Grandmother of Slain NJ Toddler Says State Failed Her
The mother of a toddler killed in New Jersey last week sought help from the state to protect her from the girl's father, who's charged with killing the 2-year-old by tossing her into a creek while she was still strapped in her car seat. But the toddler's maternal grandmother said the state's child-protection system failed her.
"She tried to get help and nobody helped her," Michelle Simmons, the grandmother, told The Associated Press on Wednesday, a day after Arthur Morgan III was arrested in San Diego on murder charges. "That was so wrong."
Tierra Morgan-Glover's body was found partially submerged in a creek near a roadway overpass in Shark River Park in Wall Township, N.J., about 20 miles north of her Lakehurst home. Her cause of death was listed as "homicidal violence, including submersion in water."
Prosecutors would not say whether authorities believe the girl was thrown from a vehicle into the creek, or whether she was carried into the park and placed in the water.
Morgan, who could not be reached for comment, had been the subject of a coast-to-coast manhunt and had been featured on the website of "America's Most Wanted" after the child's body was found. He was being held early Wednesday in California, and it was not yet known when an extradition hearing would be scheduled.
The girl's mother, Imani Benton, called police after Morgan failed to return the girl on Nov. 21 -- the day of his first visit with the girl in weeks.
Benton and Morgan apparently had a tumultuous relationship. And Benton and her daughter at least twice sought refuge in shelters for victims of domestic violence -- but eventually moved back to her mother's home after each stay.
The New Jersey Department of Children and Families had been involved in their family on and off for more than a year, said Allison Blake, commissioner of the department.
Blake said in a statement that the department's Division of Youth and Family Services first opened its case Oct. 29, 2010 when it received a report of violence between Benton and Morgan. Benton also got a court to issue a temporary restraining order against Morgan. But a court dropped the order, saying there was not sufficient evidence that domestic violence occurred. The agency left its case open anyway, for a time, and set up counseling and parenting classes for Benton. Blake said Morgan was offered parenting classes and a substance abuse evaluation, but he declined to participate.
The case was closed Feb. 25.
There were three later contacts between DYFS and the family. One was about conditions in the home where Tierra and her mother were living and one was over a report of violence between Benton and her brother. Each was closed within about a month.
The most recent contact between the agency and Tierra's family began on Nov. 9, when Morgan called in saying he did not know where the girl was. The state said that claim and others he made were unfounded.
Steve Jurman, supervising deputy at the U.S. Marshals Service office in San Diego, said his office got a tip from New Jersey authorities that Morgan might be at a home there. Marshals conducted surveillance for most of the day. Morgan was then spotted on the home's back porch and, after a brief period where it appeared he might try to flee, he was taken into custody.
Monmouth County prosecutor Peter E. Warshaw Jr. praised the efforts of the U.S. Marshals Service and other law enforcement authorities that were involved in the search for Morgan, who is charged with Tierra's murder and also faces charges of child endangerment and interfering with custody in neighboring Ocean County.
At least 13 law enforcement agencies in and around New Jersey joined the search for Morgan, covering airports, train stations, bus depots, and highway bridges and tunnels. He had an apartment in Eatontown, but had been staying on and off with a friend in Ocean Township, adjacent to Asbury Park.
Simmons said her family learned about the arrest Tuesday night. "It was a relief. Everybody could sleep. We all were starting to be fearful of him. He did things to all of us," she said. "We want to know why he did what he did to that baby."
An obituary prepared by the church at which her funeral was held gave the child's full name as Tierra La'Shae Camaya Morgan-Glover, "a bright-eyed little girl with a warm smile." Clergy there said Tierra quickly became known as "the church baby" because her radiant smile and warm personality were so noticeable to anyone who attended services there.
They said she liked to sing, loved math, and was a quick learner.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)