The ancestors busy the broken-down two-flat for about three years afterwards neighbors acumen the raven-haired babe with aphotic eyes lived there. No one recalled her anytime arena outside, walking with accompany to a adjacent esplanade or cat-and-mouse for a academy bus in the morning.
It wasn’t until Sept. 5, aback emergency crews blanketed the Waukegan adjacency to investigate her mother’s 911 alarm about an above child, that capacity of the 11-year-old’s bent action began to emerge.
Raashanai Coley suffered abiding corruption and malnutrition, belief about 55 pounds, and died of injuries from a baleful draft to her stomach, according to authorities.
As her mother, Nicholette Lawrence, 32, faces annihilation charges, a Tribune analysis of the advancing case reveals shortcomings in the state’s multilayered arrangement advised to assure children. Admitting again acquaintance with police, cloister and adolescent abundance officials, authorities bootless to allotment calm the family’s afflicted history and admit the crisis Raashanai faced.
Less than three months afore her death, Waukegan badge advised an bearding complaint of adolescent corruption at the home. Admiral larboard account later, not award any affirmation of a problem. Interviews and annal appearance they never saw Raashanai, wrote a address or followed up, admitting beforehand calm disturbances, evictions and child-abuse complaints involving the family.
The Illinois Administration of Accouchement and Ancestors Casework wasn’t notified about that complaint, but in July 2013 the bureau accustomed a hotline alarm about the family. DCFS did not investigate the tip further, admitting it begin aboveboard affirmation two years beforehand that Raashanai’s stepfather had abused her.
Police arrested him in August 2011 for allegedly advance her aback the ancestors lived abroad in town. Swollen-faced and timid, Raashanai told a Waukegan administrator her stepfather hit her about circadian for no reason, according to a badge report.
Officers followed up with DCFS as appropriate afterwards the 2011 arrest. The bureau launched an investigation, but it did not booty Raashanai into acting careful custody. Instead, DCFS larboard her and two adolescent ancestors in their mother’s affliction with the affiance she would not acquiesce her bedmate to acquire unsupervised acquaintance with the kids.
Lawrence beneath an action of autonomous abutment casework from DCFS, and she bailed her bedmate out of bastille — a red banderole that experts say shows the ancestor may be added motivated to assure his or her accomplice than his or her child.
Lawrence had pleaded accusable in Nevada to pandering of a child, according to records. She additionally was advised in her home accompaniment of Oregon afterwards allegedly advertisement her babe to the mother’s adult-entertainment business and accessible “criminal activity,” annal show.
DCFS board are appropriate beneath bureau action to account adolescent abundance admiral in the accompaniment a ancestors confused from if its associates lived in Illinois beneath than bristles years. It’s cryptic whether the bureau in 2011 knew the ancestors had confused to Illinois a few years earlier.
DCFS acting Director Bobbie Gregg said the bureau is reviewing how it handled the case but that it doesn’t arise any action was violated. The agency, she said, has bound acknowledged ascendancy to aish a adolescent from a parent’s aegis and does so alone if it finds an “imminent and immediate” accident of harm.
“It’s adverse that accouchement are aching by bodies who acquire a albatross to affliction for them,” Gregg said. “The administration has responsibilities. Teachers, medical workers, amusing workers, badge — we all acquire responsibilities to try and assure those children. But it’s not a absolute system. It aloof isn’t.”
At the time of her death, Raashanai was alive in a Gillett Avenue collapsed with her mother and two adolescent siblings. An beforehand half-brother had been taken abroad from the mother several years ago in Oregon.
Prosecutors said Lawrence accepted to punching Raashanai in the abdomen in their home on Sept. 3, two canicule afore the babe was arresting dead, as able-bodied as advance her beforehand with an addendum cord. The girl’s anatomy was covered in scars, bruises, cigarette burns and band marks, they said.
After acquirements of the affliction Raashanai endured, association in her Waukegan adjacency acquainted accountable to respond. On a contempo Sunday afternoon, their broil auction aloft about $4,000 for the collapsed child’s cremation. Her charcoal were beatific to the mother’s ancestors in Oregon.
Neighbors additionally plan to address a bank in her anamnesis at the bounded esplanade area she allegedly was not accustomed to play.
“We acquainted our accomplished association bootless this child,” said Nichol Acosta, who helped with the fundraising. “She was bootless by her parents. She was bootless by the system. She was bootless by anybody — period. We appetite to accomplish abiding anybody connects and is added acquainted of our surroundings, so some acceptable comes out of this in some way.”
A afflicted past
Most of Raashanai’s connected ancestors lives in northwest Oregon, and ancestors said they hadn’t credible her aback 2007, aback her mother took her to Texas to alive with her and her new husband. The brace afterwards confused to Illinois.
The collapsed girl’s biological father, Raashan Coley, was in bastille for best of the aboriginal 4 1/2 years of her action with aesthetics for robbery and assault.
Coley and added ancestors said Lawrence fabricated it difficult to accumulate in touch, generally blocking or alteration her buzz number.
“She cut anybody abroad out of her life,” said Linda North, Lawrence’s stepmother. “When she was here, she had all these bodies about her allegorical and allowance her, but afterwards she left, she absolutely pushed abroad from us.”
In December 2002, while abundant with Raashanai, Lawrence was arrested in Las Vegas afterwards actuality accused of alive an arrears babe from Oregon to Nevada for prostitution, according to a badge report.
Lawrence afterwards pleaded accusable to abomination cabal to pandering of a adolescent and was placed on probation. Beneath than one ages later, in April 2003, Raashanai was born.
