Three children died at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas between March 17 and April 12. The manner of death for all three children was homicide; the cause for all three children was blunt force trauma, among other things.
Yesterday marked the first arrest in any of those three murders.
I’ve been covering the case of three-year-old Amari Boone on the blog for some time, and I devoted episode 12 of Suffer the Little Children Podcast to him, as well. Amari was in the care of his foster fathers, Deondrick Foley and Joseph M. Delancy II, at the time of his fatal injuries, but they evidently insist Amari’s injuries occurred at day care. However, Amari’s biological parents, Ariana George and Rodney Boone, previously took photographs of other injuries their little boy had suffered while in Deon and Joseph’s care.
Another three-year-old, Eriykah Taylor, died on March 21 at 2:08 PM after being taken to Cook Children’s emergency room via private vehicle. Her autopsy, conducted by Richard Fries, D.O., the same doctor who conducted Amari’s post-mortem exam, revealed that Eriykah’s death was a homicide caused by multiple blunt force injuries. Fort Worth Police Department Sergeant Ismael Espinoza has said that the department’s Crimes Against Children unit, as well as the county CPS agency, are investigating Eriykah’s death, but to date, literally nothing has been published anywhere about it except the determination back in April that her death was a homicide. I can’t even find a photo of Eriykah anywhere, let alone the names of her parents or any other information.
The other child in that tragic trio is four-year-old Stetson Blackburn, also of Fort Worth, and it is Stetson’s case that finally saw movement yesterday.
Let’s start at the beginning. Around 4:35 PM on Thursday, March 19, 2020, a 911 call summoned Fort Worth Police officers and an ambulance to 3313 Bonaventure Boulevard South in Fort Worth on a report of an unresponsive child who wasn’t breathing. When first responders arrived, a young woman was performing CPR on her four-year-old son, Stetson Blackburn, who was immediately rushed to Cook Children’s.
The same day, the FWPD Crimes Against Children Unit (CACU) launched an investigation, interviewing Stetson’s mother, 23-year-old Shannon Lynn Gray, and her girlfriend, 24-year-old Reyna Marie Sanchez.
According to Reyna, she, Stetson, and his three-year-old brother, G.B., spent some time at her sister’s house that afternoon before going to Taco Bell to eat. When they arrived home, she put the two young boys down for a nap around 3:30 PM. Two minutes later, she said, Stetson began gasping for air, and he had vomit, food, and blood coming out of his nose and mouth. He “was bleeding from everywhere,” she said, so she put him in the shower, where he became unresponsive. At that point, Reyna said, she began CPR, calling Shannon to come home. She didn’t want to call 911, “because she wanted to see if it was going to be something small.” When Shannon arrived home, she was the one to call 911.
Huh? That immediately reminded me of the story of Jayden McGee, the one-year-old Alabama boy who died on March 10 of this year after allegedly being beaten by his mother’s boyfriend, who also refused to call for help, leaving that up to Mom when she got home.
Reyna told the detective that she “did not lay a hand on [Stetson]” that afternoon and, in fact, that she never disciplined him.
Shannon, however, was interviewed by the same detective and immediately said “it was her fault she let this happen.” She said Stetson was fine when she left for work at about 8:30 that morning and that Reyna called her around 4:10 PM to tell her that her son was unresponsive. Reyna, she said, told her Stetson was “acting like he was last night.” When she got home, she saw her son lying sideways, limp and unmoving, so she began doing CPR and called 911.
She told the detective she gave Stetson an “ass-whooping” on Wednesday night “because he was lying.” In an affidavit, Detective Adam Perry of the CACU wrote, “Shannon said she overdid it.” Shannon told the detective she spanked Stetson 35 to 40 times on the bottom with a belt before laying him down and spanking him about ten more times. Then she hit him with the belt about 20 more times in the head, which she said Reyna made her do. Afterward, feeling badly about her conduct, Shannon apologized to her son and put him in a cold shower.
Apparently, her shame didn’t extend to her girlfriend, because she said Reyna made Stetson hold his hands over his head while he was in the shower, and then, when he was too slow to dry off, Reyna pushed him down and kicked him multiple times in the stomach.
