Between March 17, when the quarantine essentially began, and April 23, nine children ages four or younger were admitted to Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas for injuries from child abuse the hospital attributes to “stresses from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
I talked about the correlation between the increase in child abuse injuries and the mental health of parents in this post yesterday.
Three of those nine children admitted to Cook Children’s have died. On average, the hospital sees six child abuse deaths per year. These three deaths took place between March 17 and April 12, within the space of under a month.
One of those children was three-year-old Amari Demontre Boone.
On Friday, April 10, 2020, Fort Worth police responded to CCMC on a report of a child being treated for “severe head trauma.” The child was Amari, a beautiful little boy with a shock of curly hair often tamed into a ponytail or braids and the big brother to 19-month-old Levi, both of whom had been in foster care since 2018.
Doctors who examined the tiny three-year-old suspected his injuries were caused by child abuse and contacted the Forth Worth Police Department.
Two days after being admitted to the hospital in a coma, Amari was declared brain dead, and he was removed from life support. At 1:19 AM on Easter Sunday, Amari died.
How did this happen?
Amari was born on June 9, 2016 to parents Ariana George and Rodney Boone.
“He was amazing,” said Ariana. “He was the most brightest spirit you have ever met. He was so tiny but had such a big personality.”
Ariana and Rodney said they lost custody of Amari and his younger brother, Levi, in 2018 after Ariana lost her job, she was unable to find a new one, and the couple lost both their home and their transportation.
Court documents show that CPS first became involved with the family in 2018, when Ariana was pregnant with Levi. CPS reports included in the case file mentioned an unstable home life and allegations of domestic violence between Ariana and Rodney.
(Author’s note: I am only using Levi’s name because it was published in several Star-Telegram articles featuring interviews with the boys’ parents.)
Ariana did not disclose to most of her family that she had an open CPS case, let alone the fact that her children had been removed from her custody. She said she was ashamed.
While in state custody, the boys were shuffled from caregiver to caregiver, including Ariana’s mother and an aunt, but earlier this year, a judge ordered the children placed into the home of family friends Deondrick Foley and Joseph M. Delancy II. Ariana said she and Rodney were comfortable with the arrangement because, she said, “We both thought we knew them.”
Deon and Joseph were good friends with both Ariana and Rodney and, according to police, lived on the 1200 block of Dovercliff Court in Fort Worth in an apartment complex Ariana said is called Taylor Commons. Rodney used to work with Deon and had been friends with him for over 12 years. He does not believe his old friend could have injured Amari, but he wants whoever is responsible brought to justice.
Police have not named the two men as suspects, but the Justice for Amari Boone Facebook page is distributing flyers displaying their names and photos. Deon’s Facebook page has been locked down, all of his photos and posts inaccessible to the public; Joseph’s has evidently been deactivated.
Marissa Gonzales, Media Relations Director for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, said that the agency conducted background checks and performed home visits prior to the boys’ placement in the Foley-Delancy home.
The CPS caseworker’s notes indicate a home visit in December of 2019 was favorable and that during supervised visits, Amari and Levi adjusted well to the two men, who seemed genuinely loving toward children. The home was judged as a safe environment, according to the caseworker’s notes after a January 2020 visit.
The couple engaged well with the caseworker, were amenable to complying with department rules, and said they could get support from family if need be. She believed they would be wonderful caregivers to the two boys, and the department recommended them for temporary conservatorship.
Cracks quickly began appearing in the couple’s squeaky-clean veneer. Soon after the boys were placed in their home and just after the coronavirus quarantine began, Amari’s parents said, Joseph and Deon took Amari to the hospital with a sprained ankle they said he suffered from a fall down the stairs.
In early March, during a visit with her kids, Ariana noticed Amari had fresh bruises, swollen eyes, and a swollen lip. She took photos to document the injuries. “I gave it to my CPS caseworker,” she said. “I gave it to her supervisor. And I gave it to my boys’ lawyer.”
