On his seventh birthday, a helicopter rushed Tyler DeLeon from southern Stevens County to a Spokane hospital, where he died under circumstances that are now part of a homicide investigation involving his adoptive mother.
The kindergartener weighed just 33 pounds. His right leg and shoulder had multiple abrasions, and he was severely dehydrated, according to court records.
Tyler had suffered numerous injuries before he died on Jan. 13. The state’s Child Protective Services received reports of a broken leg, a fall from a vehicle, stitches and bruises on his face, and the boy’s own testimony that he was pushed down a flight of stairs at home.
The last referral came on Jan. 4, when school officials alerted state workers about bruises covering the boy’s face. But the agency did not visit Tyler at home.
Nine days later, he was dead.
Carole Ann DeLeon, 50, is at the center of a homicide-by-abuse investigation by the Stevens County Sheriff’s Office. Last week, the state removed the four remaining children from DeLeon’s care and placed them in foster homes.
DeLeon, a paralegal with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Spokane, referred calls Thursday to her attorney.
“You have the facts very wrong, but that’s all I’m saying,” DeLeon said.
The case raises serious questions about the role of the state’s child welfare system, which not only received multiple reports of abuse concerning Tyler, but also removed at least three children from DeLeon’s care in the late 1980s after reports of abuse and neglect.
Those reports include a 1988 allegation that DeLeon bound the wrists of a 12-year-old girl in her care, left her tied up in the basement for 10 hours and repeatedly denied her access to food and water. State workers immediately removed the girl from DeLeon’s care, calling it a “shocking” case.
Despite her troubled history, the state granted DeLeon another foster-parent license in 1996.
Tim Abbey, a regional supervisor, said his agency was unaware of the previous allegations because the state had destroyed DeLeon’s records. Abbey said state policy dictates that the agency must destroy records that have been inactive for more than seven years.
“It is standard practice. Given what we know now,” Abbey said, referring to the 1988 case, “that would be reason for disqualifying (her).”
Instead, the state sent several foster children to live with DeLeon. Abbey would not confirm how many children were sent there in the past nine years, but he said DeLeon may also have taken care of other children without the agency’s knowledge.
The Spokesman-Review requested access to DeLeon’s foster-parent records. An agency official at state headquarters in Olympia said the file contains hundreds of pages, but it will not be available for three months because of a backlog of public records requests.
Neighbors said the agency was repeatedly warned of problems at the rural home set among pine trees near the Spokane County line.
Last fall, a neighbor responded to Tyler’s screams and found him standing on an outdoor balcony as punishment. Carole DeLeon invited the neighbor to check on the boy’s welfare but warned he had a rare medical condition that stunted his development.
“I was shocked,” the neighbor said. “He looked about 3 years old. I remember touching his shoulder and it was just skin and bones.”
The neighbor said Tyler’s foster sister told her the boy had once been denied a glass of water for three hours because he hadn’t said, “Please.”
DeLeon told doctors and friends that the child was “a drug-affected child (who) had behavioral problems, who threw fits several times a day, inflicting bruises and scratches upon himself,” according to a search warrant filed this month.
Tyler DeLeon attended Lake Spokane Elementary School, where he was placed in a kindergarten class despite his age, according to the school.
Principal Bridget Monahan refused to discuss the case, but said, “We cared about Ty. He was a great kid, and we loved him.”
But concerns mounted at the school, according to court records. The school continually alerted the state about Tyler’s injuries.
In November 2002, Tyler said DeLeon pushed him and he fell into a dresser, cutting his head, court records state. DeLeon told school officials she tied the boy’s hands behind his back so that he would not tear out stitches he received after the fall.
DeLeon told school officials that Tyler had an eating and drinking disorder, according to court records. She asked them to monitor Tyler’s lunches, and specifically instructed them to punish the boy by denying him any other liquids if he drank his milk prior to lunch.
That lunch normally consisted of a slice of bread with peanut butter and a small thermos of milk, according to court records.
DeLeon also asked that teachers accompany Tyler to the bathroom to prevent him from drinking water from the toilet, according to the records.
Frank Silva, Carole Ann DeLeon’s brother, said Tyler appeared to have behavioral problems.
“Ty used to pull his hair out by the roots,” Silva said. “I just know he was a handful.”
However, birth documentation countered DeLeon’s claim that Tyler was a drug-affected baby, according to the records. The documents say Tyler developed normally prior to be being placed in DeLeon’s care. School officials also report they did not see Tyler acting out in the manner described by DeLeon.
Last spring, Tyler told school officials that DeLeon’s adult daughter, Christina DeLeon-Burns, kicked him down a flight of stairs because he was not getting dressed quickly. A foster brother corroborated Tyler’s story.
Silva said DeLeon-Burns runs a day care from the same home. She could not be reached for comment.
In early January, Tyler came down with the flu, according to DeLeon’s attorney, Carl Oreskovich. He said the boy had not been taken to the doctor.
School officials said Tyler appeared to be healthy on Jan. 11, according to the search warrant.
Two days later, DeLeon called 911 at 4:26 p.m., saying that Tyler was not breathing. He was rushed to Sacred Heart Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead 90 minutes later.
Hospital records at the time of his death say he had been sick one day with the flu.
The Spokane County Medical Examiner’s office initially listed the cause of death as severe dehydration. The office said additional testing is being done and a final finding is pending.
Oreskovich said DeLeon is devastated by the boy’s death.
“This is a woman (who) has taken many different children into her home,” Oreskovich said. “She has taken care of them appropriately and she has made her life about caring for kids. There is no doubt about her fitness” as a parent.
But court files in Washington show multiple allegations of abuse and neglect that led social workers to remove children from her care more than 15 years ago.
In 1988, a foster child, identified only as “Mary” in state records, reported that DeLeon and her then-boyfriend, Chris Wear, bound her wrists with yarn and left her in a basement for 10 hours. The girl said DeLeon punished her after finding three empty string-cheese packages in the garbage.
A doctor reported finding rope burns and belt marks on the girl, as well as a swollen lip and bruises on her face. The report also stated there was a 7-by-3-inch bruise on her thigh.
The girl reported she was regularly deprived of food at home, relying on lunches at school for sustenance.
“It goes without saying that this is a shocking story,” a Colville physician wrote to state investigators. He concluded the girl showed “definite signs of abuse.”
When questioned, Wear and DeLeon told an investigator that Mary “lies constantly and steals on a continuous basis,” and that the girl “can’t be trusted for any reason,” court documents state.
Also in 1988, DeLeon’s biological children were placed in protective custody because of allegations that Wear physically abused them, according to documents from DeLeon’s divorce case in Laramie County, Wyo. Wear could not be reached for comment.
The abuse resulted in “physical injury to the minor children,” according to the filing. DeLeon denied the allegations, stating she had been beaten by her sons, who then fled to Missoula.
Contacted Thursday, one of the sons, who lives in Wyoming and is estranged from DeLeon, declined to comment on the case. DeLeon’s father, Joe Silva, also declined to comment.
Oreskovich said DeLeon will ask to have the surviving children returned to her home. A civil hearing is scheduled for next month.
A CPS spokeswoman said the agency will launch an executive fatality review into Tyler’s death.
Asked why the agency had not responded to the Jan. 4 report in the nine days leading up to the boy’s death, spokeswoman Kathy Spears said, by statute, a social worker has 10 days to respond.
“We want to reduce the time frame to 72 hours,” Spears said.
Click here to comment on this story »