At that point, Shannon said, Stetson “screamed and stiffed up,” and that after the beating, he seemed “out of it.” She told her girlfriend they had to take him to the hospital, but Reyna insisted they couldn’t do that.
Shannon told the detective that Reyna abused Stetson several times in the past, including smacking him hard with an open hand, strangling him, and using a belt to hit him in the head. She said Reyna had told her she had thought about killing Stetson.
That evening, during another interview, Reyna Sanchez finally admitted that on the evening of Wednesday, March 18, Stetson was dallying after his cold shower, only drying one spot on his body, so she decided an appropriate punishment was kicking him in the ribs. She said she also kicked him three times in the stomach as hard as she could — so hard, in fact, that she hurt her big toe. This wasn’t the first time she had physically abused Stetson, either, she said; examples given included hitting Stetson as hard as she could with a shoe or any other handy object and sometimes lifting the little boy off the ground by the throat. Once, she said, she hit her girlfriend’s son so hard in the head with her hand that the blow bruised her finger.
Doctors from Cook Children’s Medical Center told investigators that the injuries Stetson endured included a traumatic brain injury, a subdural hematoma, cardiac arrest, and acute respiratory failure.
EMTs with Medstar and Fort Worth firefighters who had responded to the initial 911 call told detectives they had seen bruising on Stetson’s head near his temple, as well as a “goose egg” on his forehead and bruising on his back and the back of his legs.
Ultimately, Stetson was declared brain dead two days after arriving at the hospital, and at 10:38 AM on Saturday, March 21, 2020, in the Cook Children’s intensive care unit, the little boy was pronounced dead. Fortunately, some of Stetson’s organs were able to be donated through Lifegift, so at the very least, his death was able to give others the chance to live.
An autopsy was conducted by Dr. Tasha Greenburg of the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s office, although the results were not finalized until July.
In the meantime, investigators executed two search warrants at the family’s mobile home and canvassed the trailer park for witnesses; they also executed five search warrants for cell phone records and the womens’ social media accounts. Shannon and Reyna were interviewed multiple times, and a number of additional interviews were also conducted, involving FWPD patrol officers, CPS, medical personnel, the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office, and family members, friends, and coworkers of Shannon and Reyna.
Reyna’s sister told detectives on March 22 that Stetson often had bruises when she visited the trailer home. She told them about a time when she stayed with Shannon and Reyna, during which the two women took Stetson to another room, after which she overheard “15 pops or slaps.” She also recalled an incident in which Stetson had a black eye, which Shannon claimed was caused when Stetson moved while she was beating him with a shoe.
Reyna’s sister had seen Stetson the day he was taken to the hospital, and she told investigators he hadn’t looked well, he had been holding his head as if in pain, and she believed he was sick. That day, she said, Reyna called Shannon via Facetime, and Shannon told her injured four-year-old that he should “act like a big boy.”
I found no indication of whether or not Reyna’s sister notified CPS of any of Stetson’s prior injuries.
On July 8, Dr. Greenburg ruled Stetson’s manner of death to be homicide caused by blunt force injuries with complications.
Finally, on July 27, Detective Perry obtained a Capital Murder warrant for both Reyna Sanchez and Shannon Gray. Shannon Gray was arrested on July 31 by authorities in Tennessee, while Reyna Sanchez was taken into custody by the FWPD fugitive unit. Both women were arrested on suspicion of capital murder of a person under 10.
While announcing the arrests, Sergeant Rachel DeHoyos said, “For all of us, we want to be the voice for Stetson because there is no one left to be his voice. And so to be his voice and see justice served and an arrest made is very satisfying.”
The FWPD explained that these arrests were delayed because they were waiting for the medical examiner’s ruling of homicide. That doesn’t explain the delay in arrests in the cases of Eriykah Taylor and Amari Boone, however, and I (along with many others) are only going to wait just so long before we start demanding answers.
One more tidbit of terrible news: it appears Reyna Sanchez has a child of her own, so along with Shannon’s surviving son, there are two little guys in Fort Worth who have effectively lost their mothers and a brother thanks to the reckless disregard for Stetson’s life displayed by Shannon Gray and Reyna Sanchez.
Click here for my ongoing coverage of Stetson’s case.
Sources: Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s website, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Fort Worth Police Department Facebook page, KIIITV News 3, Dallas Voice, Facebook