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Lawmaker seeks investigation into torture of boy, sister


Milwaukee funeral home donates boy's burial

Crocker Stephenson

The Journal Sentinel

As funeral arrangements were being made Friday for 13-month-old Christopher L. Thomas Jr., a veteran state lawmaker demanded that the state Department of Children and Families investigate the foster child's death.

"I'm just so sick of this. So sick of this," said State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), echoing dozens of e-mails and phone calls to the Journal Sentinel from readers outraged by the treatment of the boy and his 2-year-old sister.

"I am heartsick," Darling said.

The siblings' foster mother and aunt, 24-year-old Crystal Keith of Milwaukee, was charged Thursday with beating the boy, who died Tuesday, and with abusing his sister over a period of months.

According to court records, Keith told police she had been beating Christopher for about a month and torturing his sister since June, when the state placed the children in her home in the 3000 block of S. 12th St. The girl, according to medical reports, has many broken bones, ligature marks and scalding burns from her head to her feet. She was being treated Friday at a hospital.

While the girl's injuries were described by one doctor as blatant, Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare case workers, who were supposed to have monthly face-to-face contact with the children, did not appear to report problems in Keith's home. If they did report problems, no action was taken. Investigators say a case worker has not visited the home since Sept. 23.

In a letter to Reggie Bicha, secretary of the Department of Children and Families, Darling wrote: "It is clear that something in the child welfare system is broken and as Secretary, it is your job to identify that something and work with legislators, staff, advocates, and citizens to fix it.

"I am calling on you to investigate the death of Christopher L. Thomas thoroughly and to evaluate the appropriateness of BMCW staff actions while he was in the Bureau's protection. Please identify what should have been done to prevent this tragedy, especially since the case worker had not fulfilled the monthly visit requirement.

"In addition, I would like an explanation as to why the sister's broken bones were not brought to the attention of the case worker by the medical staff treating her. If the case worker had received this information, why wasn't it a red flag for possible placement concerns?"

According to records in the case, Keith had not gotten any medical treatment for the girl.

Still, said Sue Conwell, executive director of Kids Matter, a not-for-profit child advocacy group, "There is no way these things could have been missed.

"Somebody just didn't look," she said.

Multiple reviews ordered

An e-mailed statement sent on behalf of Denise Revels Robinson, director of the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, said it was "in the process of conducting an internal review of the case situation."

After that review, the statement said, the Department of Children and Families would conduct a review. That review would be "followed by an external review by the Child Fatality Review Team."

Foster couple grieving

As leaders dealt with the legal and social aftermath of Christopher's death, those who knew the boy struggled with the personal aspects.

Christopher and his sister were taken from their troubled mother in March, according to court records. The girl was placed temporarily with a Germantown family and Christopher was placed with Darlene M. and Robert J. Logan of West Allis.

The Logans said they had tried to adopt Christopher, but were denied.

On Friday, they sought a way to help with his burial, but could find no assistance in figuring out how.

Darlene Logan, 63, said she tried to call her case worker at the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare to find out how she might go about doing this, whom she should contact or for any guidance at all, but no one responded.

"They don't even have the common courtesy to return my calls," she said.

"It is important for us - and for him - that we get closure on this," Robert Logan said.

Friday afternoon, the Serenity Funeral Home picked up Christopher's remains from the Milwaukee medical examiner's office.

The funeral home's owner, Randy Guy, said the funeral home would pay for Christopher's burial.

"We're just helping the family out a little bit," Guy said. "They've gone through enough."

Funeral is Wednesday

Christopher's funeral will be Wednesday at Serenity, 4217 W. Fond du Lac Ave. Visitation will begin at 9 a.m., with services at 10 a.m.

Christopher will be buried at Graceland Cemetery.

2008 Nov 14