Faces of child abuse in York County
A 3-year-old Jackson Township girl, a pair of Red Lion High School football players and three infant boys from West York, York City and Dallastown share a common thread: Each died as a result of child abuse, the York County Office of Children, Youth and Families has ruled.
The cases were highlighted in the state's child protective services report for 2016, released May 3.
The six substantiated abuse-related child fatalities represent the highest number recorded during a single year in York County since at least 2005, according to state records, and the highest in any Pennsylvania county other than Philadelphia since 2007, when Allegheny County recorded seven such deaths.
"Six is way too many," said Terry Clark, CYF director. "There really shouldn't be any."
Clark pointed out that the agency didn't see any themes among the deaths, which seemed to be isolated and random.
"There's nothing where we can say these deaths are all occurring because of this reason or that," he said.
Three of the children actually died during 2015, but the county's CYF office didn't substantiate child abuse in those cases until 2016.
According to the state Department of Human Services' annual child protective services report, substantiated reports refer to founded or indicated reports. A founded report means that there was court action, and an indicated report means the agency found child abuse occurred based on medical evidence, an investigation or admission.
Clark said state law requires York CYF to investigate any child fatality where child abuse is suspected, but that doesn't mean the family was known to the agency prior to the death. Even if the family was known, that doesn't mean the agency was actively monitoring the children, he added.
"The public needs to remember children and youth agencies are not responsible for children that are dead," he said. "No matter how many times we may visit a home ... the situation can totally change. ... It only takes a matter of seconds for a child to be killed."
The state Department of Human Services earlier this month released its annual report, which showed York ranks third among all counties in the state for reports and substantiated reports of child abuse despite having just the eighth-highest under-18 population.
Clark said if the agency knew why the county's numbers were so high, they'd be addressing the issues, but they're still looking for answers. Higher levels of poverty and crime in a certain area tend to coincide with higher rates of child abuse, he said.
The circumstances surrounding each child fatality and subsequent investigations are described in quarterly summaries on the department's website. The summaries do not identify the children, but previous news stories and coroners' reports were combined to identify each case:
Kayden Monte: Kayden Monte, of West York, died at 10 months old on Aug. 3, 2015, at Penn State Hershey Medical Center after being taken off life support.
York CYF determined on March 11, 2016, that the death was the result of physical abuse. The child's death was caused by traumatic brain injury and ruled a homicide, according to the Dauphin County Coroner's Office.
A preliminary autopsy report showed Kayden had a skull fracture with internal bleeding on the back of his head that would have taken 40 pounds of force to create. His caregivers were unable to explain the injuries.
Kayden's death is under criminal investigation, but no charges have been filed.
Isabel Rose Godfrey: Isabel Rose Godfrey, of Jackson Township, died on June 8, 2016, and her death was ruled a homicide, according to the York County Coroner's Office.
On July 15, 2016, York CYF indicated the case as a result of physical abuse and named Isabel's mother, Regina Lester, as the perpetrator.
When police arrived at the scene June 8, Lester was found running around naked outside the home and screaming that she "had to do it to get the blackness out of her." Isabel, who was called Bella, was found unresponsive, with bruises on her forehead and under her eyes and what appeared to be a human bite mark on her right side.
Resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful, and Bella was pronounced dead at York Hospital.
Lester also allegedly threatened to kill a neighbor's children, police have said.
Inside Lester's home were open packages of synthetic pot — also known as spice and K2 — and a smoking pipe, documents allege.
Andrew Day, a neighbor who frequently baby-sat Bella, said Lester told him that "synth" was her "DOC," short for "drug of choice." It was Day's home where Bella's 6-year-old brother went for help, telling Day, "My mommy’s killing Bella — you need to come quick,’” Day told The York Dispatch.
Lester's mother, Robin Godfrey, told The York Dispatch that synthetic marijuana changed her daughter's personality "like a light switch."
Lester was charged with criminal homicide, terroristic threats and endangering the welfare of children, but her preliminary hearings have been moved back multiple times because of behavioral health concerns.
The family was previously known to York CYF and Adams County Children and Youth Services, and Lester was being actively drug-tested by the York agency.
In December 2015, York CYF received a report with concerns, including several men entering and leaving the home, drug use, inappropriate supervision, mental health issues, and that Bella was being left with an inappropriate caregiver.
In April 2016, the agency received another report with concerns Lester was using and dealing drugs and that her cousin had overdosed in the home. During a follow-up visit on May 3, 2016, it was observed that Bella had scabs and bruising under both eyes and on the side of her head. Lester stated that Bella had fallen up the steps at the baby sitter’s home and shared a text message from the baby sitter informing her of the accident.
