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Foster Child Murdered
June 3, 2005 permalink
We get too many reports of American children dying in foster care to list here -- there wouldn't be any room left for Canadian news. This one is different. A mother whose sin was following doctor's orders got drowsy from the medication and allowed a child to wander. Her children went to foster care where one was apparently murdered. The mother faces felony child-endangerment charges, many years in prison and permanent loss of all of her children. In accord with tradition, the social workers responsible for the tragedy will receive no punishment.
The Joplin Globe
117 E. Fourth St.
Joplin, MO 64801
Gunshot kills boy in foster care
8-year-old left home alone with 14-year-old
By Jeff Lehr and Derek Spellman, Globe Staff Writers 6/3/05
ALBA, Mo. - The 8-year-old son of a woman whose children were taken from her when her toddler got out on the roof of their Webb City home last September was killed in a shooting Thursday morning inside a foster home where he had been placed by the state.
Police were not releasing the name of the shooting victim, but the Globe confirmed through other sources that the boy killed by a gunshot wound to the head was Braxton Wooden, the son of Brandie McLean, 28.
Authorities have not determined whether the shooting was accidental or self-inflicted, according to Clifton Boyer, chief of the JasCo Metropolitan Police Department. The shooting was reported at about 8:20 a.m. at a foster home at 104 S. Smith St. in Alba.
A 14-year-old was at the home at the time of the shooting but is not in custody. Boyer said investigators are assuming that the two boys were the only ones at the home during the shooting, but he said their investigation of the incident is continuing.
He did not identify the foster parents or offer any explanation concerning where they were at the time of the shooting.
While police would not identify either boy, McLean and her attorney confirmed that the shooting victim was her son, Braxton.
McLean was too upset Thursday night to speak to the Globe at length about what had happened. But she did briefly express her sorrow over Braxton's death and her instinctive anger with the state's child-welfare system that oversaw her children's placement in foster care.
"But it's not going to bring him back," she said of her anger. "Nothing ever will."
Her attorney, Judd McPherson, of Joplin, said his client obviously "feels like the system has completely failed her."
Braxton was the oldest of the five children removed from McLean's home after her 2-year-old son, Chandler, was spotted on a roof of their house at 123 E. Third St. in Webb City the morning of Sept. 20. Police found McLean and a 16-year-old female friend asleep in the living room of the home.
McLean has acknowledged that the situation was dangerous for her son. But she said she had been put on an anti-psychotic drug, Seroquel, by a doctor about a week before the incident to treat her depression and stress, and that the drug made her sleepy all the time.
She was charged with felony child endangerment, and the Children's Division of the Missouri Department of Social Services removed her children and placed them in foster care. She has been allowed weekly visits with them while her legal case has been pending. She also is facing two prior felony forgery counts.
McPherson said three of his clients' five children were placed in the Alba foster home. Chandler and a daughter, Keyaira, 3, also have been living there but were at a day-care center when the shooting took place, he said.
McPherson said he spent some time Thursday trying to learn what happened in the foster home. He said all the information he had received indicated that Braxton and the 14-year-old boy were home alone at the time of the shooting.
He said his client has been "dealing with the fact that her son was taken from her custody because the state alleged he was not safe with her there, and then was placed in a foster home that provided inadequate supervision and access to a weapon."
Neither the media relations coordinator for the state Children's Division nor John McGinnis, director of the department's Jasper County office, could be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
Jasper County Coroner Jerry Neil said an autopsy was scheduled for today. He said he could not yet rule on the cause of death, pending the results of the autopsy. JasCo Metro is leading the police investigation but will enlist the help of the Jasper County Sheriff's Department, Boyer said.
The victim's father, Braxton D. Wooden, 29, is serving time in the Missouri prison system for domestic assault and felony drug possession.
Brandie McLean's mother, Linda McLean, of Riverton, Kan., recently was cleared to have custody of Braxton, Keyaira and Chandler, and kept them for a period. But she eventually turned them back over to the state's foster-care system, according to McPherson and Brandie McLean's brother, Mark Prauser, of Mankato, Minn.