This may or may not have been the same visit the Star-Telegram described as taking place on March 7, when, defying the provisions set forth by CPS, Deon and Joseph allowed Ariana and Rodney to take their sons for an unsupervised visit for several hours, during which Amari’s caseworker did not know where the boy was or who he was with, according to her notes.
Rodney said that when they picked the boys up for that visit, they noticed bruises on Amari’s neck and body that Joseph and Deon could not explain. It was not the first time, Rodney said, he and Ariana had noticed injuries on their son since he was placed in their friends’ care.
At first, Rodney and Ariana refused to return Amari to the home of Deon and Joseph over their concerns about his injuries. “I had supervisors and caseworkers call and say that if I did not take him back, they were going to take legal action,” Rodney said. “He died about a month after I took him back to the home.”
Ariana and Rodney requested an investigation. Amari was evaluated at Cook Children’s, and although a report noted that “the bruises were concerning,” a removal order was not issued, and the boys remained in the care of Deon and Joseph.
Joseph and Deon were instructed not to allow the boys’ parents any unsupervised visits and to report all injuries, and the CPS caseworker promised Ariana she would increase her visits from once monthly to twice weekly to ensure the children’s safety. It is unknown if she followed through with this promise.
Deon asked the parents if Amari had any allergies in what Ariana deemed an attempt to explain some of his injuries. “Even at that, allergies would make your eyes water and might make them puff up,” she said, “but not turn them black and swollen until they are almost shut.”
Deon and Joseph explained that one of Amari’s injuries happened when Levi hit him in the face with a TV remote, splitting his lip. Another was explained by Amari supposedly running into a fence, causing a black eye. Ariana didn’t believe the explanations, saying the stories were inadequate to explain the extent of Amari’s injuries. “No, he had a cut on his lip, two black eyes and bruises on his chest and a red area,” she said.
The next thing anyone knew, Amari was admitted to the hospital with extensive injuries and died on Easter Sunday. At the time of his arrival in the emergency room, doctors “said the injuries had been going on for some time, for at least a month,” Rodney said. “Each injury had a different healing process. He had been beaten over time.”
Ariana said that some of Amari’s bruises were older than others. She requested documentation of his evaluation after the March 7 visit, but she was ignored. She said doctors were able to confirm to her that neither of her children was sexually assaulted. “Cook Children’s said nothing is wrong with my children, but I don’t believe that. Where’s the paperwork to prove that?” Ariana said. “Nobody ever showed us any paperwork. Everybody just saying, yeah we took him and he’s OK.”
This detail is heartbreaking; while Amari remained in a coma, his family was assured Deondrick Foley had been arrested and Joseph Delancy II would be next. Ariana said in her Facebook live video that the police had assured her Deon was in custody. She sounded relieved at the thought that at least one person responsible for her son’s injuries had been arrested.
He hadn’t. To date, no one has been arrested or charged in Amari’s death.
After Amari died, Rodney spoke with Deon. “He tried to explain to me that he didn’t know about this,” Rodney said, “that he had nothing to do with this… I wasn’t buying the story. I just think he knew more about it than he said he did.”
Ariana said that while Amari clung to life in the hospital, Joseph called Rodney to “taunt” him, asking, “Is Amari all right?”
She alleged it was Deon’s partner who delivered the fatal blows, saying before Amari’s death, “Joseph beat my son into a coma.”
In her Facebook live video from Amari’s bedside, Ariana described Joseph as very tall, possibly 6’1″ or 6’2″, and skinny, with dark skin, glasses, and a ponytail.
After an autopsy performed by the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office, Amari’s death was determined to have been caused by blunt force trauma to the head and was ruled a homicide. According to family members, both of Amari’s arms and several of his fingers were broken, and he suffered from fractured ribs, a fractured pelvis, multiple bruises, and severe bleeding in the left side of his brain.
Had Amari survived, Ariana said she was told, he would have spent the rest of his life with a tracheotomy and a feeding tube; he could never breathe again on his own.
Ariana believes her son would still be alive if CPS had listened to her. “I think they failed,” she said. “They failed miserably, because I gave them the information they needed and the pictures that I have.”
