How Could You? Hall of Shame-Aedyn Agminalis case-Child Death UPDATED
This will be an archive of heinous actions by those involved in child welfare, foster care and adoption. We forewarn you that these are deeply disturbing stories that may involve sex abuse, murder, kidnapping and other horrendous actions.
From Tampa, Florida, 17-month-old Aedyn Agminalis “arrived at St. Joseph’s Hospital for Children unresponsive and with signs of head injuries, according to information given to his adoption agency by a social worker. He suffered cardiac arrest, bleeding on the brain and acute respiratory failure.
The small boy was hooked up to a life-support system but doctors could find no brain activity, according to Artha Healton, Aedyn’s biological mother. The youngster died Dec. 11 after doctors turned off the machine.”
He was “five months in foster care, and just weeks away from a new home with adoptive parents in North Carolina.”
“The loss of this child is absolutely devastating and we’re grieving with all those who loved him,” DCF Secretary Mike Carroll told the Tampa Bay Times in an email.
Officials would not comment on the investigation. Aedyn was living in a foster home licensed by the service, A Door of Hope. His case was handled by Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services. Both organizations are subcontractors of Eckerd Kids, a non-profit contracted to run the county’s child welfare system.
“We will be doing everything we can to support the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office investigation,” said Adrienne Drew, a spokeswoman for Eckerd.
Aedyn’s death has raised questions about whether the child could have been moved out of foster care and adopted sooner.
His biological parents signed papers consenting to the adoption on Nov. 18. Had all gone as planned, the boy likely would have spent Christmas with his new parents: Colleen Kochanek and her wife, Stephanie Norris.
They have been together for 17 years and married in 2006. Kochanek works as an attorney and consultant. Norris is a civil engineer. They own a home in North Carolina and are the parents of Riley, a 4-year-old girl they adopted at birth.
They wanted to move ahead as quickly as possible with a placement court hearing that would allow them to take Aedyn home. They paid extra to have FBI checks expedited.
But Eckerd case managers would not schedule the hearing because they were waiting for a report that proved the adoptive parents were not listed on a state child abuse registry.
That was a check that the couple already passed when they adopted Riley and passed again in 2015 when they decided to look for another child to adopt. But because more than a year had elapsed, they were required to repeat it.
“If they have everything else why couldn’t we go forward pending receipt of that document?” Kochanek said. “This is so soul-crushing to us; he could have been in our care.”
When the report finally arrived Dec. 5, Eckerd requested the court hearing, but because of Christmas it was not scheduled to take place until Jan. 10.
Jeanne Tate, an attorney representing Tampa adoption agency Heart of Adoptions, planned to ask that the hearing be moved up so Aedyn could be in his new home for Christmas. Learning that he died in foster care left her feeling sick in the stomach.
“These kind of cases definitely should be treated with more expediency; these children need to get out of foster care at the earliest possible time frame,” Tate said.
Aedyn was taken into foster care in August after a child protective investigator visited his home because of a report made to the state’s child abuse hotline.
Aedyn did not like wearing a diaper and would frequently take if off, said Healton, his mother. The investigator found feces on the floor and was also concerned that a hookah pipe and other dangerous objects lay within reach of the boy, Healton said.
She said the child was in no danger and that she planned to steam-clean the carpet that night.
“They made me out to be a horrible, neglectful parent when I was doing my absolute best,” Healton said.
Aedyn’s nutrition was another concern for the investigator. The parents could not get the child to eat solid food. They tried to compensate by adding baby food into his formula, Healton said.
The investigator told them they must have the home cleaned by the next day. According to Healton, she asked if the child could be taken into foster care that day, in part because she thought the child would get professional help adapting to solid food.
Healton and her husband, Brynn Agminalis, had already been talking about putting the child up for adoption. The couple, who moved to Florida from Kentucky in May, both work as freelance artists. Healton, 27, designs fantasy characters for websites. Agminalis, 23, works in web design and computer repair.
Healton said they were both “free spirits” and felt tied down by parenthood.
“We didn’t feel like we were ready for children,” Healton said. “We were struggling and stressed so badly that it was affecting our health.”
Because of confidentiality laws, DCF would not comment on how Aedyn ended up in state custody.
Healton got a phone call about 1 a.m. on Dec. 8. Aedyn had been taken to the hospital. She and her husband rushed to him.
The foster mother, who they do not know, was there, too.
“She didn’t speak to me or hold eye contact.”
The foster mother had told officials Aedyn experienced a seizure-like activity and fell over, according to Healton.
Doctors told Healton and her husband there was evidence of bleeding in Aedyn’s brain. On Dec. 9 at 9 a.m., the doctors confirmed that their child was brain dead, Healton said.
“I was unable to hold him because he was hooked up to the life support. I was able to hold his hand and touch him and tell him goodbye even though he couldn’t hear me.””
