by allowing some kids to remain with their parents under the watchful eye of case managers, and with the aid of intensive home services. Advocates called the approach the "family preservation'' model, and it had the added virtue of enjoying wide support among real foster kids, many of whom said their ordeals in state care could, and should, have been avoided.

Five months into his tenure, then-DCF Secretary Jerry Regier - who inherited Kearney's albatross, the aftermath of Miami foster child Rilya Wilson's disappearance amid a clogged and chaotic foster-care system - announced a new "vision'': a more streamlined agency that protected children by preserving families. To that end, he said, DCF would reduce the number of children in state care by 25 percent before the summer of 2004.

And though Florida was the first state in the United States to obtain special permission from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to spend federal dollars earmarked for foster care on in-home services, records show the number of Florida children under state supervision did not come close to keeping pace with the number of children who were diverted from foster care. DCF records show that, in fact, the number of kids under protective supervision declined by 57 percent from 2003 through 2008.

And Florida narrowed its child-welfare front door as well, ramping up a program in which counselors at the state hotline were encouraged to "screen'' out calls that appeared to fall short of the definition of abuse or neglect. Some of the calls were screened in error, and at least one child, 1-year-old Bryce Barros of Broward County, died in 2009 after three calls from a judge were screened out.

What's more, Florida continued the rapid pace of diverting children from protective supervision at the very time that the state - and, indeed, the nation - suffered through one of the worst recessions in U.S. history. As agency administrators were reducing caseloads, they were begging lawmakers to hold their budgets harmless while other state agencies' budgets were being slashed. Their reasoning: It is common wisdom that economic stress leads to greater abuse and neglect of children.

In 2008, for example, then-DCF Secretary Bob Butterworth described a $4.5 billion package of legislative budget cuts as a "contract on kids.''

Unsafe at home

But for a growing number of children's advocates and academic-based social workers, the greater threat was posed by the ever-widening gulf between reports of children at risk, and effective, accountable methods for mitigating such risk.

It wasn't that caseworkers were ignoring troubled families. Far from it. Investigators and caseworkers frequently encouraged parents with poor records to accept help from the state voluntarily. They left glossy brochures and thick information packets for domestic violence shelters, alcohol- and drug-treatment programs and anger management classes with thousands of parents. But then they simply walked away. Often, the children's names returned to the hotline, as the danger mounted.

"When people were non-compliant,'' Schembera said, "they fell off the face of the earth.''

There were warning signs:

In 2005, consultants with the University of Utah hired by the Miami-Dade Community-Based Care Alliance wrote that children who were reported to be in harm's way repeatedly fell through the cracks until their situation became grave.

"It appears that the investigatory system is only working with families who are in the most severe, egregious circumstances, and other children and families do not have entry into the system,'' said the report, written by professor Norma Harris, who heads the university's Social Research Institute.

In 2009, the federal Children and Family Services Review, which assessed Florida's child welfare performance from October 2006 through January 2008, reported that "children were unsafe, or at risk of harm, in their own homes either because no services were provided to address safety issues or the services provided were insufficient to ensure children's safety.'' In some cases, the reviewers found, caseworkers failed to implement a "safety plan'' for at-risk kids; in other cases, they closed their investigations prematurely.

"I told them this from the beginning," said Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri Beth Cohen, a child welfare judge who wanted DCF to go to court with troubled families so judges could order parents to accept help - or face the removal of their children. She said investigators told her, privately, that they were under intense pressure to keep their caseloads down.

Schembera, who has reviewed about 20 recent cases where a child died or was seriously injured, said poor investigations - including reports where caseworkers failed to interview a single "collateral contact,'' such as neighbors or pediatricians - often led to poor outcomes.

She called such investigations "drive-bys,'' adding: "The reality is many investigations are not worthy of the name.''

In Nubia's case, elementary school workers told the DCF abuse hotline in June 2010 that the girl's hunger had become so "uncontrollable'' she was stealing food, and that she was losing her hair. It was the second such report on the girl, who, school officials said in 2007, was hoarding food and afraid of her adoptive mother. DCF administrators at first suggested the 2010 report had resulted in a referral for services to Miami's private foster-care agency, but records show no such referral ever was made. The plea from Nubia's school, the fourth made by Blue Lakes Elementary, did not lead child welfare workers to take any action to monitor her family.

Nubia is among hundreds of children over the past decade for whom cries for help went unheeded.

Records maintained by the state Department of Health, which houses the Statewide Child Abuse Death Review Committee, show that the number of children with a prior DCF history who later died rose from a low of 29 in 2002 to a peak of 79 in 2008 - a 172 percent increase. Such deaths declined in 2009 to 69, a figure that is still well above levels from the early 2000s.

In 2009, the report says, the 69 deaths represented 35 percent of the child deaths the team studied.

Among the 69 children, the number of prior reports to the state's abuse hotline ranged from one to seven. Seven percent, or 14 children, had been the subject of a pending child abuse or neglect report.

In 2008, though Texas reported a larger number of child fatalities, with 223, the percentage of those deaths with a prior child protection history was only 11 percent, according to the U.S. Administration for Children & Families, whose data are slightly different from those kept by the state. At 76 percent, South Carolina had a higher percentage than Florida, but the numbers involved were much smaller - the state had 16 child deaths.

"One of the best predictors of future behavior is past behavior,'' the team wrote in the report, which was released in December 2010. "Often the history of the parents is overlooked and opportunities to provide services are missed. Many of these young parents were neglected as children and parent as they were parented, allowing the cycle of abuse and neglect to continue.''

Source: Florida Department of Health's Child Abuse Death Review Committee's annual report.

Note: In two of the yearly reports, a very small number of child deaths from prior years were added to the total for the purposes of that year's analysis. They are not included in the yearly number above, and they do not change the total over the six years.


Susan Cox Powell, missing
since Dec. 7, 2009
  ‘Spotlight on the missing': Nancy Grace spotlights Susan Cox Powell


On Feb. 18 Nancy Grace featured Susan Cox Powell in her "50 Missing Persons in 50 Days" television series. Susan is the now 29-year-old mother who vanished one freezing night from her home in West Valley City, Utah.

Soon after her disappearance Susan's husband, Josh Powell, relocated their children to Puyallup, Washington, where they live with Josh's father, Steve Powell aka Steve Chantrey.

Josh remains the only person of interest in Susan's case.

West Valley City Police says they are still desperately searching for Susan.

Susan was reported missing the early morning hours of Dec. 7, 2009. She didn't have any personal belongings with her. Her purse and keys were found by her bed. There was no trail of credit cards used or cell phone calls made because she didn't have either of those things with her. She didn't even have her hair brush.

For more details scroll down to read "Josh's story and circumstances of Susan's disappearance."

She never called to tell a friend or family member that she'd decided to disappear and start a new life. From what they all say Susan could have never kept that to herself, she liked to talk too much. Click here for comprehensive coverage of Susan's case.

Nancy Grace

Nancy Grace said Susan “vanished into thin air” and someone responded “it's our duty to find her.”

Nancy said “Found alive, 50 people, 50 days, 50 nights. Let's don't give up.”

Photos were shown of Susan and her family that depict a loving family, a loyal wife and a dedicated mother. People were urged to take a closer look because this family life may not be perfect after all.

Experts weigh in

Marc Klaas

Marc Klaas is the president and founder of the Klaas Kids Foundation. He is very well-versed in missing person's cases, and had personal experience because his own daughter went missing and was later found murdered.

He was asked: What do you make of this case?

His response was: “Well, I also know a little bit about human nature, and I know that in the middle of blizzards, in the middle of the night, one parent doesn`t normally decide to go have a camping trip with his kids, and the other parent doesn`t decide that they want to get out of the relationship, so they get up and leave.

“Nothing about this guy`s story makes any sense whatsoever.

“And I think that the focus has to remain on Joshua until he can prove himself to be innocent, and he`s not even begun to be able to do something like that. He remains the person of interest in this story.”

Daniel Horowitz, Defense Attorney

Defense Attorney Daniel Horowitz says people sometimes take their kids on adventures and that it doesn't make them a criminal. “You know, the fact that this guy is dumb as a brick does not mean that he's a killer.”

Horowitz said that his idea of Susan running off with some random person is so insane that if he were really a cold-hearted planned killer, he could come up with a lot better than that.

He thinks everyone should keep an open mind and just say something happened, there's no physical evidence [that we're aware of] to blame him. His theory is to try to find Susan alive and try to resolve this case.

