Eight tragic cases under Hillsborough Kids' watch

By John Barry, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Sunday, October 9, 2011

These are the eight children who died in the past two years while under the supervision of Hillsborough Kids Inc. The
following accounts of their lives and deaths were obtained from state records:

Mario Xavier Lopez Jr. was 1 1/2 months old when he died from cerebral trauma in November 2010. Deputies got a
911 call from his Valrico home. He was pronounced dead when he got to the hospital. Mario had two siblings who
had previously been removed after one of them, an infant, suffered a skull fracture. Both children were given back to
the parents. Hillsborough Kids had been working with the family, but the parents had refused voluntary services. The
Sheriff's Office has an open criminal investigation.

Ulysses Franklin was 18 months old when he was fatally struck by a neighbor's car in Thonotosassa in November
2010. His mother had been putting him in a car, but she stepped away to take trash from the car to a dumpster 50
feet away. He was hit by another car leaving the apartment parking lot. A year earlier, sheriff's deputies on a drug
raid at the mother's home had found Ulysses sleeping on a pillow that covered a loaded gun. Most of the drug
charges were dropped and Ulysses was given back to his mother in March 2010.

Taylor Jacobs was 12 when she hanged herself on June 24, 2010, with her mother in another room. She wasn't
supposed to be with her mother, unsupervised. Her mother had herself once attempted suicide and was reportedly
addicted to prescription drugs. Taylor's father had died in 2008. Her Bradenton grandmother was given custody.
Caseworkers didn't know the grandmother was allowing Taylor to stay with her mother without supervision. Taylor
had a saying, investigators said: "FTS." It stood for "f--- the system."

Markela Thompson was 5 months old in December 2010 when her father said he found her in her bassinet, not
breathing. Investigators found she had several broken bones in different stages of healing, fingernail marks on her
neck and a bruised forehead. Her 31-year-old mother was charged with choking her to death. The mother had been
barred from the home, but the father had allowed her to move in. Caseworkers didn't know. When Markela died, she
was emaciated and had pneumonia in her right lung. Four other siblings had already been removed from the home.

Emanuel Wesley Murray Jr. was 4 months old in May 2009 when he died. Police say his teenage mother's
ex-boyfriend threw him on the floor, then drove away with him and tossed him out of a car window on I-275. His
mother had been under the supervision of Hillsborough Kids. After Emanuel's birth, she wasn't given a psychological
evaluation to test her coping skills, mental health issues or ability to raise the baby. Investigators found insufficient
consideration of Emanuel's safety, even though caseworkers visited the mother 60 times. They urged her to keep
the ex-boyfriend away but did not try to move her and the baby after the ex-boyfriend kicked down their door twice
and beat the mother.

Ronderique Anderson was 16 months old when he was fatally beaten in his father's home in February 2011. His
father is charged with his murder. The father's girlfriend is charged with aggravated child abuse. Ronderique had
been taken from his teenage mother and given to his father, despite histories of domestic violence for both the father
and the girlfriend. Investigators found that caseworkers should have provided the mother with better services and
more closely examined the criminal backgrounds of the father and his girlfriend. They also said the case supervisor
did not provide sufficient oversight or instruction.

Ezekiel Mathis was a year old when he died in May 2011. His mother's boyfriend is charged with beating him to
death. A judge had barred the boyfriend from the home, but he continued to live there, and conversed several times
with caseworkers. One reported his presence in an e-mail to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, but the e-mail
wasn't read until after Ezekiel died. Ezekiel's 2-year-old sister had been removed from the home after she appeared
at a hospital covered with bruises. Ezekiel was not removed. Everyone involved now agrees he should have been.

Avelyn Gaston-Rodriguez was 2 years old when she died of a blow to the head on Oct. 6, 2009. No one was
charged. Avelyn, whose mother gave her up at birth, had been reunited with her father. His girlfriend had three
children of her own, and the couple had a 3-month-old baby together. The girlfriend became Avelyn's caretaker. She
complained of being overwhelmed. The little girl, developmentally disabled, was getting speech therapy through
Hillsborough Kids Inc. Both a caseworker and the speech therapist noticed she appeared unwell. She once vomited
in front of the therapist. An investigation found no record of caseworkers responding to the girlfriend's complaints of
stress. No one questioned Avelyn's deteriorating condition.