Could officials have prevented infant’s death?

Joyce L. Miller

Analysis: State agencies had no cause, no right to remove Iberia baby from custody of parent accused of killing him prior to the incident.

The first glimpse into the investigation of the events before the death of an infant and the mother who is now behind bars charged with his murder holds no surprises and gives no credence to allegations that have been raised questioning whether state agencies acted appropriately.

The questions surround whether or not the infant and two other children should have been turned over to their mother after Wayne Anderson Jr. and an older sibling were taken into protective custody by the Iberia Police Department on June 23.

The incident at the grandparents’ home did not involve the mother, and at that time, there were no warrants for her arrest nor allegations of abuse or neglect being made against her.

The report outlines the events that began with the incident at the grandparents’ home June 23 and continued until July 12. The fire that caused the fatal injuries to the infant was reported July 11.

The grandparents, Walter and Charleana White, have been arrested. They are charged with child endangerment stemming from the June 23 incident when a teenager was found smoking marijuana in their home and the living conditions were described as “unsanitary.” Police reports noted the stench of rotting garbage and lack of running water.

Although the infant and his sibling were taken to Lake Regional Hospital immediately after the incident at the grandparents’ home, they were examined and released. The report indicates the children did not require any medical attention.?

The children were taken from the grandparents’ home and later returned to the mother. That is where some critics say state agencies failed in their responsibilities.

The mother, Christina White, is being held without bond on murder, arson and child endangerment charges in connection with the fire July 11.

According to the report, less than 24 hours before the fire, a representative of the Division of Children’s Services had visited the home where it occurred. Nothing in the investigative report indicated there was reason to believe that the mother could not be trusted with her own children.

In the days since Wayne Anderson Jr. died from the burns he suffered after his mother allegedly set his blanket on fire and left him to burn in his crib, the 26th Judicial Circuit Court’s Juvenile Division has come under intense scrutiny by some who claim the agency did not do its job.

“I believe that in tragic situations like this, people always look for someone to blame. That’s human nature, and when children die, it is incredibly emotional,” said Tammy Walden, the chief juvenile officer who heads the circuit’s juvenile services. “This is one of those situations. I have gone over our reports and have gone over what our agency did, and I believe that everyone did their jobs and did them right. There was no indication and no information available to us at the time that lead us to believe this woman posed a risk to her children, much less that she was capable of murdering one by the most horrific means I can imagine.”

Walden said before children can be removed form the custody of their parent(s), juvenile officers have to determine the child(ren) have been neglected and/or abused or are at imminent risk of that happening.

“Yes, there were concerns about poverty issues, unsanitary living conditions, but did they rise to the level to force the removal of the children from the care of their mother? No, they didn’t,” Walden said. “There was nothing that indicated the children were in physical danger.”

Christina White had agreed to move in with her sister as a result of a followup visit from children’s services after the June 23 incident raised questions about the sanitary conditions of the home where she was living.

She had also applied for services that were available to her. From all appearances, she was trying.

Until the day of the fire.

If there is good that can come from this, Walden said, it would be the heightened awareness that this kind of tragedy can happen anywhere and in any community. It also highlights the very real need for a national database that tracks child abuse and neglect cases from state to state.

It wasn’t until after the fatal fire that information on two substantiated cases of child abuse/neglect were forwarded from Illinois, where Christina White had lived before moving to Missouri.

“We don’t like it, but sometimes bad things happen no matter what,” Walden said. “Unfortunately, this was one of those cases.”

Currently, Walden said 76 children in Miller County are being cared for in foster homes, including the two siblings of Wayne Anderson Jr.

It is interesting to note in light of the scrutiny this case has brought to bare on the juvenile division, by their own admission, Iberia Mayor Jack Hogue, Iberia Police Chief Andy Long and Miller County Sheriff Bill Abbott could not recall any prior complaints or incidents involving the Whites.

Lake Sun Leader

Contact this reporter at joycem@lakesunleader.com.