Constable accidentally kills 12-year-old girl during eviction

Twelve-year-old Ciara Meyer was standing behind her father when a constable came to the door.

The constable was serving an eviction notice to them Monday morning at their apartment in Penn Township, Pa., when the girl’s father protested and then pointed a rifle at his chest. The officer pulled his gun and squeezed the trigger, police said.

The bullet, police said, went though the man’s arm and hit his daughter. She died at the scene.

The account was provided on Tuesday to ABC affiliate WHTM by Pennsylvania state police in Newport.

“Very kind, sweet kid,” a neighbor told the station. “Here’s a little girl that doesn’t even have a chance to grow up and live her life, and all because of this senseless act. It’s horrible, absolutely heartbreaking.”

Ciara was sick and had stayed home from school Monday when Pennsylvania State Constable Clarke Steele showed up at their apartment, according to WHTM-TV.

Her father, Donald Meyer, 57, shut the door, police told the station. Then, according to police, he opened it again and aimed a .223-caliber rifle at the constable.

“Constable Steele, who was in uniform, quickly removed his .40 caliber duty weapon from its holster and fired a single round striking the suspect in his upper left arm,” police said, according to CNN.

A neighbor heard the shot. It wasn’t until later she found out who had been killed.

“I burst into tears,” she told WHTM-TV. “I can’t understand it; it’s horrible.”

The neighbor, who was not named, said that her daughter was friends with Ciara and that she didn’t know how to tell her that Ciara was gone.

“She’s not going to handle it very well,” she told the station. “It’s horrible. How do you tell a little girl that something like this happened? How do you explain that? I’m an adult, and I don’t understand it.”

Ciara’s death is among at least 22 police shootings that have resulted in fatalities so far this year, according to a Washington Post database.

Meyer was transported to Penn State Hershey Medical Center via helicopter. He has been charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, terroristic threats and reckless endangerment.

He will be held at Perry County Prison without bail, police told WHTM-TV. A preliminary court hearing is set for Jan. 15.

A source close to the constable told the station that he is “very distraught over the situation.” A Commonwealth Constables Association spokesman told WHTM-TV that he opted to “suspend his work” during the police investigation.

The Susquenita School District said it is working with counselors to “provide support to students and staff” during this time.

“Procedures are in place across the district to address potential impacts of this incident to our students and staff,” Superintendent Kent Smith said in a statement. “Susquenita administration and additional professional staff (psychologists and guidance counselors) are working in conjunction with  counselors from Holy Spirit (Teen Line) to provide support to students and staff as needed.

“Until permission is received from investigating authorities, the district is not at liberty to share any additional details.”

“She was a sweet little girl — so kind, so loving,” neighbor Sarah Harman told PennLive.com. “I just hope she didn’t suffer. … A child doesn’t deserve that — they are a precious gift from God.”

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the family pay for Ciara’s funeral arrangements.

Source: ‘I just hope she didn’t suffer’: Constable accidentally kills 12-year-old girl during eviction

Texas man charged in killing of 8 set for court appearance

A man with a violent criminal history entered a Houston home through an unlocked window and fatally shot a woman he’d previously dated, her husband and six children, including a boy believed to be his own son, authorities said.

David Conley, 48, is charged with capital murder in the deaths and is set to make his first court appearance Monday morning before a trial judge. Conley, who is being held in the Harris County Jail and doesn’t yet have an attorney, didn’t appear at a court hearing Sunday at which he was denied bond.

The dead, who all shot in the head, were identified as parents Dewayne Jackson, 50; his wife, Valerie Jackson, 40; and their children Dewayne, 10; Honesty, 11; Caleb, 9; Trinity, 7; and Jonah, 6. Also killed was a 13-year-old, Nathaniel, who was believed to be Conley’s son from the relationship with Valerie Jackson.

“We do not — cannot — fully comprehend the motivation of an individual that would take the lives of so many innocent people. Especially the lives of the young ones,” said Chief Deputy Tim Cannon of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. “The killer’s motives appear to be related to a dispute with Valerie, who was his former domestic partner.”

Authorities were first alerted Saturday about a problem at the home when a relative of Valerie Jackson’s contacted the sheriff’s office to request a welfare check.

“Upon arrival, deputies made multiple attempts to establish contact with residents inside the home. No contact was made,” Cannon said.

After authorities learned that Conley, who had once lived in the home, had a warrant for his arrest for an assault charge, the sheriff’s office High Risk Operations Unit was called.