When asked if Josh should be talking Horowitz said no, because anything he says is going to be turned against him. “Everybody's just focusing on him. He can say the most honest, decent thing, and somebody will twist it and use it against him. He should be quiet.”

He did say he feels Josh should be working more with law enforcement in trying to find Susan. And, he said, Josh should be sharing the children with Susan's parents.

Horowitz said, “But right now, this guy`s totally on the defensive. And if he`s innocent, he`s really being maligned by the general population or the general feeling people have about him. So he has to be off the radar at this point and hunker down.”

Sam Champion, ABC weatherman

Sam Champion is a weatherman for ABC and asked what evidence is there in this case?

Nancy Grace producer Natisha Lance said there's plenty of evidence that Susan is missing. She said police went to the last place where Josh said he'd been with the boys – camping in the Simpson Springs area of the West Utah Desert. Fresh snow had fallen so unfortunately, she said, they were not able to see fresh tire tracks.

Lance said police could not rule out completely whether or not Josh had gone camping that night. Police took dogs to see if they could pick up Susan's scent, which they were unable to do.

Champion asked, what evidence did police find from the Powell home? Lance said there's not much evidence that says she was abducted and there's no evidence saying she walked away from her life willingly. Her purse, keys, and cell phone were all left in the house. Fans were blowing on an unidentified wet spot on the carpet.

Steve Powell, Josh's father, told The Salt Lake Tribune that Susan had recently had the carpets cleaned and that the kids had spilled juice on the floor. Police have done forensic testing of the home and have not revealed to the public the results of that forensic testing.

Results of executed search warrants of the home and vehicle have also not been revealed to the public. The search warrants have all been sealed.

KTKK News Talk Host Jim Kirkwood said police did laboratory work on the wet spot on the carpet and confirmed police have not released results. He said they've tried and been unsuccessful at obtaining any information from police about the results of the testing.

When asked what they are being told as far as evidence pointing to Susan walking away from her life, Kirkwood said, “Police maintain one position. They have one person of interest, Josh Powell, and that`s all they`re saying.”

Pat Brown, Criminal Profiler

Champion asked Criminal Profiler Pat Brown what his take is on the fact that police are being so tight-lipped in Susan's case. Brown said, “Sam that means that the police do have only one person of interest which is Josh Powell. And let me say, very sadly, I believe this is not a missing persons case but a missing body case which is why Josh doesn`t really want to help finding out where his wife actually is because it will probably [not] turn out well for him.

“And that wet spot - that is one of the most damning pieces of evidence.

“Josh and his daddy have come up with a ludicrous fictional story about her running away with this guy to Brazil.

“But let`s look at it. Here`s the woman who doesn`t care about her family, doesn`t care about her husband or her children, or home, so much so that she`s just going to run off in the middle of the night, but she stops to clean up the carpet so her husband and her children can have a nice, fresh carpet when they return home from a camping trip.

“Really?” he asks.

Champion says he loves the way Brown puts it and asks why Josh could still be the only person of interest in this case, this long after she vanished.

Brown said that in the old days police called anyone they looked at a “person of interest.” They may even have a few persons of interest in a case. They used to use the word “suspect” as well. But in today's world police are so nervous that even if it's glaringly obvious they're looking at somebody, they'll say “well, he's not a suspect or person of interest.”

“The fact that the police are actually willing to sit here and say, Josh is our person of interest, and they keep pointing at him and pointing at him, leads me to believe they absolutely believe he had something to do with what happened to his wife,” Brown said.

Champion says “You are a profiler. You look at these cases. You tear them apart. The rest of us may do it in our minds. We may do it at home when we see it, but you do it professionally.”

He asked Brown, “Do you see any evidence that could suggest that Susan Powell left the home at midnight after her family went camping on her own?”

Brown said, “Absolutely not. And that woman did not leave on her own accord.

“And there was no serial killer that magically appeared just when her husband walked out the door to take her away without any sign of violence in the home. No.

“There`s only one real good explanation and that`s why Josh Powell is the person of interest.”

Impact of Susan's disappearance on her children

Susan's children were two and four when she went missing. Charlie and Braden have both celebrated birthdays and are now three and five. Champion asked: What are those kids going through?

Clinical Psychologist Patricia Saunders

Clinical Psychologist Patricia Saunders was asked what she believes the children are living with, what are they going through every day? Where's mommy?

Saunders said, “Awful anxiety, and I think, confusion, because daddy`s not only dumb as a brick, as Daniel said, but I think he is bizarre because there`s something really wrong with him, and he is withholding the truth.

“Kids pick up when parents are not telling the truth or when parents say things that don`t make sense. Confusion and terror are some of the worst things that kids can experience, and it`s going to impact the rest of their lives.

“The way that they learn in school, their social relationships, and who can they really trust? I hope their relationship with the grandparents that daddy allows them to see is supportive and loving.”

Ann Bremner, Attorney for Coxes

Champion addressed the fact that Susan's kids haven't seen Susan's parents, Chuck and Judy Cox, since last April. Anne Bremner, a prominent trial attorney with the Seattle law firm of Stafford Frey Cooper, is one of the nation's most recognized legal analysts. She is also the attorney for Susan Cox Powell's family.

Bremner said, “It`s been since April, and you know, Josh Powell has deprived them of their daughter and their grandchildren. And the fact is, we talked about a number of things here in this case in terms of damning evidence but haven`t even included that he left the state when she hadn`t been found and took the kids to our state, Washington State. He also drove a rental car for hundreds of miles.

“And we don`t know why, where, or anything else. You know, that saying falsus in unum , falsus in plurium , which is false in one, false in all.

“You know, ice camping, midnight, blizzard, children, wife missing, doesn`t report her, et cetera. The key now is - will he be charged? Will there be an action in Utah?

“Because then, the grandchildren could well be where they belong, with their grandparents and with loving family.

“But the other part is civil cases that can be brought, and his deposition taken, where he has to be under oath and answer questions about where she is.

“ Not giving lies about whether or not she ran off with another guy who`s missing in Utah, not saying things like she was unstable and not saying things like she was sexually promiscuous. Lies and defamatory about her.

“So, it`s a horrible strategy.”

Bremner said that Chuck and Judy have persevered. “And I think,” she said, “their saying has been never, never, never quit and they will not quit.”

Champion asked Bremner if there is any legal recourse the Coxes have, that it's hard for him to believe that a family in one state can't see the grandchildren when their daughter is missing. That someone can't step in.

Bremner said that the grandparents have to go through the courts with counsel and that “grandparents don't have the kind of rights we think that they should, especially in a case like this.”

“And the ideas that the authorities have been so closed-lipped which is great in the investigation, but that would be the real deal breaker in terms of grandkids being able to see the grandparents and to be with them almost full time or full time. But right now, they`d have to go to court, and it`s a tough case to bring in our state,” Bremner said.

Chuck and Judy Cox, Susan's parents

Chuck Cox is Susan's father. He just wants to know where Susan is and what happened to her that night.

Asked to tell a little about Susan, her mom, Judy Cox, said Susan was a happy, carefree person who was loved by many. She could talk to people and she was liked instantly. She had a lot of friends and was involved in many things.

Susan's father, Chuck Cox, said Susan was a dedicated mother who loved her children, wanted her family to “be that ideal family”, and she wanted to be the best mom and wife she could be.

Asked if Susan is the type of person who would wake up in the middle of the night, discover her family had gone camping, who didn't grab her keys or cell phone, and simply decided to “head for the door,” Chuck said, “Absolutely not.”

“If she did wake up in the middle of the night and found everybody gone and was worried about it, we would have been called.”

Chuck said Susan had a lot of support and she would have used all of that support to go find her family.

He also said he hadn't heard anything about a camping trip and that as far as he knew the family was home getting ready for Christmas. The first time he knew anything was wrong was around 10 a.m. on Dec. 7 when he got the call that friends and family hadn't been able to get in contact with Josh or Susan.

Asked about Josh Powell's involvement, or lack of involvement, in searches for Susan, and the relationship he believed Josh and Susan had, Chuck said, “They had issues. Mainly, they`d been struggling financially for quite a few years, and they had issues there.”

Chuck said he thought the relationship was on the mend, and he thinks that's what Susan thought as well. “A least that`s what she told us, that things were getting better because he had found some steady employment and she was doing well. And it looked like things were going to -- were looking up for them.”

Asked if Susan had a good relationship with everyone in the family, even on Josh's side, Chuck said, “As far as we know.”

When Chuck was asked if he went to bed at night before Susan vanished, saying to himself that he didn't feel good about where his daughter was that night. Chuck said, “Oh, no, not at all. We were confident that she knew what she was doing and that she was taking care of her safety and her children`s safety and the family`s safety.”

