As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas saw a spike in child abuse injuries they attributed to “stresses from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Between March 17 and April 23 of this year, nine children ages four or younger were admitted to the Fort Worth children’s hospital for child abuse injuries, and three of those children died of their injuries. Their deaths were ruled homicides. Cook Children’s typically sees an average of six child abuse deaths in an entire year.
Three-year-old Amari Boone died on Easter Sunday after suffering fatal blunt force injuries while quarantined in the care of his foster fathers, Deondrick Foley and Joseph M. Delancy II. To date, no arrests have been made in Amari’s case despite a petition demanding justice for Amari reaching over 300,000 signatures, thanks to the efforts of both nonprofit organization Missing Hearts via their Justice for Amari Boone Facebook page and El Hajj Austin of the Brotherhood Movement in Fort Worth. However, although no one has yet been arrested for Amari’s death, there has been recent movement in the case that I hope to cover very soon.
Two arrests were made on July 31 in the beating death of four-year-old Stetson Blackburn, whose mother, Shannon Gray, and her girlfriend, Reyna Sanchez, are accused of giving Stetson what they called an “ass-whooping” that led to his death on March 21.
Now, after almost seven months, I am thrilled to report that justice is being served for three-year-old Erykah Taylor, who, like little Stetson, died at Cook Children’s on March 21.
Prior to this week, information about Erykah and her story has been all but impossible to find. There was a single news piece published about her on April 3, in which three paltry sentences informed the public that the little girl’s death had been ruled a homicide, which was confirmed on the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office website. After that… nothing.
Erykah’s family, however, has been active on Facebook over the past several months, spreading awareness of Erykah’s murder and demanding the arrests of any responsible parties. This week, their efforts came to fruition when the man accused of beating this precious little girl to death was arrested.
(Note: Erykah’s name is spelled “Eriykah” both on the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office website and in the Star-Telegram article published this week, but because it is spelled without the “i” in her family’s public posts and flyers, I will be using that spelling.)
On the afternoon of Saturday, March 21, 2020, three-year-old Erykah arrived at Cook Children’s, unresponsive, not breathing, and without a pulse. She was pronounced dead at 2:08 PM, shortly after her arrival.
Based on the little girl’s injuries, which included a fractured right arm and bruising to both her lower right abdomen and the left side of her face, medical personnel contacted the Fort Worth Police, whose Crimes Against Children Unit (CACU) responded to the hospital to investigate. An emergency room doctor told Detective Bradley Cantu that Erykah’s injuries were consistent with physical abuse.
An arrest affidavit later described the condition of Erykah’s body in the emergency room, where she lay on her back, intubated through the mouth, wrapped in a white blanket, and wearing a neck brace. She had bruises on her face, shin, and hip, as well as behind her ear.
At the time of her injuries, Erykah was in the care of her mother’s boyfriend, 24-year-old Tonny Manns, who also called himself “Eastwood Tre Tre.” Erykah and her two siblings, a younger brother and an older sister, lived in the house with their mother, her boyfriend, and his mother and grandmother, although Erykah’s mother, identified by the FWPD as Anjelica Ochoa, was reportedly at work when the fatal incident occurred.
Tonny told police that earlier that day, he had prepared a sausage biscuit for Erykah, but because she would only nibble on it, he was going to make her stand in a corner. Before he could do that, he said, he heard a thud from the bathroom, where he found Erykah had fallen from the counter. When he helped her stand up, Erykah told him her arm hurt, so he had her rotate it and squeezed both of her arms, ostensibly to test for injuries. He asked if she was okay, and Erykah replied, “I’m okay.”
He told a detective his girlfriend’s three-year-old daughter soon began acting listless and felt hot to the touch. Soon afterward, she became unresponsive.
After Erykah’s death, an autopsy was performed by Dr. Richard Fries, Tarrant County deputy medical examiner. Dr. Fries determined Erykah had suffered from a multitude of blunt force injuries, the most severe of which was a laceration to her liver. In his opinion, Erykah’s death was consistent with blunt force trauma to the abdomen; he said it was possible but very unlikely that Erykah could have sustained her arm fracture by falling from a three-foot counter, which would require a significant amount of force.
Dr. Fries felt the story given by Tonny Manns was not consistent with Erykah’s injuries and ruled her death a homicide due to multiple blunt force injuries.
I think it’s important to note that nothing in the information that has been released publicly from Erykah’s autopsy has mentioned injuries in various stages of healing or any other indication that the abuse had been ongoing for any length of time. At this point, we cannot and must not point fingers at Anjelica, who has maintained since her daughter’s death that she had no reason to believe Erykah was being abused prior to March 21.