“While awaiting response for the (unit), the body of an unidentified child was observed through a window at the residence,” he said. “Deputies on scene forced entry into the home and were immediately met with gunfire. The deputies withdrew from the home … and awaited the arrival of the” unit.

A standoff ensued for several hours between Conley and authorities until Conley surrendered, said Sgt. Craig Clopton, the lead investigator.

Flowers and eight balloons are seen at a house, Sunday, Aug. 9, 2015, where eight people were killed on Saturday in Houston. A family of six children and two parents were handcuffed and fatally shot in the head at a Houston home by a man with a violent criminal history who had previously been in a relationship with the mother and had a dispute with her, authorities said Sunday. David Conley, 48, was charged with capital murder in the deaths.

Investigators declined to say when on Saturday the victims were shot or if any victims were alive when deputies first tried to enter the home.

According to an arrest affidavit, Conley told authorities that he discovered on Saturday morning that the locks had been changed at the home after he had moved out. He entered the home through an unlocked window, the affidavit said.

According to Clopton, Jackson and Conley had a relationship, which ended, and “then (Dewayne Jackson) began a relationship with Valerie, which led to five children.”

That relationship ended and Conley and Valerie Jackson began another relationship, before breaking up again, Clopton said.

Court records show Conley’s criminal history dates back to at least 1988, with the most recent incident last month, when he was charged with assault after allegedly assaulting Valerie Jackson. The attack happened at the home where the bodies were found.

Conley pushed Valerie Jackson’s head against a refrigerator multiple times after she tried to stop him from disciplining her son with a belt, the documents alleged. The case was still pending.

In 2013, Conley was charged with aggravated assault for threatening Jackson with a knife. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to nine months in the county jail.

In 2000, he was sentenced to five years in prison for retaliating against his then-girlfriend after she had filed an assault charge against him. It was unclear if that woman was Valerie Jackson.

Authorities declined to comment on assault charges Conley had faced in the past or what prompted relatives to worry and request that deputies be sent to the home on Saturday.

Missouri man accused of luring girl with snacks, killing her

Taney County Sheriff’s Office John P. Roberts, 55, of Branson, was jailed without bond Monday in Taney County after being charged the day before with first-degree murder in the death of Jasmine Miller.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A man used snacks to lure a 6-year-old girl into his motel room in the southwest Missouri tourist town of Branson and strangled her, court records released Monday say.

John P. Roberts, 55, of Branson, remained jailed without bond Monday in Taney County after being charged the day before with first-degree murder in the death of Jasmine Miller. Taney County prosecutor Jeffrey Merrell said he didn’t know whether Roberts had an attorney and none was listed for him in online court records.

The probable cause statement said the girl’s body was found Saturday under the bed in the Windsor Inn room where Roberts was staying alone. Police said in a news release that the discovery was made while officers were searching the area after receiving a lost child report.

Merrell said the girl and her family also were living at the motel. “My understanding is that this was an extended stay motel and that this was a temporary living arrangement,” he said.

The Windsor Inn is on Branson’s 76 Strip and a short walk from several attractions, including a water park and theater.

Paul Dubois, 36, of Branson, whose daughter was a friend of Jasmine’s, is working to organize a candlelight vigil. Dubois, who said he is “fighting a brain tumor and cancer,” recalled the first time he saw Jasmine during a birthday party for his daughter. He said the girl approached him when he was unable to push children on park swings.

“She hugged me and said it doesn’t matter the fact that I can’t do what other parents can do,” Dubois said.

Police said it appears Roberts acted alone. He was released from jail earlier this month after posting $171 in bail in a Taney County burglary case.

The probable cause statement in that case said Roberts told police that he needed money for food, and “would arrange to pay the money back.” Police found $23 in Roberts’ wallet, and say he told them that’s what was left from what he stole. His attorney in that case, Judson Wall, didn’t immediately return a phone call from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Kristan Patterson, who used to live near Roberts, told KSPR-TV that she spoke to Roberts every day and knew him to be a kind man.

Windsor Inn resident Tammy Meyer said her children played with Jasmine, and she and her 17-year-old daughter helped search for the girl before she was found.

“She was just a doll,” Meyer said. “I think I can speak for everyone here. We are in shock.”

Source: Missouri man accused of luring girl with snacks, killing her

Christmas tree ignited fatal Annapolis mansion fire

© Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post/Getty Images Anne Arundel County Fire Department, along with ATF officials, on the scene of the four-alarm fire that broke out early Monday morning in the 16,000-square-foot house at 936 Childs Point… A 15-foot tall Christmas tree sparked a fatal fire that tore through a 16,000-square-foot Annapolis mansion, killing a couple and their four grandchildren in the fast-moving flames, investigators believe.

