Child abuse calls made prior to baby’s death
DSS visited home twice but didn’t find evidence.
Jaime Baranyai • News-Leader • June 12, 2009
Less than two months before 8-month-old Tayler Andrews and his mother were killed, there were two child abuse hotline calls alleging that he was in danger.
Documents recently released to the News-Leader by the state Department of Social Services spell out the calls depicting the family’s escalating fears that the child’s father, Dan Andrews, might harm or even kill him. They detailed threats, a history of mental illness and the presence of weapons in the home.
Investigators were twice sent to the family’s rural Douglas County home on west Missouri 76, but there wasn’t enough evidence found to substantiate the allegations or cause the child’s removal from the home, said Scotty Allen , special counsel for administrative affairs at DSS.
During the second visit, Tayler’s mother, Mary Lee Burchell, 24 , told investigators she was under a great deal of stress due to her husband’s mental illness, a dispute with his family, caring for their son and working.
She agreed to accept services offered by DSS, but the help didn’t come in time.
On March 16 — little more than a month after the first hotline call — the infant and mother were fatally stabbed in their home. Dan Andrews, 31, was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and armed criminal action in his wife and son’s deaths.
The morning after the slayings, Starlin Andrews, Dan Andrews’ father, said the family had repeatedly tried to protect the child and seek help for their son.
Starlin Andrews spoke of his son’s mental illness, and how brain damage from a car crash years ago may be the reason behind Dan Andrews’ paranoia, delusions and schizophrenic behavior. Dan Andrews claimed his infant son was the second coming of Christ and he was the anti-Christ, family members said.
The family checked Dan Andrews into a West Plains hospital for evaluation in February, the day after they reportedly found Tayler Andrews nearly dead from hypothermia after being left in his father’s care. The child was found wearing only a diaper in bitterly cold temperatures, Starlin Andrews said.
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Despite the family’s pleas that Dan Andrews be held, he was released after 96 hours.
No evidence of accusations
The DSS hotline calls Feb. 10 and Feb. 23 document the family’s concerns about Dan Andrews’ mental state and the well-being of Tayler Andrews.
The Feb. 10 call made by Dan Andrews’ mother, Donna Fleetwood , alleges that the man took his son out in the cold when he was wearing only a diaper.
Records of the call also say Dan Andrews pointed a gun at his wife while she was holding their son, but that it was not loaded. However, Burchell told investigators she was never held at gunpoint by her husband. She did say there was an incident with a gun, but that it happened before their son was born, according to DSS records.
Fleetwood also told DSS her son had said he or Tayler was the anti-Christ and that one of them was going to be hung. He also allegedly said he was the devil on earth and Jesus was trying to get him to be a warrior for him. Fleetwood also told DSS her son made swords and had guns in the house.
Investigators found guns at the Andrews home during their visit, but the house was well-kept, records show.
Tayler was dressed appropriately, appeared to be clean, and smiled and laughed throughout the visit, the records say.
DSS determined the hotline call to be unsubstantiated because investigators could not confirm any verbal or physical evidence of the allegations.
“Unsubstantiated means there’s not enough evidence to support the allegations made,” DSS counsel Allen said. “We’re not saying something didn’t happen, but we’re saying that the allegation is ‘X’ and the evidence doesn’t support ‘X.’ “
Allen said even if the report is unsubstantiated, DSS offers the family support services if they’re interested.
In the records regarding the first hotline call, there are no indications of what services DSS may have offered, or whether the family requested any.
If a report is substantiated and evidence is found of child abuse and/or neglect and the child is in immediate danger, DSS works with local law enforcement and court officials remove the child from the home, said Arleasha Mays, assistant communications director for DSS.
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Medical attention sought
A Feb. 23 hotline call to DSS alleges there was a burn mark on Tayler’s face.
Made by the child’s grandparents, the call also alleged Burchell smoked marijuana and that Dan Andrews was being hospitalized for depression and hallucinations in conjunction with his schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder and paranoia.
During the investigation, DSS employees saw a cigarette burn on Tayler’s chin that his mother admitted to causing unintentionally, the report shows.
The call was deemed unsubstantiated because Burchell’s story appeared consistent with the child’s injury and she sought medical attention for her son. No other threats to Tayler were identified, the documents said.
During the investigation, however, Burchell told interviewers she was stressed for a number of reasons including her husband’s mental illness, taking care of their son and holding down a steady job. She said she was willing to accept help from the DSS.
DSS noted in its report it intended to open a case to provide supportive services to the family at Burchell’s request, but she and her son were killed before that happened.
Mays said DSS works as quickly as possible to accommodate families who request help.
The report also notes that an investigator spoke with Dan Andrews, who said he did not feel a need for additional services because he was receiving follow-up care with Behavioral Health Care.
Douglas County Prosecutor Christopher Wade could not be reached Thursday to see if he planned to use any of the DSS documents in the case against Dan Andrews.
Proceedings in Andrews’ case are on hold while mental health professionals evaluate him.
“I advised the court through a written notice that I do not believe my client is competent to proceed,” Andrews’ public defender, Linda McKinney, said in May when Andrews was scheduled to appear in court for a preliminary hearing.
The state has 60 days from the time of a judge’s order to file a report on Andrews’ competency. A case review is set for July 7.