Kelis Rucker, 4 years
BORN: September 22, 2004
DIED: August 14, 2009
CAUSE OF DEATH: Asphyxia including neck compression
MANNER OF DEATH: Undetermined
HER STORY: Four-year-old Kelis was found lifeless in her home while in the care of her mother, a troubled woman who had her first child when she was 15. The girl was pronounced dead an hour later. Doctors noted that Kelis had ligature marks around her neck.
Her mother had various explanations for the child's death, with inconsistent accounts as to whether Kelis had been lying on the floor or hanging in a closet, and as to whether she had a scarf around her neck.
The woman failed a polygraph test and was found to have marijuana in her system. Records show that she had a traumatic childhood that involved physical, verbal and sexual abuse, and had a history of drug problems and of becoming involved with violent, abusive men. During her interview with DCF, she said several times that she wanted to "go out and get high."
An autopsy of Kelis' body found that she had died of asphyxia, including neck compression, blunt impact to the head and cerebral edema. But it is not clear in DCF's documents who might have been to blame. The death review find faults with the agency for its handling of seven prior abuse/neglect reports, saying they presented a clear, continuing pattern of housing instability, lack of employment and drug use.
"Had the investigations been more thorough in exploring these issues," the review says, "It is possible the family could have benefited from voluntary protective services or the investigation could have resulted in sufficient evidence to staff the case with Children's Legal Services for possible judicial action."