The preliminary cause of the fire, revealed at a press conference Wednesday, comes just two days after the final body of six total was pulled from the debris left by the pre-dawn blaze last week.

Reported early Jan. 19, the flames leveled the sprawling two-story home to rubble and killed Don Pyle, the CEO of a northern Virginia tech company, his wife Sandra Pyle and grandchildren Alexis Boone, 8; Charlotte Boone, 8; Kaitlyn Boone, 7; and Wesley Boone, 6.

Lexi and Katie were sisters and cousins to Charlotte and Wes.

The family members were sleeping in rooms connected to the house’s 19-foot-tall “great room” which contained the massive tree when an electrical fire broke out, said Anne Arundel Fire Chief Allan Graves.

Fire officials estimated that it took two to three minutes before the whole tree shot up in flames after being cut down more than 60 days prior to the fire and likely drying out.

The incredible blaze was the “result of a tragic accident which occurred at the absolutely worst time while the Pyles and their grandchildren were sleeping,” Special Agent Bill McMullan with Baltimore’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said.

There was no sprinkler system inside the residence due to it having been built by the Pyles in 2005, before current safety regulations.

There was a smoke alarm system which alerted firefighters, however, along with a 911 call two-minutes later by a neighbor.

The $9 million home, situation on eight-acres of waterfront property outside Annapolis, Md., burned out of control for nearly four hours. Hot spots and flare-ups kept firefighters from entering the wreckage for days.

Two bodies were found a week ago, then three more before the final remains were removed Monday.

The Boone and Pyle families thanked the community and first responders after the final body was recovered.

“We are relieved that our loved ones have all been recovered. We thank the men, women, and canine service animals who have worked so tirelessly to bring them home to us. Though we are grieving deeply, this has brought us some small sense of closure. We take comfort in that they are now together, and we can begin to mend our hearts,” they wrote in a statement obtained by WBAL-TV. “We are so grateful for the outpouring of support from the community. The kindness shown by friends and strangers alike has been overwhelming”.

The families also released remembrances of the dead. The entire statement is printed below:

“Charlotte loved her family, horses, basketball, and swimming. Her friends from school held a special place in her heart. She had many wonderful adventures with her family. She was fun-loving, intelligent, and kind. She wanted to be known as a gamer with an epic love of Minecraft. Charlotte loved making videos with her guinea pig, Oreo. Charlotte’s future dreams were to run an animal rescue.”

“Wes loved his friends and family, Doctor Who, Legos, Minecraft, Plants vs Zombies, and swimming. Wes was sweet and loving and looked up to his older sister immensely. He loved all his friends and he especially looked forward to seeing his classmates at school every day. He loved trips to the beach with his family. In his future, Wes wanted to build robots.”

“Lexi loved her sister and new baby brother, her friends from school, field hockey, lacrosse, and ice skating. She was thoughtful, social, smart, and determined. She loved her dog Sophie. Her favorite adventures included trips with her parents, grandparents, and cousins. Lexi wanted to be a vet or on television when she grew up. She was going to be famous.”

“Katie loved her family more than anything, especially her new brother. She was kind, compassionate, and loving. She enjoyed soccer, gymnastics, ice skating, and singing Taylor Swift songs. Katie’s most recent adventures included her birthday party at the home with the Raven’s Cheerleaders and a trip to New York City. For only having just turned 7, she was loving and thoughtful beyond her years.”

“Don loved his family, especially the grandchildren, more than anything in the world. They called him ‘Pop-Pop.’ He treated each friend as a special member of his family. He established long term friendships from high school through his business career. Don loved the Ravens, Orioles, and Delaware Blue Hens Lacrosse. His hobbies included fishing, golf, skiing, and entertaining family and friends. Don also cherished traveling with his wife.”

“Sandy loved her family and had a special place in her heart for each grandchild. She was known to them as ‘Dee-Dee.’ She was extremely loyal to her friends, who were like her extended family. Her passions were numerous and included the Ravens, Orioles, the beach, and traveling. She was a one-of-a-kind original — fun-loving, caring, and generous. She loved every animal, especially her rescue dogs, and contributed to numerous animal welfare groups. Sandy was incredibly sensitive to the needs of others and generous beyond words.”

Source: Christmas tree ignited fatal Annapolis mansion fire

Former Pa. volunteer firefighter charged with sexually abusing 14 children

Authorities in Pennsylvania charged a former volunteer firefighter on Friday for sexually assaulting more than a dozen children over a two-year period.