Rodney said that injuries did not begin appearing on Amari until the self-quarantine recommendations were made in mid-March. The last time he saw his son was during a video-chat session on April 8, during which he noticed Amari had a black eye and swelling in his face.
Two days later, Rodney received a call from Cook Children’s saying Amari had suffered a seizure. “It was a hard pill to swallow at the moment,” he said.
Amari’s lawyer received a call the same day from his CPS caseworker, who said the little boy had been taken to the emergency room, that he was not feeling well the previous evening, and that he might have been running a fever.
According to Rodney, Deon and Joseph told doctors Amari’s injuries were caused by another fall, but the doctors said the injuries were too severe to be explained away by a fall, appearing more consistent with injuries someone might incur in a car accident.
“Every time I saw my son, he had a different injury,” said Rodney. “If [CPS] had been visiting him like they said they were, they would have seen something, but they told us they never found anything wrong.”
CPS is working on the investigation into Amari’s death in conjunction with the Fort Worth Police Crimes Against Children Unit.
19-month-old Levi was removed from the Foley-Delancy home on the evening of April 10 when it was reported that Amari had bleeding on the brain and would not likely survive. Levi was placed into foster care and, following an evaluation at Cook Children’s, was determined to be uninjured. Ariana, who is no longer romantically involved with Rodney, gave birth to a baby boy earlier this year, but since his name hasn’t been publicized, I won’t include it in my post. The baby is in Ariana’s custody, although she said CPS tried to “trick” her into letting them become involved in her third son’s life, as well.
A GoFundMe campaign was created by Amari’s aunt, Chasatie Boozer, to help pay for Amari’s funeral and burial. However, the campaign, which raised $2,814, has since been disabled. It was reported by someone who said that, because Amari was in the custody of the state at the time of his death, the state will pay for the funeral arrangements, alleging the family should therefore not be asking for donations.
In the campaign, Chasatie describes Amari as “The Smartest, Intriguing, Funniest Kid In The World. A Loving, Happy Baby Who’s Life Was Cut Short At The Hands Of Unfit Foster Parents.” She also said “He Loved Making People Happy And Bringing Joy.”
Ariana was none too impressed with the CPS caseworker assigned to oversee her son. “She was just always so shystie and nonchalant on how she came and approached me with different situations; it got to the point where I didn’t even want to talk to her. It got to the point where I just stopped talking to her every month because it’d be like well, that’s good, but not good enough, you know,” Ariana said. “I’m like man, I’m only 22 and I’m going through all these things and you’re my caseworker. Aren’t you supposed to be rooting for me instead of putting me down?”
Ariana said she has not been homeless in months and has been following every request CPS made of her as she attempted to regain custody of her children, but they continuously turned her down. “They’ve not done a very good job of protecting my child,” she said.
CPS, however, described Ariana and Rodney as “financially and emotionally fragile,” making note of the past allegations of domestic violence between the two. A CPS report states that Rodney said “there was no domestic violence between him and George.”
In contrast, the report notes that Ariana described the couple’s domestic violence incidents as “frequent and physical,” saying “he would hit her and she would hit him to defend herself.”
In 2018, Ariana tested positive for marijuana at prenatal visits in May and July and then again in August while in the hospital to deliver Levi. She was reported to CPS for regularly using marijuana in front of Amari, who was two at the time, while heavily pregnant.
“The system is not for the people. We’re nothing but paperwork for them,” Ariana said. “They are not molding this system to different people’s personalities. They have a blueprint where they treat everyone the same. Stay woke, because there’s always someone watching you. Have faith and walk with God.”
Rodney has been charged with several offenses in the past few years. According to court records, he was convicted in 2017 of the reckless discharge of a firearm and sentenced to 200 days in jail. That follows a 2012 conviction for assault, which landed him in jail for 35 days.
“They can bring up all the negative stuff they want,” Rodney told the Star-Telegram, “but none of that is an excuse for my son getting killed.”
Amari was laid to rest on Friday, April 24 in a small, private ceremony with close family and friends in attendance.
