Cries for help for Jeanette Maples got no answer
By Susan Goldsmith, The Oregonian
January 02, 2010, 5:24PM
EUGENE — Many in this community were heartbroken last month when they learned that 15-year-old Jeanette Maples was killed, but few were surprised when authorities charged her mother and stepfather with murder.
For three years, people in Jeanette’s life tried to get child welfare authorities involved, to no avail. Her step-grandmother, a concerned parent of a friend and educators all called the state Department of Human Services because she was bruised, constantly hungry and said she had been beaten at home.
Though police and prosecutors have released few details about the case, citing an ongoing criminal investigation, Jeanette’s relatives, friends and former teachers say she died a horrific death at her Eugene home after being starved and abused for years.
Her mother, Angela McAnulty, 41, and stepfather, Richard McAnulty, 40, have been charged with aggravated murder as a result of “intentional maiming and torture.” Both could face the death penalty if convicted, and both have pleaded not guilty.
DHS officials won’t comment, because they’ve convened a critical incident response team review to examine how the agency handled the case. The internal inquiry is expected to wrap up this month.
“The CIRT investigation under way is aggressively reviewing all prior contacts with the family to find out what happened,” said Gene Evans, a DHS spokesman.
Jeanette, a quiet, dark-haired girl who sought refuge in books at her school’s library, tried unsuccessfully to hide her injuriesduring her middle school years, friends recalled. But many days when she got into her clothes for gym class, friends saw bruises on her abdomen and legs, which she said came from falling.
One classmate, Amber Davis, wouldn’t accept Jeanette’s explanations about her injuries and pressed her for the truth.
“She told me her mom was abusing her when we were in seventh grade,” said Davis, 15, one of Jeanette’s closest friends during her years at Cascade Middle School.
Davis told her parents and school officials about Jeanette’s bruises in 2007, and they contacted the state’s child welfare office in Eugene. Cascade Middle School officials, who didn’t want to be identified because of the ongoing investigations, say they contacted the DHS at least twice while Jeanette was a student.
Jeanette’s stepgrandmother, Lynn McAnulty, who lives in Leaburg and saw her grandchildren only occasionally, says she twice called child welfare authorities anonymously in six months to report abuse. At the funeral, grieving friends, their parents, teachers and family members said they trusted that social workers would rescue Jeanette, but they never did.
“It’s hard to understand. I told. Everybody told, and nothing happened,” Davis said.
Jeanette’s death follows five years of critical incident reviews into child deaths and serious injuries of youngsters who’ve had contact with the DHS. Twenty-one reports since 2004 identify a myriad of problems, including a failure to investigate and follow up on cases, inadequate documentation and lack of ongoing assessment.
“This agency cannot hold itself out as protecting children when they repeatedly fail,” said David Paul, a Portland attorney who has sued the department on behalf of 10 children. “I am tired of hearing they need new resources. They don’t need new regulations or a blue-ribbon panel. What’s needed is accountability and public oversight, and it’s just not happening.”
Signs of trouble
People who know Angela McAnulty, Jeanette’s mother, describe her as a high-strung and controlling woman who made little money, once lived in her car, and isolated her children from others.
In Sacramento in 1995, McAnulty lost custody of Jeanette, who was then 1 year old, and the girl’s two older brothers because of suspected abuse and neglect. The children’s father, Anthony Maples, was in prison for drug offenses and had little contact with his children.
In a phone interview, Anthony Maples said his two sons, Jeanette’s brothers, grew up in foster care after they wrote a letter to the family court judge overseeing their case pleading to not be sent back to their mother.
Jeanette spent 5 1/2 years in foster care in Sacramento before she was returned to her mother in 2001, Anthony Maples said.
By that time, Angela McAnulty, who was a cashier at a discount store, had another daughter. Sometime after being reunited with Jeanette, Angela met Richard McAnulty, a truck driver, and the two were married in 2002.
Angela and Richard had a son, and the family moved to Eugene in late 2005, according to Lynn McAnulty, Richard’s mother.
Jeanette started at Cascade Middle School in the middle of her sixth-grade year in 2006. Her mother sent her there in ratty sweatpants and an old yellowing T-shirt, and children made fun of her, her friends said.
Despite the teasing about her clothing and appearance, friends said, Jeanette loved school. She liked writing and reading poetry and being away from home.