Chuck said that at the time, they didn't really have any concern on that and said she would call weekly or every-other week to let them know how she and her family were doing. She'd call when the kids did something cute, Chuck said.

After Susan vanished Chuck said Josh did not contact him and that he hasn't been allowed to see his grandkids since April 10 of last year – nearly a year ago.

Susan's life appeared picture-perfect. She was a successful financial adviser and a proud mother of two, family was most important to her. Now her family has little more than pictures and a mystery that still haunts them.

Chuck said, “I would like to hear a credible story. I'd like to know the facts of what happened. Where is my daughter at?”

Champion asked Susan's parents how they get up and to through every day knowing they can't talk to their grandchildren.

Chuck said patience – “A lot of patience and confidence in what the police are doing. They tell us they`re working the case, they`re making progress every day, and we believe that that`s our best chance of finding our daughter, and we believe that there will be justice, and we believe that, eventually, we will get to see the grandkids.”

Champion asked what Chuck wants them to tell the public who were watching as everyone continues to look for Susan. Chuck said, “It`s been a year, and I know people`s minds, you know, that things get fuzzy after a while, but they can`t -- there has to be somebody that saw something that knows something.

“And if you think you have something, please come forward and don`t forget, she`s still out there. She is still missing. Help us find her.”

Searches for Susan

Interestingly Josh hasn't helped in ground searches for his wife. In fact, there's not much he's done to help police in Susan's case. West Valley City Police have complained since Susan vanished they have repeatedly asked him to come in for interviews. They say Josh knows they still have an open invitation for him to come speak with them, Josh refuses.

Instead, soon after Susan vanished Josh shut up, lawyered up, and moved away. Back to Puyallup, Washington to live with his father Steve Powell (aka Steve Chantrey) who friends and family say, Susan did not want around her children.

Individual search crews have gone out searching the Utah West Desert for any sign of Susan. No luck so far. Searchers have repelled 1,200 feet down in hopes of finding something that would lead them to Susan. They've crawled through tunnels. Police have said they've extensively searched mines. Josh had told friends at a party the year before that the best place to dispose of a body would be a mine.

The National Enquirer reported that one of Susan's sons allegedly blurted out that “mommy is in the mine looking for crystals.” That's never been confirmed by police.

Josh's story and circumstances of Susan's disappearance

Shortly after Susan went missing Channel 2 News Reporter Chris Jones was able to do what few others have done - get Josh to talk on camera.

During what has become known as the infamous "Blue cap interview," Josh told a story many people simply aren't buying.

Josh initially said that he took his two young sons, then ages 2 and 4, on an impromptu overnight camping trip.

It was freezing cold that night yet he claims he and the boys slept in the family mini-van. He said the reason he went on the trip was that he likes doing “S'mores and things” with his kids. Read and view video: Joshua Powell 'Blue cap interview'.

Josh said when he left to go camping with the boys Susan was asleep in their bed. When he returned in the late afternoon the following day, claiming he'd just learned people were looking for him and his family, Josh said he had no idea where she was.

For months after Susan disappeared Josh didn't say much. In fact, he congratulates himself on his discipline for not giving interviews and talking.

When he finally did start talking, mostly through his father, there was always "some kind of odd story, it seems, that she [Susan] may have run off with somebody, that she may be unstable."

Months after Susan went missing Josh and his father, Steve Powell, came up with an elaborate story that Susan somehow ran off with a man who went missing around the same time as Susan did, and that this man likely took Susan to Brazil to start a new life.

Interestingly, the man they're talking about, Steven Koecher who went missing from St. George, Utah, left his passport behind. The passport was found among his belongings, so “he didn't go to Brazil. It's just a bizarre story.” Read Deseret News article: Family marks anniversay of Utah man missing for a year.

Josh and his family are reportedly maintaining a website where he shares their elaborate story.

Susan's family and friends have adamantly and repeatedly said that's not something Susan would have done, she loved those two boys too much for that. Read: Family, friends disagree with Josh Powell's contentions about his missing wife.

Josh says the reason he chose to take the kids camping on a Sunday night when he was scheduled to be at work the next morning was that he forgot what day it was. He said that's because he hadn't gone to church that day. But his family and friends all say he hardly ever went to church, and his wife and kids all went to church that morning.

According to Susan's friend, JoVonna Owings, she'd been over to Susan's house that Sunday afternoon to help Susan untangle yarn for a crocheting project she planned to do. While she was there Josh cooked a late brunch that, JoVonna says, took hours to prepare - eggs with cream-filled pancakes. That may be understandable since Josh and Susan's friends say he hardly ever cooked. In fact, the only time they remember hearing he prepared a meal for his family was one time when the family went camping.

Josh didn't serve the meal at the kitchen table. People didn't get to serve themselves. Instead, he prepared each person's plate and brought Susan's and JoVonna's meals to them while they were sitting on the living room couch.

Within 30 minutes of eating Susan excused herself and said she was feeling very tired and had to go take a nap. Her family and friends say that sounds very unusual for Susan who was always concerned about everyone else and their feelings. They say it didn't sound like her to just up and leave the room, which is what JoVonna said she did.

But still in all Susan went to bed to take her nap around 5:30 in the evening. JoVonna said she gathered the rest of the yarn to take home with her and told Josh she could return it later in the evening. Josh said that wouldn't be necessary because there was nothing Susan could do with it until her days off since they had work the following morning.

Yet he claimed he forgot what day it was and that he forgot he had to work the next day?

The following morning Susan's daycare provider, Debbie Caldwell, grew concerned that the boys hadn't made it to daycare. Calls to both Josh and Susan were unanswered so she began calling family. Police were soon called, believing the family had succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning. Read: Detailed timeline of days surrounding Susan's disapperance.

When police arrived they knocked on the door and no one answered. They broke into the Powell home and found two large box-style fans aimed at a wet spot on the carpet. Susan's keys, cell phone, and purse were all in the house. Their only vehicle, a mini-van, was gone. In fact, the entire family was gone.

Family and friends tried all day to reach Josh and Susan on their cell phones. They started thinking that perhaps Josh had taken the family on a drive to test out his new camera and possibly ran off the road.

Later that afternoon Josh finally answered his phone. Though he said he was in West Valley City where the couple lived at the time, it took him over two hours to make it home.

No one has ever seen or heard from Susan since JoVonna left her house that evening – no one except the person or persons responsible for her disappearance. Susan is out there, somewhere, and her family is not giving up until they find her.

When asked by Channel 2 news reporter Chris Jones where he thought Susan might be, Josh responded, “I didn`t do anything. I mean, I don`t know where she`s at. I don`t even know where to start looking.”

Josh said during an early interview that he and his boys miss Susan, want her back, and appreciate the help people had given in trying to find her.

Police update

According to West Valley City Police, the case is still open and active, Susan remains listed as a “missing person” and her husband, Josh Powell, remains the only person of interest in the case.


Pediatrician in Abuse Case Killed Himself


Dr. Melvin D. Levine, a nationally known pediatrician who was found dead last week, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, a medical examiner said on Friday.

Dr. Levine, 71, was found in the woods near his Rougemont, N.C., home with a gunshot wound to his forehead. His death was reported a day after a class-action sexual abuse and malpractice suit was filed against him in Boston.

A report by the Orange County Sheriff's Office in North Carolina said officers went to Dr. Levine's home the night of Feb. 17 after his wife reported finding a suicide note, but they were not initially able to find his body. The contents of the note have not been released.

The Boston lawsuit charges that Dr. Levine performed unnecessary genital exams on 40 boys while at Children's Hospital Boston from 1966 to 1985.

Although Dr. Levine, a Rhodes scholar, had long been dogged by charges of sexually abusing young male patients, he had maintained that he was innocent. He was never convicted on any abuse charge, and never faced criminal charges.

On Friday The Boston Globe reported that several men who said they had been molested as young boys had described encounters in which they said Dr. Levine groped, fondled or performed oral sex on them. One recalled a trip on which he and Dr. Levine were in the same bed, saying that when the doctor took off his clothes, he put his arm around the boy and fondled him.

Christopher Dean, now a 50-year-old architect in Roslindale, Mass., said Friday that for four years, starting when he was 9, he went twice a year to Dr. Levine's office for a “checkup” that was simply an occasion for molestation.

“It started when he came to my school in Brookline, saw me in the nurse's office, fondled me, and then said he would like to see me as a private patient,” said Mr. Dean, a plaintiff in the Boston suit, which will proceed against Mr. Levine's estate. “I came out in tears and in shock, but didn't tell anyone.”