Within reach of adoption, toddler dies while in foster care[Tampa Bay Times 12/17/16 by Christopher O’Donnell]
“The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has opened a criminal investigation. The boy suffered from bleeding on the brain, cardiac arrest and acute respiratory failure. The state Department of Children and Families is launching its own inquiry.”
Investigation launched after infant dies in foster care [Palm Beach Post 12/17/16 by AP]
“A foster mother has been arrested in the death of a 17-month-old boy who suffered apparent head injuries just weeks before he was likely to be adopted.
Latamara Stackhouse Flythe was arrested on a charge of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse in the death of Aedyn Agminalis, who died Dec. 11 after he was rushed to St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital. The child had been in Flythe’s care since September.
Doctors at the hospital noted signs of head trauma in the boy, who was described as being unresponsive. “Findings were very suspicious for non-accidental trauma,” a doctor’s report stated.
The boy was hooked up to a life-support system, but doctors could find no brain activity, according to Artha Healton, Aedyn’s biological mother. He died when doctors turned off the machine.
An autopsy showed “sustained trauma” to the head, which resulted in bleeding inside his brain and led to his death, according to an arrest warrant.
“(She) admits she was the only person with the child during the time the medical professionals opine the injury would have been inflicted,” the warrant states.
Flythe, 43, was arrested Feb. 20 and was still in jail as of Monday afternoon. She is denying the charges, according to a court document seeking bail.
At the time of the boy’s death, an active investigation of the foster home in Riverview was already under way because of a choking incident on Dec. 4 that led to Aedyn being hospitalized. The child had vomited and a piece of food became lodged in his airway, a Florida Department of Children and Families report states.
He was discharged on Dec. 7 but had to be rushed back to the hospital that same day. On his return, Flythe told doctors at the hospital that the boy had a seizure and was unresponsive, hospital records show.
Flythe is a mother of two children, who were age 15 and 11 at the time she applied to become a foster mom at the beginning of 2016. The children are now with a family friend, according to her uncle, Richard Stackhouse.
He described his niece as a kind, respectful woman and said she was being made a scapegoat because the child welfare system had failed the foster child who, he said, had medical issues.
“There’s no way in the world I would believe Latamara would do that,” Stackhouse said. “She’s someone who thinks she can fix the world with a foster care child.”
Flythe, who is divorced, moved to Florida from Virginia about seven years ago. She qualified to be a foster mother in June by passing a background check and taking a 21-hour professional parenting class, according to a DCF report.
Her arrest record lists Children’s Home Network as her employer. Its website states that she worked as its marketing and communications manager.
She was approved as a foster parent by child-placing agency A Door of Hope, a subcontractor of Eckerd Kids, the agency that runs child welfare services in Hillsborough County.
“This case is devastating to us and the hundreds of foster families and social workers who work tirelessly on a daily basis to protect and support children involved in our child welfare system,” said Eckerd spokeswoman Adrienne Drew. “We are fully committed to working with all authorities as the case progresses.”
Aedyn was taken into foster care in September after a child protective investigator visited his home because of a report made to the state’s child abuse hotline.
The investigator found feces on the floor and was also concerned that a hookah pipe and other dangerous objects were within reach of the boy, Healton said. There was also concern that the boy was malnourished.
Healton, the biological mother, said the child was in no danger and that she planned to steam-clean the carpet that night. She and her husband, Brynn Agminalis, had been unable to get the boy to eat solid food and he frequently took his diaper off and defecated on the floor.
They said the foster care system had failed their son.
“Child protective services is supposed to stop this happening,” Healton said. “An innocent life was lost because they couldn’t do their job.”
Healton and Agminalis had agreed to put the child up for adoption and on Nov. 18 signed papers consenting to Aedyn being adopted by Colleen Kochanek and her wife, Stephanie Norris, a North Carolina couple.
The couple were trying to get a placement court hearing that would have allowed them to take Aedyn home even before the adoption was finalized. Had all gone according to plan, the boy likely would have spent Christmas with his new parents.
“I kind of expected this but I’m still shocked,” said Kochanek. “I thought I would feel some satisfaction but he’s still gone. If this is the person that really hurt him, I want them to be held accountable.””
Foster mom arrested in death of boy headed for adoption[Tampa Bay 2/27/17 by Christopher O’Donnell]
” Aedyn Agminalis was awake and alert when a child welfare worker left the toddler’s home at 7:50 p.m. on Dec. 7 after a routine visit, a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office detective testified in court Friday.
Just seven minutes later, Aedyn’s foster family called 911 to report that the 17-month-old boy had slumped forward and was unresponsive. He was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital for Children, where doctors found head injuries along with hemorrhaging of his brain and spinal column.
They could find no brain activity. Aedyn died a few days later when doctors turned off his life support. He had been on track to be placed with adoptive parents within a few weeks.