But there were signs of serious trouble. Jeanette was constantly hungry, and each day when it was time to go home, her demeanor changed, friends said. She became sad, withdrawn and anxious. Her mother was strict, they said, and wouldn’t allow friends to call her or let Jeanette visit their homes or invite them over.
“Once the bell rang to go home, you could see she didn’t want to go,” said Karina Mora, 15, a friend from middle school who attended her funeral.
Amber Davis said Jeanette confessed that her mother beat her after Davis pushed her to explain the repeated injuries. She encouraged her friend to get help, but Jeanette feared that would enrage her mother.
“She got scared and said she didn’t want her mom to take her out of school because she thought things would get worse,” Davis remembered.
Davis then told her mother, Holly Sams, who called the DHS office in Eugene.
Sams said child welfare screeners downplayed her concerns and told her secondhand accounts of abuse were not sufficiently serious to send social workers out. So Sams told her daughter to enlist officials at Cascade Middle School, which she did.
One school official who asked not to be named and who spoke at Jeanette’s funeral said: “We cared about her. We did what we could, and we fed her.”
Stepgrandmother reported her concerns to state
After graduating from eighth grade in the spring of 2008, Jeanette was home-schooled by her mother. Friends and family say she was hidden away with almost no contact with the outside world while her siblings attended school and appeared healthy and happy.
Richard McAnulty was often out of town driving trucks across the country. Last summer he ended up in a California hospital for open-heart surgery. Angela McAnulty and the children showed up at the hospital.
Jeanette “looked bad, really thin, her hair had been chopped off, and she had a busted lip,” her stepgrandmother, Lynn McAnulty, said.
A few weeks later, McAnulty called the DHS to report suspected abuse. She didn’t give her name because she was worried her son and daughter-in-law would find out.
“I said I was a neighbor and told them to check on the kids and said the older girl is extremely thin, and they said they’d check into it,” McAnulty said.
In October, she was briefly allowed into the family’s home. Jeanette was inside, facing a wall because she was being punished by her mother. McAnulty tried to talk to Jeanette as her daughter-in-law hovered nearby. The girl was emaciated, and she had a split lip, the stepgrandmother said.
Angela McAnulty told her mother-in-law that Jeanette had fallen.
Lynn McAnulty left the house and said she again called the DHS anonymously to report suspected abuse. That was the last time she saw Jeanette.
On the night of Dec. 9, Lynn McAnulty got a frantic call from her son and daughter-in-law that Jeanette was cold and had stopped breathing. Lynn McAnulty said she screamed at them to call 9-1-1, which they did. The couple were arrested later that night after Jeanette was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
No official cause of death has been released. Detectives took away boxes of evidence, and Lynn McAnulty was given the grim task of cleaning out the house.
She found food padlocked in kitchen cupboards and a blood-spattered bedroom. She described the inside of the house as filthy, with junk and toys everywhere. Investigators urged her not to view her stepgranddaughter’s body.
“They all told me that I did not want to see this body because it was the most horrific thing they’d ever seen,” said McAnulty, who took their advice.
“Dropped into the abyss”
Even though the DHS investigation will not be made public for weeks, one child welfare advocate in Oregon is confident the agency is making important strides and diligently examining its mistakes.
“The leadership of DHS is finally willing to work with advocates and scrutinize themselves,” said Robin Christian, executive director of the nonprofit Children First For Oregon.
But she added: “The state is not making the kind of child welfare investments they need.”
Attorney David Paul isn’t convinced. After deposing scores of state child welfare workers and administrators and examining reams of internal agency documents, he says he does not believe any meaningful change will come from the inside.
“Trying to make this agency accountable is like trying to push a freightliner with a canoe paddle. They are interested in maintaining the status quo,” Paul said. “People call the hot line expecting something is going to happen, but you are dropped into the abyss without any rope.”
Lois Day, administrator for the DHS’ Office of Safety and Permanency for Children, said all calls about abuse and neglect are documented. She said if an allegation of abuse or neglect is made, department officials determine how quickly a family needs to be seen.
“Our response times are within 24 hours to five days,” Day said. “We have to document that a delay does not compromise the safety of a child.”
If a social worker goes out and determines abuse or neglect is not a concern, that is also documented, she said.
In Jeanette’s case, what steps the agency took after receiving calls won’t be known until its report is made public.
“The injuries on Jeanette were completely obvious,” Amber Davis said. “There’s no way anyone from the department could have seen her and said she was OK.”
— Susan Goldsmith