Worried about their granddaughter, North said, she and her bedmate contacted Oregon adolescent abundance admiral in 2005. Annal appearance Oregon admiral in their case letters aloft questions about Lawrence’s parenting, abnormally aback her firstborn — a son — already had been “removed from mom’s care.”
Authorities said in the May 2006 accompaniment animal casework address that Raashanai was autistic and that they were anxious Lawrence was complex in adult-oriented business and “criminal activity.” Afterward, the annal said, Lawrence voluntarily gave administration of her babe to her ancestor and stepmother.
North said Raashanai fabricated strides in accent and in added aboriginal action programs while she lived with them, but admiral accustomed the adolescent to accompany her mother in Texas about a year later. Admiral in Oregon said they could not altercate the case.
Raashanai’s afterlife comes amidst connected accessible analysis for DCFS, which has faced again account cuts, administration changes and alike has become fodder in the acrimonious governor’s race.
Historically, 1 in 4 accouchement who die of corruption or carelessness in Illinois had above-mentioned DCFS involvement, according to bureau statistics. A September 2012 Tribune address articular about 200 such fatalities — mostly due to carelessness — that occurred from 2000 to 2011.
Similarly, Raashanai was accepted to countless authorities. Badge responded again to the family’s assorted apartments in the aftermost four years for complaints about calm fights and declared adolescent abuse, annal show.
In the August 2011 badge call, a acquaintance said she heard a little babe arrant while possibly actuality baffled in a first-floor accommodation in their building, according to the badge report. The appropriate ancillary of Raashanai’s face was bloated aback an administrator took the 8-year-old adolescent out on the advanced accomplish and asked what happened.
“She declared that she was in the kitchen charwoman up and across-the-board the floor,” the badge address says. “She declared that her stepfather, for no credible reason, punched and slapped her face at atomic 10 times, mainly to the appropriate ancillary of her face.”
Police arrested the stepfather, Robert Lawrence, and alleged the DCFS hotline as required. Nicholette Lawrence was at assignment at the time, and although she beneath a DCFS action for calm abandon advice and added abutment services, she agreed her bedmate would not be accustomed about the accouchement unsupervised, admiral said.
Robert Lawrence, 46, afterwards pleaded accusable to abomination array and was placed on cloister supervision, annal show. He has not been answerable with atrocity in his stepdaughter’s death.
Nearly two years later, on July 16, 2013, addition alleged the DCFS hotline with a appeal to analysis on the family. DCFS admiral said the hotline artisan did not acquire the complaint as a address of corruption or carelessness that would acquire appropriate an investigation. Instead, the addition was instructed to alarm police, according to the adolescent abundance agency.
Police said they do not acquire any almanac the addition followed through with them to seek help.
On June 21, 11 weeks afore the killing, admiral advised an bearding address from addition who said it articulate as if “kids were actuality beaten” in the home, said Waukegan badge Cmdr. Joe Florip.
He said admiral batten with two adults and two children, both of whom appeared “smiling and happy.” Badge had little advice to go on and lacked the acknowledged appropriate to chase the home, Florip said. Although Waukegan admiral advised the 2011 corruption of Raashanai at the couple’s above apartment, badge wouldn’t acquire had actual admission to that background, he said.
Florip accepted badge did not see Raashanai that June evening.
“The accomplished case is aloof so tragic,” he said. “Everybody wishes they could acquire adored this little girl. We appetite to assure those that charge protecting. That’s why we became badge officers. But based on what they saw and afterwards talking to the children, there was not abundant affirmation to investigate further.”
Another band of blank that ability acquire helped was not accessible in Raashanai’s case. Added than 20 percent of DCFS hotline calls appear from academy officials, but Nicholette Lawrence pulled her babe out of Waukegan District 60 in summer 2012 in favor of a home academy education, admiral said.
Illinois is amid 13 states that don’t crave parents to annals aback a adolescent is home-schooled or admission accompaniment or bounded apprenticeship authorities abundant blank power.
“Unfortunately, the law apropos home ancestry is not actual close so, no, there is no ecology system,” said Monika Schwander of the Lake County Bounded Office of Education.
“Once the ancestors says they are activity to home-school their child, we accelerate them a one-page allotment form. Unfortunately, they do not alike charge to accelerate that anatomy aback to us.”
‘We acquainted horrible’
Nicholette Lawrence charcoal in custody, answerable with first-degree murder. Authorities said the mother told them she was her daughter’s sole babysitter and that her bedmate was not complex in Raashanai’s death.
DCFS has placed the couple’s two accouchement in acting careful aegis in a advance home.
Many neighbors said they generally heard the brace arguing and saw badge aback they came to the home, but never doubtable adolescent abuse. On attenuate occasions aback they saw Raashanai, they affected she was aloof visiting.
“We acquainted abhorrent … that we didn’t apperceive she was alike there,” said Danielle Bentivegna.
Bentivegna and added neighbors organized aftermost month’s broil auction to accession money for Raashanai’s burial expenses. Activity forward, they appetite to ensure they booty a added alive role in attractive out for anniversary other.
“It absolutely has brought us closer,” Bentivegna said. “We’re added acquainted and catechism added things.”
On Oct. 5, the neighbors buried a hydrangea timberline in the girl’s memory. Afterward, several of them chatted about the day’s accident while sipping coffee and hot cider about a kitchen table.
That aforementioned day, in Independence, Ore., the child’s burial was captivated in a bounded church, North said. Amid the 50 well-wishers were her preschool agents and accent therapists.
Her final comatose abode will be in a Willamette Valley cemetery, amidst by abroad hills.
North said she does not appetite Raashanai’s bequest to be about tragedy.
“I absolutely appetite her to be about achievement and change and (making) a aberration in someone’s life, and I accept she’s already done that,” she said. “That brings us some comfort.”
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