Sheriff’s Detective Jennifer Sands told a court Friday the brain and neck injuries would have rendered Aedyn unconscious as soon as he received them, leaving him unable to support his neck.
They led to his death, Sands said, and must have occurred during those seven minutes — while he was in the care of foster mom Latamara Stackhouse Flythe.
Flythe, 43, was arrested Feb. 20 on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse.
The testimony came during a hearing on whether Flythe should remain in jail until her trial. Judge Margaret Taylor denied the state’s motion to keep her there and, instead, set bail at $100,000.
Flythe denies harming the boy, her arrest warrant states. She told detectives that after the child welfare visitor left, she fed Aedyn. A short time later, his head tilted to the side and he became unresponsive.
Friday’s hearing provided some of the first details about Aedyn’s medical condition when he died.
Sands, the detective, testified that the boy had bruising on his forehead close to his hairline and similar marks above his left eyebrow and the back of his neck.
An autopsy found retinal hemorrhaging behind both eyes and in the optic nerve sheath, which doctors told Sands is typically the result of a great amount of force. Bruising around the boy’s elbow and thigh was also noted.
Flythe, dressed in an orange prison jacket, remained impassive throughout the hearing.
A mother of two, she starting serving as a foster parent in June and also was caring for another foster child at the time of Aedyn’s death. The conditions of her bail prevent her from serving as a foster parent to other children and from having contact with children except her own
She works as a marketing manager for Children’s Home Network, a care agency subcontracted by Eckerd Kids to recruit, license and support foster parents. Her application to become a foster parent was handled by A Door of Hope, another Eckerd subcontractor.
Caring for Aedyn was not an easy job. He was diagnosed as developmentally delayed after being taken into care and was fitted with a feeding tube in November because of concerns about his weight.
Just hours before the injury that took his life, he had been discharged from the hospital after a choking incident. Video surveillance of him leaving the hospital three days later shows he was supporting his own head, Sands said.
In another development in the case, Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies arrested Aedyn’s biological parents on charges of child neglect late Thursday at their home in the Bainbridge Brandon apartments, 10460 Sanderling Shores Drive.
The charges against Brynn Agminalis, 23, and Artha Agminalis, 27, arise from the care and feeding of their son before he was placed in state custody in September.
According to an affidavit in their arrests, Aedyn was taken to the hospital after he was placed in state custody and was diagnosed as failing to thrive — from neglect and from a condition known as Flat Head Syndrome from lying too long on one side.
During a three-month period from June through September, the parents left Aedyn for hours in his bedroom with feces on the walls, crib, carpets and changing table, the affidavit states. He slept in a crib with fecal matter on the bedding. They fed him only baby food mixed with water.
Artha Agminalis, the biological mother, told the Tampa Bay Times in December that the child was in no danger and that she planned to steam-clean the carpet that night. She and her husband had been unable to get the boy to eat solid food and he frequently took his diaper off and defecated on the floor, she said.
The couple had been talking about placing their son in adoption and asked that he be taken into foster care, in part because they felt a foster parent would help him adjust to solid food.”
Fatal injury occurred just minutes after child welfare worker left home, detective says[Tampa Bay 3/3/17 by Christopher O’Donnell]
REFORM Puzzle Piece
Update:“A 17-month-old boy who died just weeks before a likely adoption had head injuries that appeared to be the result of a great amount of force, a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office detective testified Friday in court.
Aedyn Agminalis was rushed to the hospital after becoming unresponsive Dec 7. Doctors found he had sustained trauma to the head that resulted in hemorrhaging and death. A doctor also noted hemorrhaging of the spinal column.
Doctors found no brain activity and he died a few days later when they turned off his life support.
At the time of the injury, Aedyn was in the care of foster mother Latamara Stackhouse Flythe. The 43-year-old was arrested on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse on Feb 20.
Detective Jennifer Sands testified that a child welfare worker conducting a home visit to Flythe’s Riverview home had seen Aedyn just 20 minutes before Flythe’s daughter called 911.
The boy was lethargic but was clearly awake and active, she said. The injuries he had when admitted to hospital would have left him unconscious and unable to support his head.
The testimony came during a Friday hearing on whether Flythe should remain in jail until her trial. Judge Margaret Taylor denied the state’s motion and, instead, set bond at $100,000.
On her application she said she wanted to be a foster parent because she loved children and “has a heart for helping kids in need.”
She listed her preference as caring for children 6 and younger.
Born in Virginia, she received a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in mass communications from Hampton University. She and her two children moved to Florida about seven years ago, about a year after she divorced her husband, a police officer.
On her application, she listed her income as about $70,000 a year. That included her job as marketing manager with Children’s Home Network, a care agency subcontracted by Eckerd Kids to recruit, license and support foster parents. Flythe’s application to become a foster parent was handled by A Door of Hope, another Eckerd subcontractor.