Bella's 6-year-old brother was placed in the care of his maternal grandparents and is receiving ongoing general protective services from York CYF.
Stone Hill and Nicholas Mankin: On June 16, 2015, an intoxicated Stone Hill crashed his SUV into a telephone pole, killing himself and fellow Red Lion High School football player Nicholas Mankin.
On Aug. 23, 2016, York CYF indicated the deaths as a result of physical abuse and named the boys' friend's parents, Stephen and Jodie Tierney, as the perpetrators.
The Tierneys are accused of providing alcohol to a group of Red Lion-area teens, including their two sons, and also are accused of repeatedly allowing the teens to drink in their home and at their Adams County vacation cabin.
State police allege the Tierneys gave alcohol to Stone and Nick, both 16, who were killed in a fiery wreck when Stone's Toyota 4Runner crashed into a utility pole, flipped and burst into flames. It happened in the 200 block of Slab Road in Lower Chanceford Township just after 7 p.m.
The toxicology screen revealed that Stone had an alcohol level of .094 percent in his system.
The Tierneys were charged with involuntary manslaughter, endangering the welfare of children, corruption of minors and furnishing alcohol to a minor. They are out on bail and awaiting trial scheduled for July 10.
Javon Thompson: Javon Thompson, of York City, died June 10, 2016, at 2 months old at Hershey Medical Center from multiple traumatic injuries, the result of homicide, according to the Dauphin County Coroner's Office.
On July 18, 2016, York CYF indicated the case as a result of physical abuse and named the father, Jonathan Colby Thompson, as the perpetrator.
The 31-year-old Thompson, living in Maryland, was arrested in February by U.S. marshals in Baltimore, and he faces charges of homicide and endangering the welfare of children, according to court documents.
Javon was taken to York Hospital on May 25, 2016, and found to have acute and chronic subdural hemorrhages, as well as retinal hemorrhages that led the physician to suspect physical abuse.
The next day, he was transferred to Hershey Medical Center, where the child's breathing was erratic, and an electroencephalogram (EEG) revealed his brain activity was severely abnormal. X-rays revealed a subtle fracture to his right ninth rib and additional fractures to the left sixth rib and right leg.
Javon died four days after being taken off life support.
According to the investigation, Javon's mother told York CYF that she had left Javon with Thompson while she went to the store on the day of the incident. When she returned, Thompson was feeding Javon when the infant started coughing and choking and then stopped breathing.
Witnesses told police that Thompson was seen holding Javon upside down, picking up the infant by one arm and holding him by his shirt, York City Police said.
The family was previously known to York CYF, as the agency had received two reports during 2011 for concerns including environmental issues with the home and inappropriate discipline. Both reports were closed after an initial assessment with no services provided.
Javon had two half-siblings living in the home at the time of his death, and York CYF initially placed them in the care of their maternal grandmother with no contact to their mother or Thompson.
Once Thompson moved out, the siblings were returned to their mother, and the agency is providing ongoing general protective services.
Gideon Ladd: Gideon Ladd, of Dallastown, died Aug. 5, 2016, at 3 months old from sudden unexplained infant death (SUID) syndrome, according to the York County Coroner's Office.
On Oct. 4, 2016, York CYF indicated the case as a result of serious physical neglect and named the infant's baby sitter as the perpetrator.
Gideon and his twin brother were in the care of the baby sitter at an unlicensed day care facility at the time of his death.
The baby sitter told York CYF that she placed Gideon and his twin brother face down on a pillow-top mattress with comforters and blankets around them. Thirty minutes later, when she went to wake them up, she found that Gideon was gray and she observed blood.
Police were called to the residence. When they arrived, the child was in cardiac arrest. The baby sitter performed CPR on Gideon, and he was transported to the hospital, where he later died. The infant had a history of apnea of prematurity and neonatal respiratory distress syndrome, according to the report.
The baby sitter is a certified nursing assistant, according to the report, and acknowledged she knew this was not an appropriate sleeping position given Gideon's age and premature birth, but did it knowingly — and despite the risks.
The York County District Attorney’s Office did not bring criminal charges against the baby sitter.
York CYF ensured the safety of Gideon's twin brother by assuring he would have no contact with the baby sitter. The baby sitter is a mother to three children of her own, and the agency developed a safety plan to ensure the children only have supervised contact with her.