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Alumna Strikes Back
October 21, 2006 permalink
The mother in the case of the dead social worker, Boni Frederick, was a graduate of the foster care system, and fully understood the future ahead for her son Saige. She had already lost two other children to social services, and through no fault of her own had seen a husband and a son die. She spent months freezing breast milk to feed to Saige when he was born. Complications from her recent birth meant she could have no more children. Instead of helping this woman, Kentucky snatched her last child from the hospital while she was recovering from a staph infection. The visit from the social worker with baby Saige was to inform the mother that she would never see the boy again. What would make a woman like this snap?
Terrell recalled as being troubled
Despair, loss cut deep, friend says
All Renee Terrell ever wanted was to love and be loved, according to a woman Terrell apparently thought of as a surrogate mother.
Terrell, 33, and her boyfriend, Christopher Luttrell, 23, are suspected in the slaying of a Kentucky social service aide and of abducting Terrell's 9-month-old son, Saige.
The Henderson, Ky., couple were arrested Thursday night hiding in a camping trailer in Godfrey, Ill., near St. Louis, after a three-day search that included a national Amber Alert.
Betty Hartley of Evansville, said Friday that Terrell may have been acting out of desperation, because she had already lost two other children to the social services system. She said Terrell was despondent because she had maintained hopes of regaining custody of Saige.
Hartley said she was surprised at the "horrifying" turn the situation had taken and relieved that Terrell was in custody and Saige was safe. She said that the young woman she knew was a loving, caring person who felt victimized by the system but was determined to persevere.
"I still do not know what happened," Hartley said.
"She loved that child. She sang to it and read to and talked to it when she was pregnant. For months she saved her breast milk and meticulously froze it to save for him. She cared about its health."
Hartley, who was present at Methodist Hospital in Henderson when Saige was born, said it was a difficult birth and as a result Terrell was unable to have any more children. She said Terrell contracted a staph infection from the surgery, causing her to be incapacitated and unable to care for Saige, but she always believed she would get him back.
Hartley also said that in recent months Terrell felt as if she was being systematically shut out of having contact with Saige.
"This was her last chance to have a child," Hartley said.
According to Hartley, Terrell grew up in foster care and youth homes and had little contact with her own mother from a very young age.
"She is someone who has had a really difficult childhood, who has had to scrounge to survive. She desperately wanted a mother. At one point she even asked me to adopt her. She said I was the mother she never had. She desperately wanted that connection with someone. She just wanted a sense of belonging. She never had what we had growing up. I was that mom, in that sense, to her."
Hartley said she and her late husband, Max, who were designers, first met Terrell about 10 years ago. Terrell, who was married at the time lived in an Evansville trailer home with her husband. They contacted the Hartleys to ask their opinion about the fabric print on an antique ottoman they had bought at a yard sale.
But Terrell's husband died a few months after the couple had a baby and she ended up losing the child to social services.
"She didn't have any money to pay rent. They didn't have any extra money. It was difficult for her," she said.
Hartley and her husband, who had opened their own home for use as a Christian youth ministry and often aided people in need, stayed in touch with Terrell through the years.
She said Terrell eventually moved to Tennyson, Ind., and had another son through a new relationship.
However, the relationship ended in a bitter dispute and Terrell also lost custody of that son. Hartley said Terrell always maintained charges of neglect and child abuse leveled against her by the state in the case were untrue and was upset about it.
According to Vanderburgh County officials, Terrell had a child die in infancy in Evansville as well. In 1994, Terrell, then Renee Day, had a son that died from sudden infant death syndrome, according to coroner reports.
Vanderburgh County Coroner Don Erk said Kiowa Lee Terrell died July 6, 1994 at Deaconess Hospital. He was three months and 11 days old.
The cause of death lists SIDS, but Erk said that often just means that the autopsy did not reveal a cause of death.
According to the police report, Terrell woke up to find the child blue and cold before calling for help. Police investigated the death, but found no signs of foul play, the report said.
Henderson police said Terrell has a history of child abuse, including charges of assault and endangering the welfare of a minor.
Saige was taken from her just 13 days after his birth because of neglect, they said, and a judge was poised to strip her of parental rights.
The slain social worker, Boni Frederick, 67, had taken Saige to Terrell's home in Henderson for a last visit before he was to be put up for adoption.
Hartley said she knew that Terrell has made mistakes, but that she is a good person who had attended classes at Ivy Tech and Henderson Community College off and on and was interested in bettering herself.
She said that she sometimes accompanied Terrell to supervised visits with her son Jonah, from the Tennyson relationship and that Terrell had hopes of getting custody of him back too. During the time that she knew Terrell, Hartley said, she never seemed neglectful, violent or uncaring toward children.
"Renee just had a gift for relating to children. She truly adored her children."
Source: Evansville Courier & Press