A 7-year-old Kentucky boy died by suffocating at a children’s treatment and foster care facility in July, and the manner of death was a homicide, the coroner has ruled.
Ja’Ceon Terry was in the care of Brooklawn in Louisville, a center for children with mental and behavioral needs, when he died July 17.
He died of “positional asphyxia,” when a person’s position prevents breathing, the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office said.
The death sparked outrage among his family, prompted investigations at the local and state levels and led to the firing of two staffers at the facility.
Ja'Ceon’s mother, Dominique Terry, said that she knew there was more to the story when she learned of her son’s death and that the release of the autopsy only confirmed her suspicions.
“I just knew that someone did something to my son,” she told NBC affiliate WLEX of Lexington, saying she believes he was strangled.
Terry said she hadn’t seen her son in more than two years and was hoping to regain custody of him when she learned of his death in July. He entered the foster care system several years ago when she was struggling with legal trouble, WLEX reported.
Brooklawn provides care to Kentucky's most "vulnerable children," including youths with emotional, environmental or educational needs.
The facility hasn’t shared details about what exactly happened to Ja'Ceon.
A spokesperson said that Brooklawn is "still searching for answers" about what happened July 17 and that it is cooperating with state and local investigators.
Two staffers "involved in the incident" have been fired, said a spokesperson for Brooklawn who works with Seven Counties Services, the facility's operator.
“We are completely devastated by the unspeakable loss of a child in our care, Ja’Ceon Terry,” the statement said. “He should not have died on our watch. As protectors of Kentucky’s most vulnerable children, we are dedicated to making sure it never happens again.”
A Brooklawn spokesman said the facility has implemented new safety measures and increased training for staffers who provide direct care to children. The training includes de-escalation and relationship-building strategies “which have been shown to reduce and prevent the need for holds.”
No charges have been filed.
Louisville police said an investigation continues.
"Once we have gathered all of the facts related to this death, we will present them to the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office to determine how we will proceed,” spokesperson Aaron Ellis said.
An investigation is also underway by Kentucky's Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which is responsible for children in the foster care system.
"The loss of 7-year-old Ja’Ceon Terry on July 17 has deeply impacted the cabinet. This sadness was deepened more upon learning the results of the autopsy," spokesperson Susan Dunlap said.
She said further foster care placements at Uspiritus, whose facilities include Brooklawn in Louisville, have been suspended for children in the care of the state.
"A full review of Brooklawn, including staffing, regulations and protocol, is continuing from the Department for Community Based Services and the Office of the Inspector General, and placements will continue to be suspended for the time being," Dunlap said.
The Terry family is demanding justice.
Ja'Ceon's grandfather George Terry wants the staffers involved in the child's death to face jail time.
“He’s 7 years old. He couldn’t have been too strong for two adults to handle,” George Terry told WLEX. “Instead of putting an arm around his neck and choking him out, there should have been training, and the two that were involved, I think they should be arrested and charged for murder.”