Several plaintiffs said that Dr. Levine's abuse had clouded their lives, and that they hoped for resolution in the lawsuit.

“It left me feeling very awkward; I never forgot it, and I always kept track of Dr. Levine,” said Donald Roy, now 46, who said he was abused by Dr. Levine at age 10, when he was having surgery at Children's Hospital. “My mother knew what was going on because Dr. Levine invited me to visit his house, and I said I just wasn't going to go, and I explained why. But she didn't know what to do with it.”

Carmen Durso, a Boston lawyer for the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit, filed his first suit against Dr. Levine in 2005, and followed with four more complaints before holding a news conference in 2008 at which he announced the charges. Those charges were resolved, but last week Mr. Durso held a news conference announcing the new complaints.

Until the sexual abuse charges, Dr. Levine was a leading advocate for children with learning disabilities whose fame spread through his books, including “A Mind at a Time,” as well as through a PBS documentary, “Misunderstood Minds,” and a nationwide schedule of lectures.

With Charles Schwab, Dr. Levine founded a nonprofit group, All Kinds of Minds, that has trained thousands of teachers. Dr. Levine's approach stressed that whatever their learning disabilities — learning differences, he called them — all children also had strengths to build on.

In 2004, the New York City Department of Education gave All Kinds of Minds a $12.5 million contract to train 20,000 teachers, without the normal competitive bidding process, because, it said, there were no comparable programs.

In 2005, Scholastic Press named Dr. Levine the most admired person in education.

While some experts criticized Dr. Levine's work as depending on observation and anecdote instead of replicable scientific investigation, teachers and parents flocked to his entertaining, multihour lectures.

“He brought optimism into the world of families by helping to demystify learning, helping kids put borders around their learning issues, so they no longer felt pervasively damaged,” said Claire Wurtzel, who worked with Dr. Levine and is now director of professional development at Churchill School and Center in New York.

Dr. Levine contributed to a paradigm shift, she said, getting teachers to explore what stopped children from learning, rather than just dismissing them.

“Before Mel, it used to be, for most teachers, ‘Why is this lazy kid in my room? He's not learning and he doesn't belong here,' ” she said.

A basic tenet of Dr. Levine's was that no child should ever be humiliated.

“From the moment a child gets out of bed until she is tucked in at night, she has one central mission: avoiding humiliation at all costs,” Dr. Levine often said in his lectures.

Some former colleagues, including Dr. William B. Carey of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said they could not reconcile that Mel Levine, their “brilliant, honest, kind, caring” friend, with the doctor charged with humiliating so many boys.

After Dr. Levine moved to North Carolina, sexual abuse complaints arose there, too. In March 2009, as the North Carolina medical board was investigating such charges, Dr. Levine agreed that he would never again practice medicine. At the time, the state medical board said it was prepared to show that Dr. Levine had conducted examinations that were not medically indicated or properly documented.

Mr. Dean said that when Dr. Levine moved to North Carolina, his mother told him that Dr. Levine had molested two young sons of a friend of hers, who believed he had left Massachusetts to flee complaints.

“My mother asked if he'd ever done anything to me,” Mr. Dean said. “I was 25, but I was still so humiliated that I said, no, he never touched me. The shame was so great that I didn't tell my mother about it until last week, and I still haven't told my father.”


Mother told to write letter to child who reported Barahona abuse

(Video on site)

MIAMI (WSVN) -- The parents of the little girl who may have been the whistle blower in the Barahona family tragedy returned before a judge Friday afternoon, where the child's mother was once again denied direct contact with that child.

The child's mother, Jennifer Perez, had argued for a chance to visit her daughter. The judge would only permit her to write her daughter a letter.

Perez is the biological daughter of Carmen Barahona, who is married with Jorge Barahona, who currently sits in a West Palm Beach jail cell charged with aggravated child abuse and attempted first degree murder. Two of the Barahona's adopted children were found in the man's pesticide truck: a 10-year-old boy, Victor, was covered in a chemical that left him severely burned and his twin sister, Nubia, was deceased in the truck's bed.

According to the Department of Children and Families, the daughter of Perez had contacted them to report abuse of the adopted children at the Barahona household prior to the tragic discovery of the children. A road ranger found them in a pickup truck along the side of Interstate 95 in West Palm Beach, on Feb. 14. The adoptive father was also covered in chemicals, unresponsive, outside of the truck.

A doctor with the Department of Health would tell the judge presiding over Friday's custody hearing that the 6-year-old child is suffering from anxiety. She said the girl believes her mother, Perez, is angry with her for telling DCF about the alleged abuse that kicked off the investigation into the Barahonas.

The child is also said to be very confused as to why she cannot see her mother. DCF also said that this mother possibly told the child not to say anything about the alleged abuse. The girl told a DCF worker that she saw the Barahonas tie up their adoptive children, which also included two others, in a bathroom, only undoing the binds so the children might eat.

The doctor suggested the mother tell her daughter that she did the right thing in telling authorities about the abuse, so the girl might have her fears about what she did straightened out from a psychological standpoint. "A very nice letter from her mother," said the judge, "a very nice note expressing those exact sentiments delivered to her."

The attorney of the mother said the mother did not tell her daughter to never tell what was happening at the mother's house because she herself had no idea of the abuse. "We're denying she knew what was going on in Grandma's house," said Perez's lawyer, "so why would she say, 'Don't say what's going on in Grandma's house'?"

When asked directly if she noticed any abuse at the Barahona household, Perez responded, "No, I never saw any signs of abuse, and she never left there crying, and I was never afraid to go there."

There is no time line for when this letter should be delivered, but the judge made it clear that once the letter is drafted someone must look at it and approve it for the eyes of the little girl. The parents of that girl are separated, and she remains in her father's care.


Girl exposes ‘hive of villains'

by Daniel Shoer Roth

The more details that emerge about the hellish conditions experienced by twins Nubia and Victor Barahona while living with adoptive parents who tortured them, the angrier and more depressed we become, particularly because the fatal outcome of this macabre child-abuse scandal could have been prevented.

It is natural to feel hatred and revulsion for what Jorge Barahona is accused of doing and his wife Carmen seems to have, at the very least, allowed to happen. They should not be called “parents.” What kind of individual forces a child to stand in garbage bins or douses him with chemicals? Only a sinister psychopath.

The law of man – and God – will deal with them.

One is filled with anger, too, at the state's child-welfare officials, who share the blame of the twins' torture for allowing this adoption. Moreover, officials dismissed several reports that raised concerns about the abuse and neglect to which the children were subjected.

And where is the responsibility of the biological parents? No child comes into the state's custody without having been abandoned physically or emotionally. The twins' mother had alcohol and drug problems and mistreated them. And the father was charged with sexual battery. They were not ready to be parents.

And where is the conscience of those who came to the Barahonas' house and knew that the twins were locked behind a shower curtain taped to the walls of the bathtub to trap them?

Regardless of whether the perpetrator is a relative or friend, when someone sees a person being tortured, there's a moral duty to denounce it. Individual responsibility comes with the privilege one has as a citizen of Mother Earth. To cover it up is to become a participant in the aberration.

But within this chain of perversity, neglect and indifference that has brought out the worst of the human condition there is also a link that rescues humankind's dignity, innocence and empathy.

That spark of light in the gloom of this gruesome story emanates from a 6-year-old girl named Alessandra Pérez, the little heroine raised by a hive of villains.

Her comments to a therapist blew the whistle on the abuse, and, thanks to that, Jorge Barahona is now behind bars, charged with attempted murder, and his other adopted children are safer.

Defying the orders of her elders, who asked her to conceal the atrocities she had witnessed, Alessandra opted for the truth, without fear of the consequences her honesty might bring her: rejection and punishment.

Her heart must have sensed that the alleged actions of her grandparents were inhumane. She could read the pain in the twins' eyes, feel it in her own flesh. She witnessed so much violence that now she has also become a child-abuse victim.

Her altruism and determination, at that early age, prove that we humans are born good and pure, despite theories that insist on proving otherwise.

Evil is an acquired flaw, not organic.

Somewhere, the road that winds through life merges with the byways trod by people like the Barahonas. Sure, people make mistakes, they take a wrong turn but eventually find the right path.

But there is no way to right this wrong. This case arouses feelings of repugnance and aversion toward the Barahonas, anger toward the Department of Children & Families' investigators who can't seem to put two and two together and ire toward natural parents like Jennifer Pérez, Carmen Barahona's adult daughter who seems to have inflicted a searing trauma on her own daughter, Alessandra.