John P. Corcoran, 20, was arraigned on 161 counts of sexual assault, including rape and producing child pornography, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan announced. The 14 child victims range in age from 8 to 14 years old, according to Whelan. Charging documents also allege that Corcoran victimized a 19-year-old girl with an intellectual disability.

Corcoran, a former volunteer with Goodwill Fire Company No. 1, had been arrested over the summer on arson charges. A lawyer representing him did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Authorities allege that Corcoran orchestrated a series of sexual activities with children, the grim details of which were outlined in a news release Friday. Many of the alleged assaults took place in his bedroom, at a swimming pool and in a YMCA locker room; the charging documents include allegations that Corcoran even victimized multiple children at once and secretly filmed the acts.

“The defendant in this case lured these vulnerable children under the guise of his friendship, and then exploited them with the promise of gifts only to then sexually exploit and abuse them for his own deviant sexual gratification,” Whelan said in a statement. “The sexual exploitation of children is the most heinous crime because of the long-term physical and emotional damage it causes to the innocent.”

According to charging documents, authorities were first alerted to the alleged assaults when the mother of a 12-year-old boy discovered her son had “hard-core” pornographic magazines that Corcoran had given him.

The boy told investigators that Corcoran began sexually assaulting him when the boy was 10, and that he knew of others who were being bribed with money and toy cars.

Soon, detectives began interviewing other children, who told them Corcoran had befriended them and then used peer pressure and gifts to lure them closer before he committed the alleged assaults.

Charges include three counts of child rape, 11 counts of indecent assault of a child under 13, eight counts of indecent exposure and nine counts of dissemination of explicit materials to minors.

Corcoran was out on bail and awaiting his arson trial when police arrested him on child pornography charges in December. He failed to post bail and remained in police custody.

Source: Former Pa. volunteer firefighter charged with sexually abusing 14 children

4 children, doting grandparents and a devastating fire

The grandchildren’s birthday parties were always lavish.

At their $6 million Annapolis mansion, Don and Sandra Pyle could never do too much for her sons’ kids, transforming the sprawling eight-acre estate into a children’s carnival with water slides, moon bounces and pony rides. Don, especially, reveled in the games of hide-and-seek and make-believe tussles.

“It was like he was raising the children he never had,” said Jon Bierman, a longtime friend of the wealthy technology executive. “He put everything into them.”

The four Boone kids — Lexi, 8, and Katie, 7, along with their first cousins Charlotte, 8, and Wes, 6 — went to a sleepover at their grandparents’ home on Sunday because Monday was a holiday, a family spokeswoman said. Don, 56, known as “Pop-Pop” to the grandkids, and Sandy, 63, who went by “Dee-Dee,” took them to Target to buy costumes for a visit to Medieval Times at the Arundel Mills mall. Together, they watched knights joust and ate dinner in a banquet setting before heading back to their own castle, as the Pyles’ 16,000-square-foot home was known to neighbors.

They almost certainly never left.

Early Monday morning, an inferno consumed the mansion, bringing down its seven-ton steel beams and reducing to ash a structure the size of seven average single-family houses.

All six family members are feared dead. So far, four bodies have been found — two Wednesday and two more on Thursday.

Cadaver dogs continue to hunt for the other remains as investigators search for any signs of foul play. On Thursday, they also brought in a dog that specializes in sniffing out gasoline and other accelerants that may spark fires.

Left behind are Clint and Randy Boone, who each lost two children as well as their mother and stepfather in a single night.

Clint, 37, and his ex-wife, Eve Morrison, 39, are parents to Charlotte and Wes.

Randy, 38, and Stacey, 34 — parents to Lexi and Katie — also have a newborn son, who was at home with them the night of the fire.

“I never knew that I could hurt this badly. It’s unreal,” Stacey wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday. “All one big nightmare that I can’t wake up from.”

In biographies released by the family Friday, Lexi, 8, was described as an eager big sister to her newborn brother and devoted to her dog, Sophie. She played field hockey, lacrosse and ice skated. “Lexi wanted to be a vet or on television when she grew up,” her family said. “She was going to be famous.”

Her younger sister, Katie, was also excited about the arrival of a baby brother. Katie played soccer and enjoyed gymnastics, ice skating and singing Taylor Swift songs. “For only having just turned 7,” her family said, “she was loving and thoughtful beyond her years.”

Charlotte, 8, loved horses, basketball, swimming and making videos with her guinea pig, Oreo. “She wanted to be known as a gamer with an epic love of Minecraft,” her family said. “Charlotte’s future dreams were to run an animal rescue.”

