The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Child Protective Services (CPS), has some lofty goals. They claim to investigate reports of abuse and neglect of children. They also claim the following:
- Provides services to children and families in their own homes;
- Places children in foster care;
- Provides services to help youth in foster care make the transition to adulthood; and
- Places children in adoptive homes.
So how, exactly, did they miss two children, ages 5 and 11, living in squalor? CPS officials were holding an emergency meeting Thursday to determine what to do with two children found living in squalor in a dirty old school bus in Montgomery County. It seems to me the “emergency meeting” should center on how these so-called “professionals” missed it. At any rate investigators said a postal worker contacted the office of Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace James Metts Wednesday morning about two unsupervised children living in a bus outside of Splendora, on Three S Street.
Judge Metts contacted Precinct 4 Constable Kenneth “Rowdy” Hayden, and officers went out to the scene around 10 a.m. Hayden said the officers found a 5-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl living in “deplorable” conditions. “It’s tough,” Hayden said. “The children are obviously unkempt. There’s an odor about the residence and the children. It’s frustrating, both as a parent and as a law-enforcement officer, to see this.” Investigators said the bus was equipped with an air-conditioner, but it was filthy. There was a 10×10 cesspool in the backyard, but plumbing inside the school bus went into the ground.
The entire property was strewn with trash, deputies said. They found a refrigerator in another structure on the property, but there was little food inside. It was not clear how often the children were fed. Hayden said when he learned the little girl would turn 12 later this month, he asked her what she wanted for her birthday. The girl said she wanted to go eat at Golden Corral. Investigators said the kids, who were home-schooled, moved to the property in 2009. But in December 2010, their parents were sent to prison for wire fraud, and they were left in the care of their great aunt.
The aunt, who also lives on the property, told deputies she was trying to care for the kids as best she could. But she works 12-hour shifts five days a week, and the children had to fend for themselves while she was gone. It was not clear if she had legal guardianship of the children. CPS workers responded to the scene and took the kids into custody. They were placed in temporary foster care. “This is a very disturbing situation on many levels,” Hayden said. “I’m glad someone took the initiative to report what was happening and as a result, these two children will now receive the help they need and hopefully get their lives and educations back on track.”
It was not clear if criminal charges would be filed in the case, but the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office was investigating Thursday. Deputies said the aunt was cooperating with the investigation and wanted to get the children back. So far, all of the attention is being focused on the “aunt” and how she could face criminal charges. How about the idiots who placed these children? How about the state agency responsible for caring for those in need?
The problem in Texas is that sometimes, state agencies are worse than the alternative. A Texas Child Protective Services investigator has been charged with sexual abuse of a child. Nicholas Santos is being held in Dallas County Jail on $25,000 bond. Authorities say the charge is not related to his work.
In 2009 a state review team is investigating Texas Child Protective Services’ own abuse investigations after the deaths of three Houston-area children. Katy infant Amber Maccurdy, 3-year-old David Tijerina, of Conroe, and 4-year-old Emma Thompson, of Spring, have died of abuse although all three had been reported to CPS as possible child abuse victims. Emma and Amber died even though both were seen within weeks of their deaths by CPS investigators. The Austin team will review a random sample of nearly 200 open cases being handled in the Houston CPS district, which includes Harris and 12 surrounding counties.
Lets be real. The Texas Department of Public Safety and the U.S. State Department have issued dire warnings to spring breakers planning on traveling to Mexico. The Department of Public Safety warning cites violent crime from battling drug cartels as reasons to avoid traveling anywhere south of the border — even to popular tourist destinations that weren’t included in a recent U.S. State Department warning. What they probably should have said is if you want to have drunken orgies and act like idiots, Mexico is probably not a good destination. The Texas DPS could have urged spring breakers to just tear the hell out of South Padre Island instead. Think of the economic boom!
“The Mexican government has made great strides battling the cartels, and we commend their continued commitment to making Mexico a safer place to live and visit,” the statement from Director Steven C. McCraw says in part. “However, drug cartel violence and other criminal activity represent a significant safety threat, even in some resort areas.” Mexico’s tourism chief denounced the warning as exceptionally aggressive and untrue. “The DPS has the right to inform as they see fit, but we believe that what they are conveying in the content of the travel alert is not the reality in Mexico,” Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete, chief operating officer of the Mexico Tourism Board, said via phone from Berlin where he was attending the ITB travel trade show.
The Texas agency warned about bars and nightclubs in resort sites such as Cancun, Acapulco, Mazatlan, Cabo San Lucas and Tijuana as “havens for drug dealers and petty criminals.” It also referred to 12,903 narcotics-related homicides in the first nine months of 2011 and said the number of U.S. citizens reported as murdered in Mexico jumped from 35 in 2007 to 120 in 2011. Reuters reports this is the third year in a row that Texas has issued such a warning. Last month, the U.S. State Department updated its traveler warning to Mexico by declaring 14 states as dangerous. But no advisories were given for places such as Cabo San Lucas, Cancun and sites in Quintana Roo that are a draw for tourists.