Prauser, who learned of Braxton's death from a family member, said his nephew had been placed in the foster home just within the past month, after his grandmother turned him back over to the state.
"There is something wrong with a system that charges one person with felony child endangerment for an accident where no one was hurt, and then turns around and places them in a home where they are shot and killed," Prauser said.
He said one of his sister's children now "has been taken care of so well of by the state that he is no longer with us." He said a home with guns in it, especially one where children have access to guns, "is not a safe place for foster children."
Prauser said he last spoke to his nephew several weeks ago. At the time, Braxton was enthusiastic about baseball and getting to visit Prauser in Minnesota, he said.
Prauser said he doesn't know who to blame most at this point for what happened to Braxton.
Boyer said the bullet struck the boy's right temple and exited through the rear part of his head. He was taken to St. John's Regional Medical Center in Joplin and then died while en route to Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.
McPherson said he took McLean's legal case Wednesday at her request, after she learned that a plea agreement she had accepted in April could lead to her never getting her children back.
The plea agreement she accepted while represented by a public defender called for her to plead guilty to all three felony charges she is facing, including the child-endangerment charge, in exchange for a promise that the prosecution would recommend that she not be sentenced to any more than four years in prison and would not oppose a recommendation that she be placed on probation if that is what a pre-sentence investigation determines.
McPherson said his client was "ill-advised" to make that plea.
McLean told the Globe that her Children's Division caseworker had told her that if she was convicted of child endangerment, it would not affect her eligibility to get her children back. She said she later learned that under a state law that went into effect this year, a conviction for felony child endangerment automatically terminates parents' right to custody of their children.
McPherson said the Legislature might change the law so that it is not as harsh as that with respect to convictions for child endangerment. He said McLean will be withdrawing her guilty plea, and that he intends to defend her against all three felony counts.
He compared his client's plight to the Dominic James foster-care death case. The 2-year-old Springfield boy died in August 2003 while in foster care.
"If this doesn't call for reform of the foster-care system, what does?" McPherson said.
Source: Joplin Globe
Addendum: Authorities intend to sweep this matter under the rug by making a teenager the scapegoat. Had it happened in a home with real parents, they would have been charged with some kind of a crime for negligently leaving guns where they could cause death. In the Braxton Wooden case, the parental rights were being exercised by a social worker, and she will not be charged.
Posted on Wed, Jun. 08, 2005
Teen charged in shooting death at southwest Missouri foster home
ALBA, Mo. - A 14-year-old boy has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of his parents' 8-year-old foster child.
A judge in Jasper County on Tuesday ordered the teenager to be held by juvenile authorities and charged with involuntary manslaughter until a juvenile court hearing next Tuesday. The closed hearing will be similar to a trial by judge in adult court, Joe Hensley, attorney for the Jasper County Juvenile Office said.
Hensley said the teen will be released if he is found not guilty. He could be ordered to undergo treatment if found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Braxton Wooden, 8, was shot in the head Thursday when he and the teenager were apparently alone at the family's Alba home, officials with the JasCo Metropolitan Police Department said.
Based on an autopsy and information from investigators, the Jasper County coroner ruled Monday that the shooting was an accident. Coroner Jerry Neil said Braxton died of a .38-caliber close range gunshot wound. He said that handgun and a .22-caliber Beretta handgun were confiscated at the scene.
The victim was the oldest child of Brandie McLean, of Webb City. Her five children were taken into Missouri Department of Social Services' custody after her 2-year-old child was seen on the roof of the family's home in September.
Police said they found McLean, 28, and a 16-year-old female friend asleep in the living room.
McLean, who was charged with child endangerment, said her medication had made her sleepy.
Her lawyer, Judd McPherson, of Joplin, said three of her children had been placed in the Alba foster home. The other two were at a day-care center at the time of the shooting, he said.
JasCo police Chief Clifton Boyer said Tuesday that authorities could not provide details in the case until later this week and the juvenile's name would not be released.
Information from: The Joplin Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com