Her brother Wes, 6, “looked up to his sister immensely,” his family said. Like Charlotte, he also enjoyed Minecraft and swimming, and had a particular fondness for Legos, Doctor Who and the game “Plants vs. Zombies.” “In his future,” the family added, “Wes wanted to build robots.”

The Boones hinted at their desolation in a joint statement released Thursday, thanking firefighters, expressing gratitude for the outpouring of community support and calling the love for their family “boundless.”

“Life is fragile,” they said. “Make time today to embrace your loved ones.”

A raging fire

The four-alarm blaze was one of the most devastating in Maryland in years, according to Bruce Bouch, the senior deputy state fire marshal whose agency has been helping Anne Arundel County with its investigation.

Bouch said a home alarm alerted 911 that smoke was detected on the first and second floors of the mansion early Monday, but because of the home’s vast open areas, the fire probably spread rapidly and “overcame the space.”

“By the time the fire service was on the scene, they already had a raging, out-of-control fire they had to fight,” Bouch said.

County fire officials said there were no sprinklers in the Pyle mansion, which was built in 2005 — four years before Anne Arundel began to require them in new residential homes.

Fire sprinklers will become mandatory in all new residential buildings in Maryland starting in June. Bouch said that if sprinklers had been installed in the Pyle mansion, “there probably wouldn’t be a story today.”

Investigators are using specialty software that provides “forensic mapping,” which allows them to reconstruct a building’s layout in such detail that they could determine where drapes might have hung or a couch might have been placed, according to Special Agent Dave Cheplak, a spokesman for the Baltimore office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

He and Capt. Russell Davies Jr., a spokesman for the county’s fire department, said they had not determined the cause of the fire.

“Until we make a determination one way or another, it’s going to stay a criminal investigation,” Davies said.

Cheplak echoed the need to comb carefully through the evidence, a process that could take weeks. “Anytime you have a family of six people killed in a home, it’s certainly not commonplace,” he said. “Nobody is taking it as routine.”

He would not comment on whether the accelerant dog found anything suspicious, but he did say that cadaver dogs have been instrumental in helping crews pinpoint where to dig for bodies.

Amassing a fortune

Before it was reduced to rubble, the mansion symbolized the Pyles’ soaring success and served as the center of their family’s universe.

The couple met in 1981 at Rixon, said Nick Whelan, who had an engineering job at the Silver Spring, Md., tech company.

Don, a salesman, had recently graduated from the University of Delaware, where he played lacrosse. Sandy, a mother of two young boys, worked in marketing.

Back then, their generous philanthropy, frequent vacations, yacht club social swirl and Great Gatsby-like galas were years away.

“He was like all the rest of us working stiffs,” Whelan said. “They would go out for beers together.”

Don and Sandy shared sharp wits and the same passions. The couple frequented Orioles games and the Preakness Stakes and joined friends for happy hours at Baltimore bars. In the summer, they boated; in the winter, they took Sandy’s sons on ski trips to Pennsylvania.

“They were always very well-matched together,” he said. “They got on amazingly well.”

The two married in 1983 as Don’s career took off.

“I was able to get in on the ground floor in some of the companies that were based in Silicon Valley,” he told The Washington Post in an October interview, after becoming chief operating officer of ScienceLogic, a Northern Virginia computer networking company. And he made a fortune in the process.

During his rise in the tech world, Sandy focused her attention on her sons, who attended Mount Hebron High School in Ellicott City, Md. A friend of the brothers said their father, Kenny Boone, played an active role in their childhoods.

Randy, the older of the two boys, eventually followed in Don’s professional footsteps, holding jobs at a pair of companies his stepfather helped run: Netcordia and Infoblox, according to his LinkedIn profile. He now works as a sales development representative.

Sandy, meanwhile, became an entrepreneur, opening a tanning salon in Columbia, Md.

Jill Willingham was 15 when she started working for Sandy at Hot Off the Beach. Sandy would sign her employees up for training and seminars, encouraging their business aspirations. She also took the entire staff to conventions, including one in Ocean City.

Willingham, now 36, said she and her husband once attended a July 4 party at the mansion, which was designed to look like an English-style castle complete with a suit of armor inside.

“It was beyond anything you could imagine,” she said. “They had a lot of castle things, like a drawbridge. And there was an infinity pool. Inside, she had a current pool so she could exercise. She also had a tanning room in a tower of the house.”

Sandy, who sold the tanning salon years ago, was known for her eclectic taste and extravagant parties.