The poignant video below was made by the Star-Telegram.
“I have to make sure my son rests in peace,” Ariana said. “I talk to him all the time and tell him that I’m here, I’m still here, I love you, I never left your side, and I believed you from the jump, and we’re going to get justice for you.”
“I’m just really trying to seek out justice for my son,” Rodney told the Star-Telegram. “I want my son’s voice to be heard, because he can’t speak out anymore. He was a beautiful, bright child who did not deserve this. I want his voice to be heard.”
“Justice needs to be served,” said Amari’s aunt, Chasatie Boozer. “Someone needs to be held responsible. The system failed yet another child.”
A petition titled “Justice for Amari Boone” has been created on Change.org. Once the petition receives 25,000 signatures, it will be delivered to Fort Worth Police Chief Ed Kraus, Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson, and Texas Governor Greg Abbott. The petition decries the fact that no one has been arrested in Amari’s death and states that “justice NEEDS to be served.”
A group known as The Brotherhood Movement has declared their support for Amari’s family and their intention to seek justice for Amari. Members of the group have been in attendance at vigils for Amari as well as his funeral service and have posted several online videos in support of the cause, including the video below.
Now for my IMHO moment: I want justice for Amari as badly as anyone else does, but I’m willing to bet Fort Worth police aren’t sitting on their thumbs. There are many steps to be taken, boxes to be checked, i’s to be dotted, and t’s to be crossed before charges can be filed. If charges are pressed hastily without the evidence in order to back them up, they can be dropped, and then we may never see justice for Amari.
According to Sergeant Rachel DeHoyos of the Fort Worth Police Department Crimes Against Children Unit, a search warrant was executed early in the case at the apartment where Amari and Levi lived with Deon and Joseph. A second search warrant was served on April 16. Sergeant DeHoyos said there is a huge amount of evidence to examine from the scene, as well as medical records, social history, and CPS reports. In addition, several interviews have to be reviewed and transcribed, and detectives need the medical examiner’s final autopsy report before a case can be built. In cases where there is no “smoking gun,” she said, extensive work must be put into making a child homicide case.
It also must be acknowledged that as egregious as this case is, it’s not the only one of its kind investigators are working on right now. The FWPDCACU opened four child fatality investigations during the six week span between March 21 and April 28 alone. One of those investigations was cleared with no finding of foul play, but the other three investigations, including Amari’s and two children who died at Cook Children’s on the same day in March, continue. In addition to those fatality cases, there have been countless investigations opened by the CACU involving crimes against surviving children.
“We have actually received additional leads in our public email as a result of the news coverage,” Sergeant DeHoyos said, referring to multiple news articles in late March quoting staff from Cook Children’s Medical Center about the possible correlation between child abuse cases and stress from the COVID-19 pandemic. “My detectives are working many long hours without days off to prepare these cases. Although each case has a lead detective, every detective in CACU has helped out and is still helping out in putting these cases together in hopes of a successful prosecution… It is our mission, and we are committed to advocating for these children and to hold accountable those that would hurt these blessed souls.”
For now, as much as it pains us, we should try to be patient and let the authorities do their jobs. Until charges are filed, let’s focus on keeping Amari’s memory alive; this sweet, happy, utterly beautiful three-year-old boy with a brilliant smile, a fantastic head of hair, gorgeous brown eyes, and a “bottomless pit” for a tummy must never be forgotten. If you gave him some food, a phone, or a TV to watch, he was happy, his mother said, describing him as a “very unique child.” His favorite TV show was PJ Masks, and he loved playing with his little brothers and his cousins.
“He was just an awesome kid,” Ariana said, “and didn’t deserve this at all.”
Anyone with information on Amari’s case should contact Fort Worth Police at (817) 332-5036 or FortWorthPDCACU@fortworthtexas.gov.
Click here for my ongoing coverage of Amari’s case.
Sources: The Dallas Morning News, GoFundMe, NBCDFW, Cook Children’s Medical Center, KHOU, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Facebook