Still, we mustn't let the forest block our view of each tree. In this tragedy, in which a girl was horribly murdered, there was another girl who confronted adversity and did what was right.

It is worthwhile to focus on her courage and thirst for justice. To me, it is the only way to maintain sanity in the twilight of this grim chapter of history.

Daniel Shoer Roth, El Nuevo Herald's Metro columnist, writes monthly about spirituality and values.


New information after 10 years in a missing mother case

(Video on site)

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (WXYZ) - Ten years ago -- a young mother from Birmingham vanished. Police believe she was murdered and say they've worked relentlessly this past decade to try to bring Rita Gjergjaj's killer to justice.

Technically, this is still a missing persons case because Rita Gjergjaj's body has never been found. But police say there's no way this loving mother is still alive – and they believe she was killed trying to see her children.

Please take note: some of the photographs in this story are quite graphic.

A battered -- but determined -- young mother.

A car found in a movie theater parking lot.

The detective's lead suspect flees the country.

And after 10 long years – still, no body.

This isn't some crime novel. It's the traumatic real-life drama that Rita Gjergjaj's grieving family has had to endure for a decade.

“I miss her laugh… Words can't even explain, you know, the many things I miss about her – to talk to her, advice, everything,” said George Pulacaj, Rita's brother. “Without having no closure, you can't stop thinking about it. Each day you wonder, is this going to be the day you hear something.”

On February 25, 2001, the 30-year-old mother from Birmingham pulled her car into the parking lot of the Auburn Hills Showcase Cinemas. She thought she was going to see her children and her ex-husband – Kola Gjergjaj.

But Rita never saw her son and daughter that night – and she was never seen again. Police say, the next day, Kola Gjergjaj fled to Kosovo.

“Is Rita's ex-husband still your number one suspect,” asked Action News Investigator Heather Catallo.
“Yes, he is,” said Auburn Hills Police Detective Scott Edwards.

Detective Edwards says for the past ten years, he has filled more than eight binders with documentation, relentlessly tracking down nearly 100 people connected to the case, getting phone records, even arranging for interviews overseas in Kosovo.

The FBI caught up with Kola Gjergjaj in his native land. He denied killing Rita, but refused to take a lie detector test. And Kola did admit to them that he did beat Rita back in 1998 – whipping her with an electrical cord.

So detectives have their suspect – but what about a motive? Police say after the divorce, Kola kept Rita from their two children by threatening to kill the kids, her family, and her --if she tried to gain access to her son and daughter.

“And believe me, Rita would certainly understand the credibility of those threats, given that she endured severe physical violence and great emotional torment for a period of ten years or better,” said Detective Edwards.

But Rita could not bear to live without her children. Police say about a month before she vanished – she told Kola she would seek custody of Beth and Anton.

Amazingly, in the past decade – police say Kola has never once contacted the children.

“What does that tell you,” asked Catallo. “It tells me that he certainly had something to do with Rita's death,” said Detective Edwards.

“He's the one who fled like a coward. Left his kids here, left his blood here, and fled,” said Pulacaj.

Rita has been gone long enough that her family does now have a death certificate for her. And that could also help police pursue charges in the future against Kola if he can be brought back from Kosovo.

Detective Edwards is hoping, now that ten years has gone by, someone who knew something in 2001 will have a change of heart.

“Relationships between people change over the years. And what our hope is that somebody will come forward with information they have had back then, but were afraid to come forward with,” said Detective Edwards.

While George Pulacaj says he would love for the police to bring for Kola to justice – what he really wants is information about where to find Rita's remains.

“We left him in God's hands. All we ask for is her body… Just to put her to rest,” said Pulacaj.

In an effort to move forward, George and his other siblings opened this restaurant in Detroit. In a way, Pauly's Grill is a tribute to Rita- her picture is on the menu – her name a part of the artwork on the walls.

“I'm going to make sure that she's going to get justice, and that she's not going to be forgotten, as long as I live… That she will never be forgotten,” said Pulacaj.

After Kola fled to Kosovo, Rita's children were raised by her relatives.. and I'm happy to report they are beautiful young adults right now, and they're doing very well.

Rita's family is still offering a $10,000 for any information that helps close this case.

The Auburn Hills police are also hoping that someone can come forward with new details – no matter how insignificant they may seem.. they can be contacted at 248-370-9444 . Det. Edwards can be emailed directly at


Counties working together against child abuse

February 25, 2011

by Lauren Payne

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) Numerous professionals work together in their respective counties for the children, but on Friday, the different county representatives around Region 8 came together to help each other and the children.

Inside this room are members of multi-disciplinary teams from different counties across Region 8.

"The meetings are very important, and training is very important," said Lt. Jennifer Ephlin.

Teams comprised of different entities that work on child abuse cases--from law enforcement to prosecutors, even mental health professionals.

"It inspires me more anytime I go to training," said Ephlin.

Osceola Police Department detective, Lt. Jennifer Ephlin, is part of Mississippi County's MDT.

"They can provide you with so much information--you know the networking part of it," said Ephlin.

Networking with other team members from other counties--working together against child abuse.

"What we wanted to do was enthuse everybody, teach us new skills, and make sure we were doing things to the best possible result," said Children Advocacy Center Executive Director, Susie Cover.

Cover says the center serves 8 and a half counties. She adds bringing team members from the different counties together allows them to exchange ideas and resources to help abused children.

"The benefit is that child gets the best resources of the best people in Northeast Arkansas working on their case," said Cover.

"Even though an offense occurred in one county, it may touch other counties and other individuals so we then have someone else that we can go to and ask for help with a particular investigation," said Crittenden County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, Melanie Alsworth.

"There's always great ideas, but it gets me motivated more to really get at my job and just get after it," said Ephlin.

The multi-disciplinary teams from each county meet on a regular basis. They all came together Friday for training and as a way to meet, and exchange ideas on how to most effectively help abused children.


State funds available for prevention of child abuse

February 26, 2011

by John Arthur Hutchison

The Lake County Family and Children First Council and Lake County General Health District are now taking requests for proposals for child abuse and neglect prevention funding through the state of Ohio.

In the past, about $70,000 has been available annually and might be awarded to one or more providers, said Lake County Deputy Health Commissioner Ron Graham.

Requests for proposals are available through the council and online through the health district at They may be submitted until 11 a.m. March 11 by e-mail or hard copy.

Graham said the requests are competitive and awarded on a three-year basis.

The last allotment was given to Mentor-based Crossroads, which provides mental health services to adolescents, he said.

Crossroads used the dollars for a parent advice phone line and for a child respite program, Graham said.

"Parents who have concerns about abuse or mental health issues, they were able to call that line for help," he said.

The Child Respite Program allows parents to get a break so they can have time to do tasks — such as paying bills or keeping medical appointments — they couldn't do while caring for their child, Graham said.

"Parents who have highly critical kids with mental health issues, they can drop them off at mental health service providers, so the parents can get things done that they need to take care of," he said.

In the requests, the council has chosen to focus on the prevention and reduction of child abuse and neglect directed at two population groups: families who are unable to access core services because there are waiting lists and the general public.

They were chosen through the planning process required by the Ohio Children's Trust Fund Board and are consistent with the priority commitment developed through the county's Shared Planning Process, according to the health district.

Graham said a council committee will review all requests and likely make a decision in April, with the funding being available by July 1.

For more information on the requests for proposals or to obtain a copy, contact Denise Mackura at 440-350-2125 or at


Speaker shares insight on child abuse investigations

by ZACH PLUHACEK / Lincoln Journal Star

February 25, 2011

Two photos show two houses, one with a boarded-up window and garbage on the lawn, the other with pristine grass and 11,000 square feet of space.

Some look and see only one possible crime scene, said Robert Farley, a retired investigator with the Cook County, Ill., Sheriff's Police. Those folks are more likely to blame a child's bruises on a trip and fall if the kid comes from an affluent home.

"Some professionals will get fooled because of that," Farley said. "People don't wanna believe that nice people hurt their kids."

Farley led a day-long training session about child abuse investigations Friday, speaking before a crowd of about 100 police officers, attorneys, child protective services workers and others in a conference room at BryanLGH Medical Center West.

He focused on techniques for reconstructing child abuse injuries.

His recurring theme: Don't assume anything, especially when it means the difference between a crime and an accident.

Child abusers often will imply their victims have abilities they haven't yet learned, such as crawling or walking, Farley said. It's a common excuse for injuries that look like those from a fall.

"If they tell you the kid walks, you want to see the kid walk."

For most of the session, Farley taught by example.

