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Death of local 2-year-old girl ruled a homicide


DCF spokeswoman: Mother and father are "widely respected adoptive parents"

Austin L. Miller


OCALA – Marion County sheriff’s detectives are investigating the homicide of an adopted 2-year-old girl who died on Monday.

They would not discuss just how Faith J. Ray may have been killed but did say her death appeared to involve child abuse.

A preliminary report indicated Faith, who was rushed to Munroe Regional Medical Center for treatment on Saturday, had bleeding on her brain. She also had "multiple bruises on her arms, chest, legs, and thighs, as well as vaginal tearing," according to a deputy's report.

The bleeding was considered life threatening, and Faith was transferred to Shands at the University of Florida, where she later died.

"There are underlying factors that indicated foul play and the death occurred at the hands of another," said Maj. Chris Blair, head of the Major Crimes Division. "The injuries were consistent with child abuse."

Officials said Faith was one of six children who had been adopted by Violet L. Ray, 34, and Joe A. Ray, 38, both of Belleview. The adoptive father has been a math teacher at Wildwood High School since August 2006.

A sheriff's deputy first went to their home, at 10694 S.E. 90th Court, Friday night. Deputy David McClure arrived after 9 p.m. because of a 911 hang-up.

McClure met with Janette Hamblen, Faith's grandmother, who answered the front door. He asked if someone had called 911. Not to her knowledge, she said.

McClure asked Hamblen to check the telephone and she told him the phone was off the hook and that one of the children may have dialed 911. The child must have been scared, she said, because a 2-year-old had fallen on the kitchen floor.

Detectives believe the 911 call was placed by a 5-year-old at the home. The boy didn't say anything to the dispatcher.

Inside the home, McClure reported seeing Violet Ray, Faith’s adoptive mother, sitting on the floor against the wall. Michael Hamblen, Faith's grandfather, was also sitting on the floor. The little girl was wrapped in a blanket and appeared to be sleeping with her head on her grandfather's shoulder.

The deputy didn't see any injuries on the child’s head, according to his report.

They reportedly told McClure she had fallen in the kitchen and bumped her head but that "everything was okay." He asked how far the girl had fallen and was told it was just from the child's standing height.

McClure asked if they needed medical attention, but the adults all declined the help, saying Faith was breathing and "had fallen asleep," according to the report. McClure said he made the offer again to have an ambulance respond, and but again the offer was declined.

He insisted that they take the child to the hospital themselves to at least have her looked at, according to his report. They all agreed and said they would take her. Violet Ray stood up and said she would take Faith. Then she went into a back room to get ready leave, the report says.

But the adults apparently waited until the following morning to call for medical help. Marion County Fire Rescue received a call from the residence at 4:38 a.m. A 2-year-old girl was in cardiac arrest, meaning she wasn't breathing or had no heartbeat.

At 4:45 a.m., sheriff's Deputy Alan Jones went to the home and met Faith's mother, who told him the girl wasn't breathing. Jones performed CPR until medics arrived, and Faith was taken to Munroe Regional.

At the hospital, Jones was told about the intracranial bleeding and the multiple bruises, according to his report.

Faith died on Monday. On Tuesday, following an autopsy, officials with Medical Examiner’s Office contacted the Sheriff's Office to say the death was a homicide.

As of Thursday, the grandmother had custody of the other children, officials said. Among the children, one is Faith's 1-year-old brother. The remaining four are not related to her.

Since the child's death, the Sheriff's Office has contacted the parents for additional interviews, Maj. Blair said. "The case is going to be reviewed by the State Attorney's Office sometime next week to review the facts of the case and to see what's the next step."

A spokeswoman from the Department of Children and Families, which oversees adoptions in the state, said the Rays were "widely respected adoptive parents in the community."

Carrie Hoeppner, DCF's central regional communications director, said that all couples interested in adoption must go through a "rigorous background screening" of their criminal or abuse history, financial history and personal references and that nothing out of the ordinary had sprung up in the Rays' file so far.

"We've looked at everything, and everything appears OK," she said. The agency will be taking a closer look at the adoption files in the days ahead, she added, to see if it might have overlooked any red flags or safety concerns regarding the couple.

The last of their six adoptions occurred in August, according to Hoeppner. She said adopting six children "might sound like a lot, but is not uncommon" and that plenty of adoptive households care after such numbers of children.

"The primary concern right now is for the safety of these surviving children. Thankfully, it appears they don't have any obvious or physical injury, although they're going through medical screening," she said.

The Violets declined to comment when contacted at their home on Thursday. Reached by telephone, Janette Hamblen said she did not wish to talk.

Austin L. Miller can be reached at austin.miller@starbanner.com or 352-817-6999.

2008 Dec 11