Mexican tourism officials have long said such warnings like the one issued by Texas paint the country with a broad brush when drug-cartel violence occurs only in specific areas. However, 22 passengers on the Carnival Splendor last month were held up by gunmenwhile returning from an excursion to El Nogalito. The tourism board labeled the attack a “rare and isolated incident.” So back to my original thought. If you are going to act like a damned fool on spring break, you probably aren’t any safer in any one place than another. Jumping from a balcony, for example, will have the same consequences in Mexico as it will in Galveston.
Here’s some advice, no matter where you spend spring break:
1.) Know your surroundings.
2.) Don’t venture into dark, unlit areas.
3.) Don’t drink until you cannot see.
4.) Travel in groups.
5.) Don’t jump from high places.
The boy in this photo is a possible victim of the Houston serial killers. He remains unidentified.
There are those who are into murderabilia and the exploitation of serial killers and the underside of American society. There is a somewhat natural interest in these subjects, largely because normal people have a hard time wrapping our brains around something that is seemingly so evil. The actions of serial killers are beyond our comprehension. Few serial killers can truly be dissected. Most are dead. The few that are imprisoned are sometimes capable of sharing some insight as to what makes these monsters tick. How did they get caught up in unspeakable evil that most of us cannot fathom? This is where the delicate balance between exploitation and learning lessons from the past come together.
I can share a story about Elmer Wayne Henley and it draws two responses. The first is from family members of the Houston serial killers who have encouraged me to find out the truth. There is a feeling, among many, that the 1974 investigation by Houston Police was seriously lacking and that there are likely more victims, maybe more perpetrators. The other response is from family members who have encouraged me to go straight to hell. They accuse me, incorrectly, of profiting from these stories (DMNWSI is a not for profit blog/I am a semi-retired journalist).
Exploitation is not something I am interested in but trying, in earnest, to make sure something like this never happens again…is. A business offering walking tours of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s haunts in Milwaukee has offered to donate some proceeds to a charity that supports the parents of murder victims, but that group said Tuesday it wants no part of it. Nancy Ruhe, executive director of the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that even though the economic downturn has led to a drop in donations, the organization would never accept money from a group that profits from someone else’s murderous acts. “I cannot believe we can’t let these people rest in peace,” she said Tuesday. “It’s unbelievable that someone has come up with a moneymaker off those who have been murdered.”
Ruhe said she planned to send an email alert to the organization’s 200,000 members nationwide Tuesday about the tours. Amanda Morden, a spokeswoman for tour organizer, Bam Marketing and Media, said Tuesday the agency believes strongly in the organization of parents and still plans to make an anonymous donation. She said she spent Tuesday responding to emails from the organization’s members, explaining their intent is purely informational and they hope to learn from the past. She said she is also making it clear that they are not glorifying Dahmer or condoning his actions. “We need to understand the dark side of history to learn from it,” Morden said.
The tour highlights Dahmer’s methodology in picking up victims, including spiking their drinks and ways he could have been caught earlier, she said. “This organization is probably the one that ties the most into the information provided on this tour,” Morden said. She has said the size of the donation would depend on the success of the tours. She said she suspected it could amount up to 20 percent of annual profits from the Dahmer tours. The new walking tour of places where Dahmer trawled for victims drew attention after criticism prompted online deal-maker Groupon to take down a promotion for discounted tickets last week. But Bam Media said it would not cancel what it calls a legitimate exploration of criminal history.
Dahmer, a chocolate factory worker, spent years frequenting gay bars in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood. He was arrested in 1991 and admitted to killing 17 young men, some of whom he mutilated and cannibalized. He was serving life prison sentences when a fellow inmate beat him to death in 1994. The apartment building where Dahmer stored body parts eventually was razed. The tours are taking place in Walker’s Point, which is being revitalized, with new restaurants and bars in remodeled buildings that once housed the bars where Dahmer went.
Janie Hagen’s brother, 25-year-old Richard Guerrero, disappeared in 1988 and was one of the first young men Dahmer is known to have murdered. She said she thought donating the money to a charity was a “cop-out” to try to convince people who take the tour that they are doing something positive. She said she’s been seeing a therapist for 20 years to deal with her nightmares and other issues related to Dahmer. If any money is donated, it should go to the families, she said. “If they want to donate this money they should donate it to pay for my psychological doctor bill,” said Hagen, 49. “I’m sure a lot of other families are seeing therapists. It screws everybody up, when you have such a horrific tragedy like that.”