He clicked through graphic slides of children's bruised backsides, scab-covered ears, shoulders covered in marks from being whipped with belts.

He explained the importance of finding bruise patterns and recognizing the colors of those bruises.

And when something doesn't add up, he said, don't accuse a suspect of lying. Instead, say: "You must be mistaken."

The course was one of a handful offered each year by Lincoln's Child Advocacy Center, a nonprofit organization whose staff members are trained to interview child sexual assault victims. The organization also has doctors and a nurse who examine the children.

Cary Simpson, the center's case coordinator, serves on the county's child abuse investigation team. State law requires every county to have such a team made up of attorneys, investigators and representatives from child protective services.

Simpson said the sessions are especially popular with people new to the field, but they also allow those with more experience in child abuse issues to see examples from different cases.

"I think a huge benefit is just to learn about the mechanism of abuse of children, learning about ways to describe it," said Alicia Henderson, chief deputy of the juvenile division within the Lancaster County Attorney's Office.

"You can be aware of defenses, possible defenses, that are legitimate."


Dad accused of sexual conduct with kids, forcing them to do drugs

PHOENIX – A Phoenix man faces over 40 counts of sexual conduct and child abuse involving four young children.

Juan Vidal Torres, 29, was arrested Friday morning on charges including child abuse, sexual conduct with a minor, public sexual indecency and furnishing material to a minor.

Police say the three female victims and one male in this case range in ages from 5 to 13 years old at the time of the alleged crimes.

The mother of two of the victims contacted Phoenix police regarding the investigation on Feb. 13. Detectives were told Torres was committing acts against his two children and two step-children.

Detectives discovered the suspect allegedly engaged in unlawful acts against the four children on several occasions starting in 2004 until 2010.

Torres, a self-admitted drug abuser, also allegedly forced his kids to inhale smoke from drugs he was taking. He also allegedly used a syringe to inject his children with drugs.

Torres faces a total of 47 criminal charges.


Georgia school teacher arrested for distributing child pornography

ROME, Ga. - Raymond "Robin" Watts, 55, of Kingston, Ga., appeared in federal court Thursday after being arrested for distribution and possession of child pornography by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations. (HSI)

Watts is a teacher at Mill Creek Middle School in Woodstock, Ga.

During the course of ICE HSI's ongoing child pornography investigation, special agents discovered that Watts might possess sexually explicit images of children, in particular, minor boys.

In early 2011, an undercover ICE HSI special agent made contact with Watts, which led to in-person meetings between Watts and the undercover agent. During one of their meetings, Watts provided numerous images of child pornography to the agent. After a search warrant was executed, Watts was found to have hundreds of sexually explicit images of children on his home computer.

"The sexual exploitation of children is a despicable crime, and it is especially alarming when it is perpetrated by someone in a position of trust," said Brock Nicholson, acting special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Atlanta. "Identifying and investigating those who victimize innocent children is one of our most important responsibilities."

Watts is scheduled to have his arraignment and bond hearing before a U.S. Magistrate Judge on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m.

U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said, "The children in our community must be protected from those who would victimize them in child pornography. Although all child pornography cases are tragic because of their victims, this case was even more troubling because the defendant taught in a middle school where he had daily interaction with children. Our investigation into this matter is ongoing and we would encourage anyone with information to contact ICE or their local police."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jill E. Steinberg is prosecuting the case.

The investigation was part of Operation Predator, a nationwide ICE initiative to identify, investigate and arrest those who prey on children, including human traffickers, international sex tourists, Internet pornographers, and foreign-national predators whose crimes make them deportable.

ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE . This hotline is staffed around the clock by investigators.

Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, at 1-800-843-5678 or


Former high school swim coach pleads guilty to child pornography

BOSTON - A North Attleboro, Mass., man, a former swim coach for the Attleboro YMCA and North Attleboro High School, has pleaded guilty in federal court of receipt and possession of child pornography following an investigation conducted jointly with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Timothy S. Kelly, 40, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Richard G. Stearns to four counts of receipt of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography.

At the plea hearing, the prosecutor told the court that if the case proceeded to trial, the government's evidence would have proven that Kelly used an online chat program to communicate with others and transmit pictures to them in real time. In chats from 2007 and 2008, Kelly received images of child pornography and discussed his sexual interest in girls between the ages of 8 and 13. During the execution of a federal search warrant at his residence, Kelly admitted to collecting and trading child pornography since 2003.

The images he received and possessed included prepubescent children engaged in multiple acts of sexually explicit conduct.

Judge Stearns scheduled sentencing for May 18, 2011. Kelly faces up to 20 years imprisonment for each count of receipt of child pornography and up to 10 years imprisonment for possession of child pornography, to be followed by up to a lifetime of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000.

U. S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz, Bruce M. Foucart, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Boston, and Chief Michael P. Gould Sr. of the North Attleboro Police Department made the announcement.

This investigation was part of Operation Predator, a nationwide ICE initiative to protect children from sexual predators, including those who travel overseas for sex with minors, Internet child pornographers, criminal alien sex offenders and child sex traffickers. Since Operation Predator was launched in July 2003, ICE agents have arrested more than 12,800 individuals.

ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE . This hotline is staffed around the clock by investigators. Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, at 1-800-843-5678 or

In coordination with the Bristol County District Attorney's Office, this case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Yoon of Ortiz's Major Crimes Unit and Trial Attorney Bonnie Kane of the Department of Justice's Child Exploitation & Obscenity Section.


  Florida Child Abuse Scandal: The Victim's New Life

by Jacqui Goddard

February 24, 2011

Amid preparations for his sister's funeral, the surviving victim of Florida's gruesome abuse scandal is making a “miracle” recovery—even as his foster mom claims innocence.

Just 11 days ago, he was found ashen-faced, convulsing and drifting in and out of consciousness, his skin burned from the caustic chemical his father had poured over him. But in what one doctor described in court last night as "a miracle," ten-year-old Victor Docter will leave the hospital tomorrow, marking the first good news to emerge in the ghastly child abuse scandal rocking Florida.

The little boy, who was close to death when a road ranger found him in a truck beside a highway in West Palm Beach, Florida on Monday last week, is now mobile, able to bathe himself, engaging with staff, and making the most of the hospital kitchens. He'd like a hamburger, he told nurses yesterday. No mustard.

Paul Neumann—the court-appointed guardian ad litem who fought in vain to prevent Victor and his twin sister from being adopted by Jorge and Carmen Barahona in 2009—said that when he visited the little boy at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami on Tuesday, he was chatting away about cartoons and Pokemon card games, in stark contrast to a previous visit when he could barely muster two words.

"He was talking," said Mr. Neumann, shaking his head in disbelief. "He was so happy.”

There is good news and bad for Victor as he continues his extraordinary recovery. He will never again have to live with the Barahonas, who took him in as a foster child in 2004 and adopted him in 2009. Instead, he will instead be moving into a new, loving foster home. But his caregivers must still break it to him, if he does not already know, that his twin sister Nubia is dead, her body found in the back of Jorge's truck in a trash bag, also drenched in chemicals. Jorge now stands accused of attempted murder for what he did to Victor, and one would imaging that murder charges for Nubia's death will follow soon.

At the scene of the crime, Jorge, 53, who was found lying close by, apparently suicidal. He is in jail, and prosecutors have suggested that the kids' adoptive mother, Carmen, 60, may soon join him. Florida's Department of Children and Families (DCF) will open a public hearing tomorrow into its handling of the Barahona case, which has sparked a firestorm of criticism of the state's child-protective services.

Andrea Fleary, a DCF investigator who visited the Barahonas household looking in vain for the twins five days before Nubia was found dead, later told a court that she halted her efforts at 9 p.m. on the Friday before they were found because "we don't do investigations at the weekend.” She has been placed on leave. DCF officials say that she simply "mis-spoke" at the hearing and that her department had worked throughout the weekend to try to locate Nubia, Victor, and their father, despite Mrs. Barahona's lack of co-operation.

If Mrs. Barahona ever had any complaint about her husband's behavior during their 15 years of marriage, she never mentioned it. If she knew that their adopted children were being abused, as investigators believe, she never stopped it. And if she ever felt remorse for whatever role she may have played in it, she didn't betray that emotion.

Instead, documents released this week by DCF show that Carmen, a pediatric clinic worker, and her pest-controller husband convinced social workers again and again, over a period of several years, that all was rosy in their household. As she would argue, there were always sound reasons for the multiple occasions that ten-year-old Nubia was reported by others as being bruised, nervous, hungry, frightened, poorly groomed, malodorous, and missing school.

