Innocents Lost - A Miami Herald I-Team Investigation
A decade after the death of 4-year-old Kelis Shontay Rucker, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office has arrested the girl’s mother.
The sheriff’s office announced the arrest of Dominique Brewer on Twitter Tuesday morning around 11 a.m.
Kelis, whose nickname was “Pinky,” was found not breathing in her closet Aug. 14, 2009, and at the time, it was reported that Brewer was one who found her. Brewer is said to have been frantically screaming when deputies arrived. Resuscitation efforts were made, but Kelis was pronounced dead an hour later at Blake Medical Center.
MCSO stated in 2009 that the case was being investigated as a homicide and a few weeks after the child’s death executed DNA search warrants on the home located in the 6700 block of 46th Avenue West in Bradenton for any evidence related to a homicide or possible sexual battery.
The initial exam of the 4-year-old at the hospital discovered “red spots” around the child’s eyes and linear marks and bruising around the child’s neck, consisting with strangulation, medical staff reported. Medical experts also believed the child may have been sexually assaulted.
During the 2009 search of the home, investigators said they seized a vacuum filter, a towel with a reddish-pink stain and pieces of bedding.
An autopsy later revealed the cause of death as asphyxiation. Brewer offered no viable reasons for the injuries during the initial investigation, but law enforcement was unable to link her to the death at the time.
According to a MCSO press release issued shortly after the announcement on Twitter, detectives began to re-examine “all aspects of the case.”
This month, detectives made a decision to file murder charges after an interview with Brewer on Monday.
Kelis’ death in 2014 was profiled in “Innocents Lost,” a Miami Herald investigation of how the Florida Department of Children and Families investigated the deaths of Florida by abuse or neglect.
Brewer 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.”
The Miami Herald contributed to this report.
This is a developing story.