Records detail flaws in 2 Wichita child death investigations
photo by: Kansas Department for Children and Families
WICHITA — Kansas child-welfare officials had received reports that a Wichita boy was being abused and neglected from the time he was 7 months old up until the 5-year-old went missing this year before his body was found under a rural bridge, according to newly released records from the state Department for Children and Families.
The timeline involving Lucas Hernandez that was released Friday to The Wichita Eagle also show the department was not contacted by the Wichita school district after a school nurse noticed bruises and cuts on Lucas about a month before he disappeared. The school district has said that it followed the law involving Lucas but won’t say whether it reported any concerns about Lucas to the DCF or Wichita police.
Lucas was reported missing Feb. 17 by his father’s girlfriend, Emily Glass. His body was found three months later in Harvey County after Glass led a private investigator to the scene. Two weeks later, Glass killed herself, according to an autopsy.
Before Lucas disappeared, the DCF received seven reports of suspected abuse, neglect or lack of supervision involving him, agency spokeswoman Taylor Forrest. The agency’s investigations found the allegations were unsubstantiated. The only report of suspected physical abuse came in May 2017, when the agency said the “alleged perpetrator is Emily Glass or unknown.” The agency said it couldn’t substantiate the physical abuse.
Forrest said the agency could provide only a timeline to the newspaper because it hasn’t received any official finding that the child died from abuse or neglect.
Records in another Wichita child’s death show the agency received a report that 2-year-old Tony Bunn likely was being abused seven months before he allegedly was beaten to death, the newspaper reported.
Records show that in October, the agency was contacted after Tony’s two grandmothers took him to a Wichita emergency room with unexplained bruises on his head and back. The child died in May and his mother and her boyfriend — Elizabeth Woolheater, 23, and Lucas Diel, 25 — are charged with first-degree murder.
The state agency released about 400 pages of documents to the Eagle in response to a records request and a court order, although more than 100 pages were redacted and dozens of other pages were blank. In an earlier summary, the agency said a medical exam of Tony did not reveal internal injuries or result in a finding of abuse. Police detectives also investigated, but District Attorney Marc Bennett has said there wasn’t enough evidence at that time to file criminal charges.
The social worker assigned to Tony’s case also investigated child abuse allegations concerning Evan Brewer, a 3-year-old Wichita boy whose body was found encased in concrete in a Wichita rental home in September. The next month, the social worker was assigned to Tony’s case.
In a statement Saturday, the agency said that Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel visited the Wichita office after Tony’s death to determine what happened. It noted that the staff member and supervisor in Tony’s case are no longer working for the department and other case reviews were begun.
“DCF is committed to ensuring the well-being and safety of children, and we will continue to strengthen our services to serve Kansans,” the statement said.