From 2008 to 2010, she and Don threw wine-tasting fundraisers for the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, a spokesman said. Two years ago, when the Delaware football team played Navy in Annapolis, the Pyles hosted an event for alumni and school leaders
of Don’s alma mater, said his former lacrosse coach, Bob Shillinglaw.

When Sandy’s Howard High School class needed a place to hold its 40th reunion in 2010, she offered their home.

“It was awesome in the true sense of the word,” said Sue Goodwin, a former classmate. “Their graciousness and generosity was beyond belief.”

She also had a deep love for the rescue dogs she took in, feeding them leftover prime rib or — when the family ordered pizza — their own cheeseburgers.

Still, friends said, nothing compared with the adoration they had for their grandchildren.

They turned their expansive basement into a playroom for sleepovers and took the children on trips to Disney World and Great Wolf Lodge, an indoor water park.

They helped pay for the children to attend the private Severn School, where tuition for elementary students runs nearly $18,000 a year. The family was such a fixture on campus that one parking space is marked “Reserved for Pyle family.”

Joe Heim, Steven Overly, Julie Tate and Julie Zauzmer contributed to this report.

Source: 4 children, doting grandparents and a devastating fire

Woman sentenced to 219 years in prison in sex ring case

In this Dec. 10, 2014 file photo, Wendy Wood Holland, 35, appears in the Baldwin County Circuit Court in Bay Minette, Ala. A judge on Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015, sentenced Holland to 219 years in prison for her role in an incestuous sex ring accused of molesting children for years. Another defendant, William Brownlee, got a 20-year prison sentence. Authorities say the two were part of a group of relatives and friends who sexually abused multiple children in Baldwin and Mobile counties.

BAY MINETTE, Ala. — A judge sentenced an Alabama woman to 219 years in prison Thursday for her role in an incestuous sex ring accused of molesting children for years.

Wendy Holland, 35, showed no emotion as the judge condemned her to what amounts to a life sentence. She must serve at least 50 years in prison before parole consideration, a prosecutor said.

Jurors convicted the woman of sodomy, sexual abuse and other charges last month.

Another defendant, William Brownlee, got a 20-year prison sentence. Brownlee, 50, was convicted of sodomy and sexual abuse in the fall.

The two were among 11 people charged with sex crimes following the disappearance in 2012 of a suspected victim of the ring, 19-year-old Brittney Wood. She remains missing and is presumed dead.

Baldwin Council Circuit Judge Jody Bishop gave both Holland and Brownlee the maximum sentence and said each deserved more time. Each still faces additional charges involving other alleged victims.

In a letter read in court, the underage female victim in both cases said years of abuse left her traumatized. She has a hard time trusting anyone, gets angry easily and rarely feels safe.

“I was a little girl being held down and raped,” wrote the victim, who was in court.

Authorities said the two were part of a group of relatives and friends who sexually abused children and swapped their own kids for sex for years.

Holland is the widow of the alleged leader of the group, Donnie Holland, who was Brittney Wood’s uncle. The teen went missing around the time Holland was found with a gunshot to the head; his death was later ruled a suicide.

Even without Brittney Wood to testify, two of her uncles and an older brother already pleaded guilty to sex charges before juries convicted Wendy Holland and Brownlee.

In the letter read in court, the underage teen abused by both Holland, a relative, and Brownlee, a family friend, compared her youth to being lost in a maze.

The teen said she felt like she was constantly looking into shadows around corners in fear of more sexual torture.

“The people who were supposed to protect me were the ones hurting me,” she wrote in the letter.

Source: Woman sentenced to 219 years in prison in sex ring case

Lawyer: Dad accused of tossing girl off bridge acted strange

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The man accused of throwing his 5-year-old daughter off a bridge early Thursday had been acting strangely the day before, calling his attorney “God” and asking her to translate a Bible in Swedish, according to police documents.

Attorney Genevieve Torres said she met with John Jonchuck on Wednesday to discuss the custody case for his 5-year-old daughter, Phoebe, who was found dead in the Tampa Bay after police said he tossed her into the water.

Torres was so worried about Jonchuck and Phoebe that she reported the odd statements to police. They interviewed Jonchuck and his daughter as he was picking her up from a church day care and both appeared to be in good health. Jonchuck said he didn’t want to harm himself or anyone else, the documents said.

“She was smiling and appeared healthy, properly clothed and happy,” according to the documents.

A little more than twelve hours later, police said Jonchuck threw his daughter over a bridge.