But with prosecutors now bearing down on her, and police arriving at her home yesterday to search the house and yard, Mrs. Barahona, it appears, is acting with a newfound sense of urgency. Keen to separate herself from her husband's crimes, despite investigators' suspicions, she is preparing to file for divorce.

Her lawyer has claimed in court that Carmen was "unaware" of the torture said to have been meted out to the twins in her own home. Authorities say the children were made to stand in the bath or in garbage cans for hours on end with their hands and feet tied. Nubia was at times half-starved. Victor was found by doctors who examined him last week to have suffered past injuries including a broken arm and clavicle. He had scars on his stomach and buttocks, and ligature indentations on his wrists.

DCF papers reveal how Mrs. Barahona repeatedly glossed over or rejected others' misgivings about the children's well-being, sometimes lashing out at those who dared to voice concerns - schoolteachers, a nurse, the twins' blood relatives, and the guardian at litem Mr. Neumann.

"The fact is that these individuals conspired…they have abused their position " she and her husband ranted in a letter written in June 2007 to Governor Charlie Crist.

"Is very disturbing to see a group of people using children as tools to inflict fear and intimidate others. Is disturbing to see how easily they play with people's life..WHEN IS GOING TO FINISH?" they demanded in the letter.

Mr. Neumann, they raged, was guilty of "witness tampering, conspiracy and perjury" in his attempts to steer Nubia and Victor out of their hands. In another letter sent January 28, they raged: "This family case has been so mishandled, it has turned into a Civel [sic] Rights issue."

The DCF dossier chronicles in heartbreaking detail how Nubia and Victor were betrayed by not one family but two. Born in May 2000, their biological mother's parental rights were terminated by a court three years later due to heroin and cocaine use, and emotional persecution of her toddlers. "Mom tells Nubia she hates her and calls her a bitch," a report noted. They passed into the care of their biological father, Victor Bustillo, a Miami fisherman, until his arrest in 2004 for sexual molestation of an unrelated minor.

The Barahonas fostered them in 2004 and soon applied to adopt. Their home "appeared neat and clean, free from odors and clutter," with well stocked closets and a nicely manicured yard, a 2008 DCF assessment noted.

"Carmen states that she uses the reward system to reinforce the positive and uses the time-out system as a form of discipline. This technique seems to work well," the report added. "Getting to know the children is part of the thrill of foster parenting for the Barahonas," it gushed.

In June 2009, after a judge allowed them to adopt—despite all the doubts and objections raised—the couple wrote to DCF: "It took us 11 years to reach our goal and complete our family, but we now have four beautiful children which we have adopted and we feel very grateful and fortunate to have them."

This Sunday, Nubia will be remembered at a church memorial service, organized by parents of children at Blue Lakes Elementary School, which the twins attended until the Barahonas pulled them out last year to home-school them following multiple unexplained absences.

"Knowing what we do now, we have to think that coming to school was some kind of sanctuary for those poor children," said Joanne Muniz, president of the school's PTA from 2007 to 2009.

She recalls Nubia asking her last May, just before she and her brother turned ten, whether Mrs. Muniz would bake them cupcakes for their birthday. "So I did. I took them into school and I was very excited, but she wasn't there that day. Just didn't turn up. It was sad.”

"These were children that we hugged, that said hello to us, that we loved in our own way, and who loved us in their own way. You realize now how maybe that one day you gave that child a hug, or stopped to say something to them in a hallway, that little extra may have meant more to them than you ever realized."


  Former child abuse victim now advocates keeping kids safe

by Ro Norman

LAKE WORTH, Fla. - After years of physical and mental abuse as a child, a West Palm Beach woman is determined to make a difference in the community.

Berdie Duvelsaint is sharing her story of survival as a way to provide hope for others afraid to report abuse.

"Even with having marks on my body I was always well covered and I knew not to say anything or else it would be worse," said Duvelsaint.

Duvelsaint, her two younger brothers and mentally ill mother, says she survived years of abuse suffered at the hands of her biological father.

"I remember him telling me to basically strip down to nothing and he used an extension cord to beat me with...he hit me everywhere," said Duvelsaint.

She occasionally lived with other relatives before moving to "Home Safe"...a safe haven for victims of domestic violence and child abuse.

Duvelsaint was also placed with nearly 20 different foster families where she did experience abuse. "It was pretty hard but there was a lesson to learn in each family in spite of the difficulties that I experienced in each," said Duvelsaint.

She eventually returned to "Home Safe" and graduated from Lake Worth High School. She went on to FAU where she earned a bachelor's degree in Arts and Humanities, a bachelor's degree in English, a certificate in Woman's Studies and a certificate in American Literature.

Duvelsaint says children in abusive foster and adoptive care environments, including the 10-year old survivor and his siblings involved in the Barahona case, can positively thrive the same way she and her family did.

"I can honestly say this situation made us all stronger cause we could have been elsewhere doing other things instead of being great citizens," said Duvelsaint.

Duvelsaint made peace with her father before he died in 2003. "Now as I get older and wiser and I'm starting to understand some things and starting to process everything little by little. I'm getting healed more and more everyday," said Duvelsaint.

Duvelsaint works as a developmental consultant for Home Safe. Home Safe helps more than 15,000 infants, children and families in Palm Beach County a year.


Okla. parents abused adopted children, fed them dog food, says report John Kluth (L), Sonja Kluth (R)
  Okla. parents abused adopted children, fed them dog food, says report

(CBS/KWTV/AP) YUKON, Okla. - The Canadian County District Attorney has filed child abuse and child neglect charges against two Oklahoma parents accused of beating their three adopted children and feeding them pet food.

John and Sonja Kluth are each facing three counts of child abuse and three counts of child neglect for allegedly abusing their adopted 15-year-old and 11-year-old sons and 9-year-old daughter, reports CBS affiliate KWTV.

"They've been abused just about every way imaginable, they've been burned, cut, beat," Canadian County Sheriff Randall Edwards told KWTV.

The couple was arrested Tuesday, but reportedly bonded out of jail later the same day.

According to an arrest affidavit obtained by local station KOCO, the parents "whipped all the children with a horsewhip...while telling them to take it like a slave."

The nine-year-old girl told investigators her mom would bang their heads on the doors, walls and bathroom counter tops. One of the boys showed an investigator his disfigured fingers and said one was from being smashed with the can opener, the other a mallet.

Court documents claim Sonja Kluth burned, struck and strangled her 15-year-old son, and beat and strangled her 11-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter. She also allegedly confined the boys in an underground shelter and gave them only dog food to eat, while the girl was fed cat food.

The repulsive abuse, which may have gone on up to five years, was discovered when a sheriff found the oldest boy sleeping in a box behind a Braum's ice cream and dairy store.

"The 15-year-old boy could easily pass as a 10-year-old, that's how thin and frail he was as a result of being malnourished," said Sheriff Edwards.

The Kluth's were reportedly being paid $1,500 every month per child by the state of Wisconsin, according to KWTV.

"These people were basically out just for the money. They weren't out for taking care of these kids," said the Kluth's biological son Bill, who was not shocked by the appalling allegations.

"They were just put on a regiment where you can't talk to the kid, you can't love the kid, you can't say anything to the kid," he said. "The kids always had to sit in the corner, so we knew things weren't right."


Former head of state mental hospital gets 248 years for sexual assaults on son

February 23, 2011

The former executive director of a state mental hospital was sentenced Wednesday to 248 years in state prison for sexual assaults on his son that spanned nearly a decade.

Claude Edward Foulk Jr., 63, was convicted earlier this month of 31 felony counts for assaulting his son between the ages of 9 and 18. Now 27, his son is a former foster child who was adopted by Foulk.

During Foulk's trial, four other men testified that they were sexually assaulted by him, dating back as far as 1966. But those alleged acts were beyond the statute of limitations.

Foulk was the executive director of the Napa State Hospital when he was charged on Feb. 24, 2010. He was fired by the hospital.


Eva Valdez
  SAPD: Missing girl last seen with Internet 'friend'

San Antonio police are asking for help trying to find a missing person.

They say 12-year-old Eva Valdez was last seen on February 19.

Police say Eva was last seen in the 300 block of Natlen with someone she met on the Internet.

She was wearing pajama pants and a white short sleeve shirt.

Eva is described as five feet one inch tall, and weighing approximately 120 pounds.

If you have information on Eva Valdez' whereabouts, you are urged to contact SAPD's Missing Persons department at 210-207-7660


Jodi Huisentruit
  Jodi Huisentruit Case Featured on Nancy Grace Show

(Video on site)

by Natalie Tendall

MASON CITY, IA-A well-known Mason City missing persons case is in the spotlight again.

