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BREVARD – A Henderson County family is weighing options after learning last week that someone adopted their grandson without their knowledge after his mother died last year, and that a Transylvania County foster-care provider suspected of abusing him avoided prosecution due to a miscommunication between law enforcement agencies.
Carolina Public Press has reported several times on the case of Felicia Reeves, a disabled veteran from Hendersonville who disappeared in August 2015 and was found dead in a New Jersey motel a few days later. Though authorities initially ruled her death a suicide, after a months-long CPP investigation and a letter-writing campaign by her sister, the Union County, New Jersey, prosecutor’s office announced last month that its homicide task force would initiate a new investigation of both her death and the Elizabeth, New Jersey, police’s handling of the case.
CPP now reveals for the first time the other arm of its ongoing investigation– the child in Transylvania County is her son, Thadd Addison Boley, known to her family as “Addison.”
Until CPP began finding answers about the case in recent weeks, family members have said they were uncertain of Addison’s location and custody status, as well as what happened with the abuse complaint from 2014.
Rowan County courts placed Addison in the care of a foster parent, Erin Gray of Brevard, in 2011, transferring oversight of his case to Transylvania County. But the court found that eventual reunion with Reeves was a desired outcome and the courts eventually allowed her to have continued visits with him.
During one supervised visit with Reeves, Addison’s older brother Chaise checked on him in the bathroom and noticed substantial bruising that was normally hidden under Addison’s clothes, family members told CPP. Chaise called to his mother to come and see. The family said Reeves immediately brought the bruises to the attention of the Transylvania County DSS worker who was present and urged that police be contacted.
The family said DSS staff told them Addison was being placed at Black Mountain Children’s Home in Buncombe County. And that was the last time any members of Reeves’ family saw him, they say. When they approached CPP about investigating her death late last year, the family was equally concerned about the whereabouts and safety of Addison.
They say Reeves was unable to have visitation with her son after filing the abuse complaint and was unable to get updated information about his location, though it was not clear to them why this change occurred. Phone records show that Reeves was in frequent contact with DSS employees during the summer of 2015. Text messages on her phone show those communications were typically unpleasant, but don’t clearly show what Reeves did or didn’t learn.
Reeves family members have said they have tried to get information about Addison since that time and were repeatedly denied in calls to DSS staff.
CPP’s investigation into what happened to Addison has been frustrated by state laws designed to protect the privacy of families and juveniles, but which represent insurmountable roadblocks to
accessing information in exceptional cases like this one. For instance, a public records request for information on cases in which Addison had been a victim couldn’t receive a response, because it would have effectively confirmed that he was a victim of alleged abuse, which is protected information.
But a trail of information began to emerge over time as CPP looked into the case. The Rowan court records showed Addison with Gray in 2011. Unless he had been transferred to another foster parent in the meantime, the person likely to be suspected after the abuse complaint would have been Gray.
But North Carolina Department of Public Safety records showed no convictions for Gray. And when CPP contacted the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office, deputies had no record of any abuse complaint against Gray or any other foster parent during the timeframe in question.
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A break came when CPP consulted with Sara DePasquale, the University of North Carolina School of Government’s expert on state child abuse and adoption laws. She explained that DSS would have been required to report the alleged abuse to any law enforcement agency, not necessarily the local sheriff.
Given the problems that Reeves’ family had reported in their interactions with DSS, CPP’s working theory at that point was that the abuse complaint had never been reported to law enforcement — this would prove to be incorrect. To rule out all possibilities, CPP contacted the Brevard Police Department to ask if they had received a criminal complaint against Gray. It turned out that they had.
In early September, CPP traveled to Brevard to pick up a copy of the police’s incident report. Although much of the information was redacted to comply with laws to protect juvenile victims, the report showed that Gray was accused on or before Aug. 18, 2014, and the police filed their report on Sept. 17, 2014. But at that time, police determined that Gray’s residence on Oakdale Road was just north of the city limits and not in their jurisdiction.
CPP shared this news with Reeves’ family several weeks ago. For the first time family members had confirmation that someone at DSS had taken the complaint of abuse seriously. At this point they had not seen Addison in more than two years.
Around this time, CPP also talked with Sarah Thomas, a spokesperson for Black Mountain Children’s Home and learned that DSS had never physically placed Addison in their custody, though they had some knowledge of the case. The organization had a partnership on foster-care cases with Transylvania County at that time.
Next, CPP talked with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services about the case. Based on the new information that Gray had been identified as the alleged abuser and the family was uncertain of Addison’s whereabouts at any point after the complaint, DHHS was able to confirm that Gray was no longer licensed to work with foster children in North Carolina. So it seemed clear that Addison must have been removed from Gray’s home.
CPP went back to the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office last week with these new details and the precise dates in the police report. Armed with this information and concerned that the child’s safety and location were unknown to the family, the Sheriff’s Office quickly investigated and was able to piece together most of the story.
The Sheriff’s Office had not investigated previously because deputies say they knew nothing about the case, sheriff’s spokesman Eddie Gunter told CPP.