Phoebe had long curly hair, a wide smile and loved princesses. She hated baths and water, making her death even more gut-wrenching.

Her parents, Jonchuck and Michelle Kerr, were together for six tumultuous years, and police were called numerous times for domestic violence-related complaints. Both had arrest records.

Jonchuck had custody of Phoebe.

“I always saw him as a good dad,” Kerr said. “She would always say, ‘I love you daddy.’ She loved her dad.”

Jonchuck is in jail facing a first-degree murder charge. At his first hearing, Pinellas County Judge Michael Andrews asked him if he wanted an attorney.

“I want to leave it in the hands of God,” Jonchuck said.

The judge responded: “I’m pretty sure God’s not going to be representing you in this case. You’re going to be standing trial.”

Police said just after midnight Wednesday, an officer saw Jonchuck’s Chrysler PT Cruiser going about 100 mph toward the Sunshine Skyway bridge. By the time an officer caught up with him, Jonchuck had pulled over on the approach span to the bridge.

Jonchuck got out and started toward the officer, who pulled his weapon. Then Jonchuck grabbed Phoebe from the back seat and “held her face to his chest” as he carried her to the railing, St. Petersburg police Chief Anthony Holloway said.

It wasn’t clear whether Phoebe was alive, though the officer said he “thought he heard the child scream” before Jonchuck threw her into Tampa Bay about 60 feet below, Holloway said.

Phoebe’s body was recovered about a mile from the bridge and she was pronounced dead at 2:44 a.m. An autopsy is pending.

Police records said Jonchuck, 25, was separated from Phoebe’s 29-year-old mother and the two had a rocky relationship, with Jonchuck requesting a restraining order against her as recently as last month. Police said the request was denied. Jonchuck and Phoebe lived with his dad in Tampa.

Linda Mattos, the owner of a daycare that looked after Phoebe, said Jonchuck and Phoebe were homeless in 2013. Jonchuck had a back injury and didn’t work, so Mattos allowed them to stay at her house for about six months, until Jonchuck started to pick fights with her.

When she asked him to leave, he tried to get revenge, Mattos said, by calling child protective services.

“He was very revengeful,” she said. “He tried to ruin me.”

It was a claim that Kerr echoed.

She said she last saw her daughter and Jonchuck on Christmas Eve. They had a nice evening together and then he called child protective services on her and made false abuse allegations, she said.

“He does the Jekyll and Hyde. It’s just something that goes on in his head, he just wasn’t wired right,” she said.

And yet, Kerr said that she never imagined Jonchuck would hurt Phoebe.

Both she and Jonchuck had several run-ins with authorities. At one point, Jonchuck filed for a restraining order against Kerr, while Kerr said he struck her in the head with a cinder block. Since 2008, Jonchuck has been charged with domestic battery six times according to court records. In every case, the charges were dropped or never pursued by the alleged victim.

She has an arrest record consisting of child neglect, petty theft, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, among other charges.

Mattos said that Jonchuck had back problems following a fall at an area restaurant, after which he sued the chain and received a cash settlement.

“He never really finished anything completely. He seemed to be the kind of person who had accidents and sued people,” she said.

But he doted on his daughter, both Kerr and Mattos said.

“She was a very smart little girl who loved princesses and who loved to color. She hated the water and she didn’t know how to swim,” Mattos said, choking up. “That’s what bothered me the most this morning because I knew how much she hated the water. She wouldn’t even take a bath.”

Source: Lawyer: Dad accused of tossing girl off bridge acted strange

3 years later: No charges in missing toddler case

This undated file photo provided by Trista Reynolds shows Ayla Reynolds, her two-year-old daughter, who went missing on Dec. 16, 2011 from her father’s home in Waterville, Maine. Three years after Ayla’s disappearance, her mother Trista Reynolds wants prosecutors to bring lesser charges if they can’t prove a homicide. Maine has no statute of limitations for homicide and there’s a six-year limit for other felonies. But the limit is only three years on lesser charges.

PORTLAND, Maine — The blood found throughout the home where Ayla Reynolds was last seen nearly three years ago is all her mother needs to demand charges — any charges — be brought against the child’s father and two other adults who were with the toddler the night she disappeared, setting off the largest investigation in Maine’s history.

Though investigators believe Ayla is dead and the three adults know more about what happened that night than they’re telling, no charges have ever been filed.

Now the clock is running out on some of the lesser charges the girl’s mother believes could have already been brought. The statute of limitations on misdemeanors like child endangerment expires in a matter of weeks, on the third anniversary of Ayla’s disappearance.