Morden said Bam Media has been unable to find one charity that represents the families. Hagen was one of the 20 or so people who protested as the first tour took place on Saturday. She said she and other family members plan to show up every Saturday to protest until the tours are halted. Morden said she respects Hagen’s right to peacefully protest, but that it’s imperative for the tour group to continue to tell people about Dahmer’s crimes and learn from them so they are not repeated.
I agree that the Dahmer walking tours are gross exploitation, without question. A more worthwhile forum might be discussing Dahmer’s crimes and making sure people never forget that he was able to “spike drinks” and lure unsuspecting victims to their deaths. It’s just as important for people to understand the methodology of Dean Corll, Elmer Wayne Henley and David Brooks. Some of the victims families of the Houston serial killers agree. “We will never rest,” one woman told me, “there is no such thing as finding peace,” a victim’s sister told me. “People need to know this happened, how it happened and to make sure it does not happen again.”
She’s right. At dinner recently, I asked my friends in their 30′s if they knew who Dean Corll was. Not one did. Had they heard the name Elmer Wayne Henley? One said yes but no one knew why and no one…not one…had heard of David Brooks. Exploitation? No. Murderabilia? No. Making sure people know there are monsters? YES and I make no apologies. If it pains you to read this stuff, don’t. If you want to understand this…know this…the families of the victims have lived with this hell for decades. It is a pain that never goes away. There is no normal for victims of murder. Understand it and be aware of it and don’t become a victim.
After an outcry over the use of ‘pink slime’ in restaurants, leading fast-food chains promised to stop using the chemically treated meat. But the ammonia-infused beef is not yet off American dinner tables, as it has been revealed that 70 per cent of supermarket mince contains the substance. And the use of pink slime is also set to extend to children’s meals, as the federal government plans to buy 7million pounds of the meat to serve in U.S. schools. Pink slime, known in the meat industry as ‘lean beef trimmings’, is made up of the remnants of a cow carcass once all the muscular cuts of meat have been removed. The lean of the meat is then separated from the fat using a form of centrifuge.
Hungry yet? Because the meat comes from areas of the body more likely to be infected, it is sprayed with ammonium hydroxide to kill microbes which cause food poisoning. Following a concerted campaign by the likes of British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, major restaurant chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell agreed that they would no longer put pink slime in their burgers and mince. However, more than two thirds of ground beef sold in supermarkets still contains at least some pink slime, according to Gerald Zirnstein, a former scientist at the United States Department of Agriculture. He described the practice as ‘economic fraud’, telling ABC News: ‘It’s not fresh ground beef… It’s a cheap substitute being added in.’The presence of pink slime in a packet of beef does not have to be signalled by the labelling, as it is not considered a separate ingredient but a process. The decision by the USDA to define trimmings as exactly the same substance as muscle meat – against the advice of department scientists – was made by an official who went on to work in the beef industry. Not only is heavily processed meat hard to escape in grocery stores, it is also being fed to children in school canteens. The USDA – which is responsible for school lunches – has agreed to buy 7million pounds of pink slime from food giant Beef Products Inc. over the next few months, according to the Daily.
The department claims that its beef supplies ‘meet the highest standard for food safety’, but officials admit there is no way to tell which products are made with beef trimmings. Retired microbiologist Carl Custer has spoken out against the use of pink slime, which he claims is ‘not nutritionally equivalent’ to traditional cuts of meat. ‘My objection with having it in the schools is that it’s not meat,’ he said.
When McDonald’s and other fast-food chains announced last month that the infamous “pink slime” was no longer being used in their burgers, some thought the ammonium hydroxide-treated beef cuts had disappeared from our food supply once and for all. But a new reportin the Daily tablet newspaper suggests the slime will appear in school lunches this spring — 7 million pounds of it. The USDA, schools and school districts plan to buy the treated beef from Beef Products Inc. (BPI) for the national school-lunch program in coming months. USDA said in a statement that all of its ground beef purchases “meet the highest standard for food safety.” The department also said it had strengthened ground beef safety standards in recent years.
Last April, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver reported that 70 percent of America’s ground beef is made with BPI’s ammonia-treated product. BPI recently said that figure still holds. In a statement, the company called ammonium hydroxide a “natural compound … widely used in the processing of numerous foods.” Gerald Zirnstein, a former microbiologist at the Food Safety Inspection Service who coined the term “pink slime,” told the Daily that the continued purchase of ammonium hydroxide-treated beef cuts for school lunches doesn’t make any sense. “I have a 2-year-old son,” he told the Daily. “And you better believe I don’t want him eating pink slime when he starts going to school.”
Zirnstein came up with the “pink slime” phrase when he toured a Beef Products Inc. production facility in 2002 during an investigation into salmonella contamination in packaged ground beef. After the animal byproduct is mixed with ammonia, it has a pink appearance. Zirnstein e-mailed his colleagues after the visit to say he did not “consider the stuff to be ground beef,” according to the Daily. Change.org has a petition up on its site asking USDA to stop buying the slime. Launched by Houston-based “Spork Report” blogger Bettina Siegel, the petition says that “it is simply wrong to feed our children connective tissues and beef scraps that were, in the past, destined for use in pet food and rendering and were not considered fit for human consumption.”