Former KIMT Anchor Jodi Huisentruit disappeared more than 15-years ago. Police found signs of a struggle outside her apartment.

The Nancy Grace show is profiling her case in a segment called "America's Missing."

The goal is to find 50 people in 50 days with the help of the public.

Mason City Police Department Lieutenant Frank Sterns said, "it's nice that the case is in the lime light and that we keep getting the attention hopefully someday somebody's gonna see it, maybe they've missed this or maybe when they see this since it's been so long they'll finally say ah I just can't live with it anymore and come forward."

Lieutenant Sterns expects some tips in the next couple days on the case. He's planning to look into them all.


A Dracula mask similar to this one was found near the dismembered body.
  NYPD refused to take missing persons report on man now believed to be brutally murdered

by John Marzulli

February 23, 2011

The NYPD refused to take a missing persons report on a former employee who vanished in 2003 and is believed to have been murdered by a man accused of stealing his identity.

Former police department mechanic Michael Klein disappeared shortly after selling his ramshackle home in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, for $410,000 to an associate of Dmitriy Yakovlev who is on trial for the lethal scheme.

Yakovlev showed the home buyer credit cards bearing the missing man's name, Alexander Hamilton testified Wednesday.

Ward for News Michael Klein, a retired NYPD Mechanic who has been missing since 2003 and is presumed murdered.
  "He (Yakovlev) said with my computer knowledge it would be easy to steal money from Klein," Hamilton said. "He tried to convince me that in this country you can do anything and not get punished."

Hamilton said he went to the police and was told to come back if he got Yakovlev's voice on tape.

"They said they couldn't start an investigation on my word alone," Hamilton said.

When Klein disappeared he was 69-years-old and living in a rat pack squalor, factors that may have led police to believe he took off without telling anyone.

"The police said it happens a lot, then people start searching and they usually show up in warm places," Hamilton said.

Testifying under immunity granted by the government, Hamilton said he committed tax fraud with Yakovlev in connection with the purchase of Klein's home.

Klein's sister Margaret Gold, who also tried unsuccesfully to report Michael missing, thinks he was the victim of foul play.

"I don't think my brother is on the planet anymore," she said outside court. "I want to understand what happened. It's part of putting it to rest."

"My brother was eccentric, but he was a very peaceful, gentle man," she said.

Yakovlev is also charged with stealing the identities of Russian translator Irina Malezhik, whose remains are missing; and importer Viktor Alekseyev, whose dismembered remains were recovered in New Jersey.

Prosecutors believe he killed both of them.


Journey Wienke
  15-year-old missing after walking away from youth home


A 15-year-old boy remains missing after walking away from the Margaret Stewart Youth Home in Helena on Sunday, Feb. 13.

Journey Wienke left with two other boys who were apprehended a day later. A missing person's report was filed and those who know Wienke said he may be headed to the Great Falls area.

Wienke was undergoing treatment at the home on a consent decree from Judicial Court in Malta, according to his adoptive father, Wayne Wienke.

“He had taken off a couple times before but always shows back up — he's never been gone for more than a night,” Wayne said. “We are concerned about him, his safety and where he might be.”

Helena Police Department Sgt. Cory Bailey said Wednesday afternoon there are no leads about Journey's whereabouts.

“We put out an attempt to locate and talk to people who have a connection to him, that's about all we can do until we get more information about where he may have gone,” Bailey said.

Wayne said it's likely Journey is being helped by someone, but that he should be receiving the treatment the court ordered.

Journey is 6-foot-8 and has a slim build. He was playing basketball on Helena Capital's sophomore team at the time of his disappearance.

Anyone seeing him, or knowing of his whereabouts, should contact their local authorities.


SF lawmaker urges tiered registration of sex offenders

“Sex offender” is a scary term. But in California, it can mean anyone from a multiple-count rapist of children to someone who exposed themselves once while drunk.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, wants to change that. The chair of the Assembly Public Safety Committee has introduced legislation that would create a tiered system for registering and monitoring sex offenders.

So far, AB 625, also known as the “Sex Offender Registration Act,” is just a placeholder that announces the intention “to establish a tiered sex offender registration law.” Ammiano argues that the bill will increase public safety while saving the state money.

“With the skyrocketing costs of corrections in California, we need to base our management and enforcement of sex offenders on the research and data available rather than emotion,” Ammiano said in a written statement. “This means focusing our efforts and resources on the most dangerous offenders to ensure that the registry achieves its primary goal – to keep our children and communities safe.”

Indeed, California has been a leader in tracking sex offenders. It has one of the first and most extensive websites showing where sex offenders live, and bars them from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park.

But critics note that when the residency restrictions are combined with the large number of sex offenders being tracked, the database shows clusters of sex offenders living in certain areas. Furthermore, they note there is a huge burden on law enforcement to track so many people, some of whom may pose little risk to public safety.

Ammiano's bill builds on the results of a January 2010 report from the California Sex Offender Management Board. This 17-member body includes both law enforcement and mental health professionals, and makes recommendations on how to handle these offenders once they are released back into society.

The report states that “California should concentrate state resources on more closely monitoring high and moderate risk sex offenders” and “identify a more efficient method of determining when a parole violation is related to re-offense risk.” Ammiano's office points out this report was approved by a board staffed with former district attorneys, detectives and parole agents.

It goes on to indentify the most worrisome offenders: those with violent offenses, those who preyed on children, multiple offenders, and those who are classified as sexually violent predators (SVPs). This last group consists of people with multiple violent sexual offenses and a confirmed psychiatric disorder that makes it disproportionately likely they will re-offend. Only about 1,700 of the 88,000 sex offenders currently being tracked by the state hit the SVP level.

There are about 200 crimes that can land an offender on the state's lifetime monitoring list. Most of these are serious and relate to forced sexual behavior.

But there are other crimes on the list that fall into a gray area for some, including indecent exposure. While no one is suggesting legalizing these practices, many question whether they warrant lifetime monitoring. Of particular importance are laws against having sex with someone under 18, which some say are enforce unequally between different jurisdictions or between straight and gay offenders.

While few people question laws punishing 40-years-olds for having sex with minors, others point out that 19 year-olds who have consensual sex with 17-year-old romantic partners have also been pulled in.

California is also one of only four states — Alabama, Florida and South Carolina are the others — that require lifetime registration and monitoring for all sex offenders, regardless of offense.

The office of Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego, said they were “keeping an eye” on the bill, but declined to comment until they see more details. Fletcher was the author of Chelsea's Law, AB 1844, which passed easily last year. It puts new penalties and post-release restrictions on numerous sex offenses. The law was named for 17-year-old Chelsea King, a San Diego girl who was raped and murdered a year ago.

Her killer, John Albert Gardiner III, was a convicted sex offender, but was not classified as a sexually violent predator. He was convicted of molesting a 13-year-old girl when he was 21. He also committed another widely-reported-on murder, the 2009 slaying of 14 year-old-Amber Dubois, for whom the Amber Alert is named.

In a letter to Fletcher last year in reference to Chelsea's law, the Sex Offender Management Board asked for some amendments to his bill that essentially would have created similar legislation to what Ammiano is now asking for.

“Not all sex offenders post the same risk over their lifetimes,” the letter stated. “In light of the state's fiscal situation, California needs to be smart about allocating our state's scarce resources.”


Hannah R Miller
Elizabeth Miller

BREAKING – Police in Perry County look for endangered woman and her daughter

February 22, 2011

The Tribune-Democrat

Perry County — The Pennsylvania State Police, Troop H, Newport Station is investigating a Missing Person-Endangered person case.

According to a press release, at 4 p.m. Monday, troopers responded to a group home at 70 Montebello Rd Miller Twp, Perry County for a report a missing person.

Hannah R Miller, an 80-year-old female from Carlisle, went to the group home at 70 Montebello Rd to visit her 37-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, on Sunday. The two left to get gas and lunch in the mother's vehicle and never returned. Administrators at the home told troopers that it was common for the daughter to leave the home on weekends with her mother, but they usually stayed in contact with the home. They said the mother called the home Sunday night stating they were lost and would return on Monday morning. The two never returned home and there has been no contact.

They have no cell phone. They are believed to be in a 2000 Mazda 626, 4D. It is maroon in color and has a Pennsylvania tag of DBY8734

The two were entered as Missing Endangered due to the mother's age and the daughters diminished metal capacity. A credit card check of one of the person's indicates they were last in the Irwin area, Westmoreland County.

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