Brevard Police told sheriff’s investigators that police sent an email including the incident report to the Sheriff’s Office in 2014. But deputies said they never received any email as far as their records show, nor did police make any other attempt to follow-up on the communication about the alleged child abuse.
Starting the case fresh last week, sheriff’s investigators talked with DSS staff and reviewed their files. The DSS agent who looked into the complaint and reported it to police no longer works for the agency. Pictures of bruises on Addison show that he had been physically injured, Gunter told CPP. But the bruising that appears in those photos, which CPP has not viewed, is apparently much less serious than what Reeves’ family remembers witnessing.
It’s possible that the shock of seeing any such marks made them seem worse than they were. But how much time elapsed between the complaint and the documenting of the injuries with photos remains unclear from the information CPP has obtained. It appears possible that the bruises in the photo had time to fade from the original injuries, which could have been much more serious. Regardless, two years later this is the physical evidence that remains available.
Sheriff’s investigators reviewed these images with the District Attorney’s Office last week and determined that they show evidence that would support a prosecution of Gray for misdemeanor assault on a child, but not for felony charges. Because it’s been more than two years, the statute of limitations has expired on the misdemeanor charge. If a felony charge were in play, that would not be the case. But as a result, they can no longer pursue criminal charges against Gray.
As a result of the miscommunication between the law enforcement agencies, she never had a day in court or any chance to respond to the criminal allegations. She was accused, but never convicted in this case. It’s not clear whether anyone from DSS interviewed her about the complaint before forwarding the matter to police.
The Sheriff’s Office also determined that Gray is prevented, as a result of these accusations, from ever being a foster parent in North Carolina again. CPP has reached out to DHHS with questions about how the lack of a conviction affects Gray’s ability to work with children in other ways. On the police report, her occupation is identified as working with autistic children. CPP has not been able to confirm further details about this. Would she able to continue working with children in other ways after the loss of her foster license? Would she be able to act as a foster parent outside of North Carolina? DHHS has not responded to these questions in time for this article.
CPP contacted Gray through her Facebook page and asked if she wanted to give her side of the story, particularly regarding how Addison came to have bruises.
Gray responded Saturday: “If my name is mentioned in this article you will hear from my attorney.”
The information about Gray in this article comes from public records including court documents and police reports, as well as statements from police, sheriff and DHHS.
The Sheriff’s Office also provided CPP with some news about Addison that came as a bittersweet revelation to Reeves’ family members.
DSS was not able to tell investigators Addison’s exact whereabouts due to legal constraints, but he was adopted after Reeves’ death. At the same time Addison was adopted, DSS successfully petitioned the courts to terminate the parental rights of Titus Boley, his father and a convicted felon who served time for brutally attacking Reeves. Her family had feared that Boley, whom Polk County authorities arrested on felony drug charges this summer, had somehow gained access to Addison.
While learning that Addison is OK after two years came as a relief to his family members, the adoption and the circumstances surrounding it are troubling to them.
On Aug. 19, 2015, Reeves disappeared from North Carolina. On Aug. 24, a new director, Tracy Jones, previously of Graham County, took charge at Transylvania County DSS. On Aug. 28, a motel maid reported finding Reeves dead in her room in Elizabeth, N.J. Jones never met Reeves. Records show that Addison’s adoption took place a short time after she arrived in Transylvania County.
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Jones talked with CPP about the situation Friday afternoon. She said the issues with the handling of the abuse complaint took place before her time there, as did her agency’s interaction with Reeves. She doesn’t know what information was given to Reeves and her family or why there was a change in visitation after they complained about Gray.
But Jones said procedure during an adoption is always to notify next of kin first. She doesn’t know what actually happened in this case. Privacy laws may limit what she can say publicly about it even if she does learn more. But she told CPP that she was hearing many of the details of the case for the first time and plans to review the file. She also welcomed Reeves’ family members to contact her directly about their concerns.
CPP asked that Addison’s adoptive parents be notified that this article was forthcoming, so that they will not be blindsided.
The news about his placement with an adoptive family also sheds light on a cryptic note that arrived with flowers for Reeves’ funeral last year. Without any identifying information, the note said the flowers came from her baby boy.
Her family would like to see several things happen and are considering their options about how to seek results. They would like more answers about why they and their daughter were kept in the dark about Addison and were unable to see him for so long. A therapist has advised them that Chaise would benefit greatly from renewed contact with his brother, so they hope this can happen. They would also like to see Addison themselves and be in his life on some level. Given their experiences with DSS and the abuse under a previous foster placement, they would like to see with their own eyes that he is doing OK. Dealing with a flood of new and emotionally challenging information about Addison in recent days, the family likely remains uncertain about some of these details going forward, though they emphasize that they want what’s best for him.
Suzan Bayorgeon is Addison’s aunt and Reeves’ sister. She has been the family’s main liaison with CPP. “I have talked with mom and she most definitely wants to know where (Addison) is and if he is OK,” Bayorgeon said in an email Thursday. “She wants Addison to know he has a family, more importantly, a brother who misses and needs him.”
Editor’s note: CPP investigative reporter Michael Gebelein also contributed to this article. Also the article, first published Sept. 26, was updated Sept. 30 to clarify some details based on additional information that has come to light.