“All of them should be put in jail,” said Ayla’s mother, Trista Reynolds.

But she said she isn’t in regular contact with police and has little confidence that charges are imminent.

“I don’t see that happening any time soon,” Reynolds said.

Ayla was 20 months old when she was reported missing by her father, Justin DiPietro, on Dec. 17, 2011. The toddler had been living with DiPietro and his girlfriend, sister and mother in Waterville.

Ayla’s disappearance set off a massive search with FBI, police, wardens and volunteers combing through the woods and searching streams. Investigators ultimately announced Ayla was the victim of foul play but said there is no evidence she was abducted.

Maine State Police spokesman Steve McCausland said the investigation remains “active and ongoing.” DiPietro, who has denied knowing what happened to his daughter, couldn’t be reached for comment and a lawyer who represented the family did not return a phone call.

Maine has no statute of limitations for homicide and there’s a six-year limit for other felonies. But the limit is only three years on lesser charges — misdemeanors like simple assault or endangering the welfare of a minor, said Jim Burke, a professor at the University of Maine School of Law.

Burke said he sympathizes with the mother but said prosecutors likely don’t want to put their homicide investigation at risk for the sake of pursuing misdemeanors.

Bringing lesser charges would expose evidence central to the homicide investigation and could allow the defense to try to prevent harsher charges by claiming double jeopardy, said Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea. She said prosecutors are keeping “an eye toward the more serious offenses.”

Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney, who has reviewed the available evidence but is not involved in prosecuting the case, said prosecutors from the attorney general’s office are best suited to direct the investigation and to decide whether there’s enough evidence to win at trial.

“They’re absolutely devastated by this case that has consumed them. They’re trying to do everything they can. I have 100 percent confidence in them,” she said.

Ayla was placed in her father’s care after Trista Reynolds entered a substance abuse rehabilitation program, and the Reynolds family has questioned the care he provided.

As months turned into years, Reynolds has sought to put pressure on DiPietro and law enforcement agencies while trying to keep her daughter in the public eye. She and others even chased DiPietro following an unrelated court appearance last year, with the crowd shouting “murderer!” and “Where’s Ayla!”

Maloney said she doesn’t blame Reynolds for pressing for justice and for being frustrated. “What she’s going through is the worst thing a parent could go through,” she said.

But Burke said law enforcement investigators have to be patient because criminal investigations don’t play out as quickly as they do during a TV show or movie. Sometimes they take years, he said.

“The state is not going to go away,” he said. “Sometimes it takes 20 years for someone to slip up. So they sit and wait. They never give up.”

Source: 3 years later: No charges in missing toddler case

 

First-grader says school lunch lady told him, ‘Guess what? You can’t have a lunch’

7-year-old Xavier tells how he was denied lunch at school in Snohomish. (Photo: KCPQ-TV)

SNOHOMISH. Wash.–  The only thing 7-year-old Xavier loves more than his math homework are his fruits and veggies.

But Xavier’s parents say they’re concerned because on about Oct. 20, the first-grader was denied school lunch at Cascade View Elementary.

“It was a sack lunch. It was in a bag, she was passing it around to everybody.  The lunch lady said, ‘Guess what, you can’t have a lunch.’ She said that.  She said I can’t have a lunch,” says Xavier.

Dad says Xavier is on the free lunch program.  But instead of getting a meal, he says, Xavier was sent home with a grumbling tummy and a slip saying he had a negative lunch balance.

“My question was never answered as to why he was denied.  I was very mad.  I couldn’t believe it happened.  It happened to me as a child and I could still feel that hurt and I can only imagine what he went through,” says Eric.

We contacted the Snohomish County School District and they say they’re looking into the situation.  The school spokesperson says whenever a student’s account is negative $20 or more, the child gets a cheese sandwich and unlimited fruits and veggies from the salad bar, along with a drink.

Eric says this doesn’t apply to his son.

“We get funds from the state, food stamp wise, which means his balance should be covered,” says Eric.

He says he’s angry over how the school handled the situation and he’s concerned over how it’s affected Xavier.

Eric says it’s left such a bad taste in his mouth, he’s thinking of removing his children from the school.

“It made me feel really bad for him.  That’s not right.  That’s like saying, ‘Hey, you don’t have your book bag so you can’t have your education’.  You can’t do that.  Feed them.  They need to eat.  They need to concentrate.  They can’t concentrate without eating.  I just don’t want this to happen to any other kid.  It’s hurtful,” says Eric.

Source: First-grader says school lunch lady told him, ‘Guess what? You can’t have a lunch’