In fact, for a time after Erykah died, 23-year-old Anjelica believed Tonny’s story about what happened, at least until her five-year-old daughter, who I’ll call A., told her what she had seen and heard in the house the day her little sister was killed.
“I loved you,” the girls’ mother lamented in a public Facebook post clearly aimed at Tonny. “WE loved you, if you didn’t feel the same you could have said that and maybe my daughter would have still been here. You pretended too fuckin good ! That even AFTER I believed YOU… even after I STILL loved you. I literally couldn’t imagine in my mind you doing something this horrible… But for my FIVE YEAR OLD to tell me what she saw and what she heard being done to her sister!!! There was no more trying to find a different scenario or outcome. It happened. He did it. I DIDNT WANNA BELIEVE IT but I’ll be damned if ion believe it straight out my daughter mouth.”
In an earlier post, she said, “I wanted to be wrong. He was my best friend.”
Police also interviewed Erykah’s five-year-old sister, A, who said that on the day her sister died, Erykah was sent for a timeout in Tonny’s bedroom for not eating her cereal. She said Tonny gave Erykah a “whooping,” striking her buttocks with a belt. A. said she heard her little sister crying and her mother’s boyfriend yelling at her, saying, “Don’t pee on yourself, don’t scratch, don’t pick, and make sure you eat that food.”
A. told police that Tonny was yelling so loudly that she covered her ears. Later, she said, she noticed Erykah wasn’t feeling well and saw that Erykah vomited milk and was having trouble talking. When Erykah became unresponsive, she said, Tonny tried in vain to wake her.
Tonny, A. said, had also “whooped” Erykah with a belt in the past and would step on her when she misbehaved. According to Detective Cantu’s affidavit, “She explained that he would step on [Erykah’s] belly for not taking a nap or step on her back for kicking his legs.” He had also stepped on Erykah for misbehaving or wetting her pants.
According to a Facebook post from the Fort Worth Police Department on October 16, five search warrants were ultimately carried out for cell phone records and social media accounts. At the family’s Chaparral Creek Drive house, police found a black blanket stained with what appeared to be vomit in the center of Tonny’s bed, as well as traces of blood in the bathroom sink, in the bathtub, and on the pallet where Erykah slept with another person.
Detective Cantu interviewed Tonny again on August 18, asking the man if another child might have seen something that could have been interpreted as a “whooping.” Tonny insisted he had not beaten Erykah, saying, “I’m 6’4”, two hundred and something pounds. I wear a fucking size 13 shoe. If I did that to the fucking two of them it would be something else. Like, you could fucking tell… No dude, no.”
For months following Erykah’s death, members of her family have made countless posts on social media, demanding justice for their beloved little girl. Many called for the arrests of the three people they felt were responsible: Tonny Manns as well as his mother and his grandmother, both of whom were evidently present at the home at the time of Erykah’s death.
According to many, after the death of his girlfriend’s daughter, Tonny Manns cut his hair and changed his style of dress to avoid being recognized.
In a Facebook post, Erykah’s mother mentioned that A. told her exactly what Tonny did to her sister, to which Tonny’s mother, Raquel Vaughn McDowell, responded that A. “needa stop lying.”
Look, I’m a parent, and I can understand the instinct to protect your child, but knowing your own son beat a three-year-old to death and lying to protect him is something else entirely.
Another possible indication that Raquel knew something was awry was this direct message she sent to Anjelica about ten minutes before Anjelica received the phone call on March 21 telling her that Erykah was in an ambulance. It’s highly suspicious that she would send such a message when Erykah was without a doubt already fatally injured.
Members of Erykah’s family have said that Tonny and his mother didn’t particularly care for Anjelica’s daughters, but they seemed to harbor an unhealthy interest in her infant son. Photos posted on Raquel’s Facebook profile of Tonny, Raquel, and the baby — but none including Erykah and A. — seem to bear that out. I don’t know where that detail fits into the case, but it’s certainly weird enough to warrant pointing out.
Neither Raquel nor Tonny’s grandmother have been accused or charged in relation to Erykah’s abuse or death.
In September, Erykah’s paternal grandmother, Kookie, posted this image in a true crime discussion group on Facebook.
On October 4, a Facebook page called Gabriel’s Tree: A Tribute to Abused, Missing and Murdered Children posted a statement from Kookie, who Erykah called “Yaya.” The statement read:
“March 21st, was the worst day of my life!
“My son’s children were being held from him and my family. Their mother decided to keep them away from him.It had been eight to nine months since the last time I had seen my grandchildren.
“On March 21st, my son called me in a complete panic saying a CPS lady called him, upon her finding out that my son was Erykah’s biological father. She proceeded to give him an address and asked him to go there.
