Foster child's death puzzles neighbors who knew couple

Relates to:
Date: 2000-10-01

Author: CANDACE J. SAMOLINSKI; The Tampa Tribune

NEW PORT RICHEY - Questions surround the killing of a 3-year-old boy. Police say his foster father is to blame.

When Jennifer Curtis learned she would be allowed to travel to Connecticut last month and return with a 3-year-old boy, friends say she was ecstatic.

She first heard about Alex Charles Boucher's need for a family from a cousin who knew his foster parents in Connecticut, according to the New Port Richey Police Department. He had been a ward of the state since a few months after his birth in January 1997.

The 25-year-old's dreams of motherhood died Wednesday, along with the child she and her husband, James, brought to Florida just two weeks earlier, Connecticut social workers told police.

Now James Theodore Curtis, 25, of 5529 LaSalle Court, faces a first-degree murder charge and his wife is left to bury the child they planned to adopt. Police say he gave them a detailed account of how the boy died from injuries sustained Monday.

The boy soiled his pants that afternoon, angering his foster father, Capt. Darryl Garman said. Two hours later, Curtis said he wrapped the boy in a blue blanket mummy-style.

"His arms were secured to his sides and the blanket was very tight all the way up to his chin," Garman said. "He put him in bed on his stomach. It was meant to torture him."

Jennifer Curtis came home from grocery shopping half an hour later and tried to revive the boy, she told police. He was pronounced brain-dead at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg and taken off life-support two days later, police said. Doctors there said the cause of death was "homicidal violence, including asphyxiation."

Neighbors say while his wife was gone, James Curtis chatted in the courtyard that connects the six apartments in the working class neighborhood in western Pasco County, where the couple lived for about three months. He told them Alex was in the bathtub.

"The next thing we knew, the child was at the hospital and then he was dead," John Moran said. "James told me the kid must have swallowed some soap in the bathtub or maybe he was electrocuted. I knew something wasn't right."

Other neighbors didn't suspect anything was wrong at the Curtis house. Jennifer Curtis saved money she earned answering telephones for a Pinellas County company to buy Alex new clothes and toys, Carrie Phelps said. James Curtis is disabled and awaiting a worker's compensation claim settlement.

The boy's death shocked the community.

"They treated him like gold. Jenny said he was a hemophiliac and they were very careful. He seemed so grateful to have a family," Brittany LaFemina said. "Why would somebody who went to all that trouble to try to get a child do something to hurt that child?"

That's a question police say may never be answered.

"I have to wonder if they were just inexperienced parents," neighbor Anita Root said. "They seemed so caring and excited about having this child."

James Curtis is being held without bail in the Land O' Lakes jail. He made his first court appearance Saturday and was assigned a public defender. Jennifer Curtis couldn't be reached for comment.


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