The Food and Drug Administration, as well as the Food Safety and Inspection Service, however, consider ammonium hydroxide to be “generally recognized as safe.” The ammonium treatment process was initially touted as capable of killing E. coli as well as salmonella in meat. But a 2009 New York Times report said the process didn’t seem to be working:
Government and industry records obtained by The New York Times show that in testing for the school lunch program, E. coli and salmonella pathogens have been found dozens of times in Beef Products meat, challenging claims by the company and the U.S.D.A. about the effectiveness of the treatment. Since 2005, E. coli has been found 3 times and salmonella 48 times, including back-to-back incidents in August in which two 27,000-pound batches were found to be contaminated. The meat was caught before reaching lunch-rooms trays.
In a recent letter to consumers, sent out after McDonald’s discontinued use of its meat, BPI said that the company had a stellar food safety record.
“We were pleased earlier this year to have been placed on the ‘nice list’ by noted food safety advocate Bill Marler and to add that to the other recognition we have received for those food safety efforts. We maintain an unsurpassed food safety record and at times have been a part of nearly 20 billion meals annually, without ever being the source of a foodborne illness.”
The company also shared a YouTube video with consumers, which reiterated that ammonia is “essential for life,” is naturally found in beef and is widely used in processing.
The Washington Post and the Daily Mail contributed this report.
Splendora, Texas is a burg northeast of Houston in Montgomery County a place where two children were found living in “deplorable” conditions inside an old school bus police said Wednesday. A postal worker discovered a girl, 11, and her 5-year-old brother about 10 a.m. while making rounds along Three S Street near Circle H, officials said. Authorities said the children—ages 5 and 11 — moved to the property just outside of Splendora, in 2009.
The kids were living with their great aunt. But she worked 12 hours a day, they said, leaving the kids behind to fend for themselves. On Wednesday morning, someone tipped off a local judge. The bus had been converted into quarters for the children, with bunk beds and a window-mounted air conditioner. But shocked local officials said the youngsters’ living conditions were deplorable. What little food they could get at was in another building on the lot. “Everyone who was on the scene talked about the odor – there was a lot of trash on the property,” Nash said.
Precinct 4 Constable, Rowdy Hayden, went to the scene yesterday. The kids said they were home-schooled and slept in the converted school bus, which included an air-conditioning unit and a television. It’s not clear how often they were fed, but Hayden said some neighbors told him they’d brought them food in the past. Hayden said there were no signs of physical abuse, but CPS case workers took the children away Wednesday afternoon and placed them in foster care. The heavily wooded property where the bus is parked is dotted with signs warning against trespassers. Bicycles and toys lay scattered about, while a large mixed-breed dog slept under the bus. Hayden found a woman on the property who is believed to be the children’s great-aunt. The woman said she works a 12-hour shift Monday through Friday, but was always with the children at night.
Neighbors told the police that the girl and her brother were often seen running in the area at night. “They always had dirty clothes on (and) no shoes, even in the winter,” Gayla Payne, who lives nearby, told a Houston newspaper. The girl told Payne’s daughter that she bathed only twice a week. “The girl’s hair was always messed up,” said another neighbor. “She looks unkempt, like she doesn’t shower.” Hayden called Child Protective Services, which has also launched an investigation. CPS caseworkers are talking to family members to learn if a relative can provide adequate care for the children. “It not, we’ll take custody and place them in foster care,” said Gwen Carter, a CPS spokeswoman. There was no indication that either child had been physically abused, Carter said. “They just need to be cleaned up right now.”
I know what you are thinking… Where is Mommy and Daddy? The children’s parents are believed to be Mark and Sherrie Shorten, both of Splendora, who were convicted in federal court in Louisiana of embezzling money from victims of Hurricane Ike in 2008. According to prosecutors, Sherrie Shorten helped the victims obtain loans to repair storm damage. The loans were then deposited in a bank account to pay the contractor – her husband. They later emptied the account without finishing the work, officials said.
Both were sentenced to 18 months in prison early this year. On Wednesday, the attorney representing Sherrie Shorten in that case couldn’t be reached for comment. Metts, the justice of the peace, said he was glad the children will now sleep in clean beds and have enough to eat. “But it does raise the question: How did they slip through the cracks?” he noted. Indeed. How did they slip through the cracks? The assumption, many times wrong, by court officials is that “family” is the best at taking care of children but as we see here, “family” is a subjective description. Someone didn’t do ANY homework before these children were placed. Did CPS or the court do a home visit before these children were placed? Did the judge order a home visit? Does anyone care?