“I immediately took off and headed to the given address as I was three minutes away. My son called again, asking where I was and told me to hurry. I began to panic. I asked what was going on and he proceeded to tell me that he was not allowed to tell me what was going on over the phone.
“When I pulled up to the Child Advocacy Center in Fort Worth and walked in, I instantly saw my two grandchildren but not Eriykah…
“I started to cry as they are the air that I breath.
“I noticed that my oldest granddaughter looked horrible, she was so small..
“A lady walked up to me and I had asked her where eriykah was and she said she would tell me, but she was going to take me to my son first. We walked down the hallway and she enters a room where I see my son. He lifts his head and I instantly know that there is something wrong. I begin to panic again and the CPS caseworker tells me to please calm down and that she would explain what happened..
“I kept asking where Erykah was, as I begin to get louder and louder. She tells me we are going to talk outside and I agree.
“We all, including my son, head outside and the Case worker begins to talk about stuff I am NOT interested in.
“I keep interrupting her and now I am getting mad because I need to know where my grandaughter is.
“my son tells the caseworker that I am NOT going to hear or listen to her until she tells me where eriykah is and then my son asks her if he can tell me.
“Fear and anxiety hit as I begin to repeat, ‘tell me what?’ over and over
“She agrees to let him tell me, and my son looks at me with sadness and hurt in his eyes and says, ‘she’s gone mom’
“I reply ‘gone where? did someone take her? gone where? where is she?’
“and my son says ‘Mom look at me she’s gone my baby is dead.’
“I must have blanked out at that moment because I don’t remember what happened after that. I later find out that I collapsed and when i came around again, I was screaming and took off running. I guess once I calmed down enough for the caseworker to talk to me, I remember her telling me that Erykah was rushed to the Cook Children’s Hospital with multiple injuries and that the medic tried to resuscitate her for 35 minutes before heading to the hospital to pronounce her dead.
“We were told all the bones in her arms were broken, she had head trauma and bruises and I later found out that she was hemorrhaging from her liver.
“I felt like a piece of my soul had left me…
“The hurt was and still feels unbearable, why?
“Who would beat her like that? why? she did not deserve that!!
“My life felt like it was ending. We were later told from info gathered that Erykah’s mother’s boyfriend beat her to death and that his mother and grandmother were also present when it happened..
“Why did they allow this to happen? MONSTERS!!! Sick twisted murdering murderers!
“Erykah was a smart, funny, and strong-willed, determined child. She was loved by her brothers and sisters and she dearly loved them back. She was also Daddy’s girl for sure!
“On April 9th, I was told that Erykah’s death was ruled a homicide but to this day, no arrests have been made?!!
“I want answers and Erykah deserves JUSTICE!! why are these murders just walking around free???”
A petition created by the family demanding justice for Erykah from the Fort Worth Police Department has garnered almost 1,300 signatures as of this writing.
On October 13, an arrest warrant was finally issued for Tonny Manns. He was arrested by the Fort Worth Police Department’s fugitive unit on Wednesday, October 14, 2020 and booked into the Tarrant County Lon Evans Correctional Center, where he currently remains. He was charged with capital murder of a person under ten years of age, and his bond appears to be set at $200,000.
If convicted, he faces either life in prison without parole or the death penalty.
Tonny’s initial court appearance is scheduled to take place at 9:00 AM on Tuesday, October 20 in Tarrant County Magistrate Court. I will keep an eye on the case and post updates as I receive them.
A friend of Kookie’s set up a GoFundMe campaign in September to raise funds for a headstone. It quickly raised 100% of its $1,200 goal, so Erykah’s grave marker was ordered and should soon be in place.
So far, not much information has come out about Erykah herself, but I’ve been able to find a few details about her. Erykah was born on November 14, 2016. Her favorite color was yellow.
Erykah’s mom reminisced about her third birthday in a public Facebook post in April, saying she had lost her job a few weeks before and was upset because all she could afford to buy Erykah for her birthday was an outfit, some bath toys, and her favorite My Little Pony figure. “…before giving her her gifts I was still upset because I couldn’t do more for her,” Erykah’s mom wrote, “but when I did give her the gifts she was SO HAPPY she gave me a big hug. She was so dramatic… so she was like ‘omg I love it, you the best mommy’ …with her little chipmunk voice… such a beautiful, sweet, smart girl. I miss you so much baby… I can’t wait to see you again and feel them hugs and kisses again. Little baby pecks… I love you Erykah Taylor.”
Rest in peace, baby girl. I’m sure you’re making the heavens brighter with your smile and your sparkle.
Click here for my ongoing coverage of Erykah’s case.
Sources: Star-Telegram, Gabriel’s Tree: A Tribute to Abused, Missing and Murdered Children Facebook page, Fort Worth Police Department Facebook page, Facebook, NBCDFW