The conditions of her bail prevent her from serving as a foster parent to other children and from having any contact with children except her own.”
Detective: Toddler in foster care likely suffered extensive head injuries before death [News Chief 3/5/17 by Christopher O’Donnell]
Update 2: “All the red flags were there.
There was a toddler with medical needs; a medically untrained, first-time foster parent with occasional problems falling behind on rent and a possible need for extra income in raising her two biological children; and multiple visits to the hospital, according to news reports and information gathered independently by FloridaPolitics.com Thursday.
However, on paper LaTamara Stackhouse Flythe met all the criteria for foster parenting. She lived in a nice suburban Tampa neighborhood and listed her income at around $70,000, according to an article by The Tampa Bay Times Thursday, which noted her earnings were a combination of child support and a salary from her employer, Children’s Home Network, an “agency subcontracted by Eckerd Kids to recruit, license and support foster parents.”
A Door of Hope, another Eckerd subcontractor, approved Flythe’s foster parenting license. Foster parents get a minimum of $439 per month, per child, aged 5 or under in Florida. Flythe had the option to foster one more child in her home, meaning a potential four minors could have been living under her roof.
Eckerd Kids is one of the biggest so-called community-based care agencies (CBCs) contracted to do foster care and adoption business with the state of Florida. In 2012, DCF officials in Tallahassee awarded the lucrative $65.5 million annual contract to Eckerd Kids for Hillsborough County, where they claim more children die every year than in any other county in the Sunshine State. (Eckerd is headquartered in Clearwater, and when they got the Hillsborough contract they already had contracts with Pinellas and Pasco counties.)
Drew also said Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services, yet another subcontractor of Eckerd Kids, was assigned to handle Aedyn’s case, specifically, while he was in foster care — his case worker would’ve been allocated from that agency.
But now Flythe is charged with first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse in the death of toddler Aedyn Agminalis, who was removed from the home of his biological parents, Brynn and Artha Agminalis, under which Aedyn was living in below standard conditions, a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office spokesman said.
“The CPID (child protective investigation division) worker said their living environment was in deplorable conditions,” Lt. Larry McKinnon told FloridaPolitics.com Thursday. “There was feces in the crib and on the boy — it wasn’t a good situation.”
No one from Eckerd Kids was at the hospital the day Aedyn’s life support system was shut off.
The mother, Artha, had been interviewed by the local CBS-affiliate TV news station, claiming she and her husband had decided to give Aedyn up for adoption, but that wasn’t true, according to McKinnon.
“People say all kinds of things when this happens, but in this case, she can say what she wants — they (CPID) were taking the boy out of their home anyway the same day they first visited the home,” he said. “They had already decided he needed to be removed.”
According to the Times article, the Agminalis’s admitted to child welfare investigators they were ill-equipped to care for Aedyn and requested he be taken into the foster care program.
“The charges arise from the care and feeding of their son before he was placed in state custody in September,” the Times reported. “The couple, who moved to Florida from Kentucky when Aedyn was about 10 months old, had decided they weren’t ready to be parents. Through an adoption agency, they had chosen Colleen Kochanek and her wife, Stephanie Norris, to adopt Aedyn.”
But without Kochanek’s or Norris’s knowledge, Eckerd Kids was trying to get Aedyn’s paternal grandparents to adopt him.
FloridaPolitics.com reached out to Kochanek, but a response was not immediately returned before the publishing of this article.
In December, just after Aedyn’s death, the CBS-affiliate in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, WTSP 10News, interviewed Kochanek and Norris, who had just successfully adopted a separate child and were waiting to add Aedyn to their family.
“It just seems like we were fighting them instead of them saying, ‘Gosh, this is great. This little guy is going to find a permanent home,’” Kochanek, with Norris standing next to her and responding directly about Eckerd Kids, told a 10News reporter. “Why the delay? If people have already been through adoption, let’s expedite that. Let’s get children out of foster care as soon as possible. I’m not saying that any child is going to be harmed any minute in foster care. Sure, there’s excellent foster parents out there but why delay? Why not have him with us as soon as absolute possible?”
Eckerd Kids is widely known to promote Christianity, and the fact the pair were a married lesbian couple may have played a factor in the stonewalling the couple received. Kochanek is a North Carolina Bar-certified lawyer.
David Dennis, the CEO and executive director for Eckerd Kids, is a Baptist from Oklahoma, who earned $566,151 in combined compensation and income during fiscal year 2014, according to an IRS 990 records (untaxed nonprofits are required to file one annually). The next fiscal year, 2015, he got a significant raise, pushing his combined earnings as head of Eckerd Kids, also known as Eckerd Youth Alternatives, to $708,028 — a $141,877 bump up.
Dennis has a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling from Southwestern Baptist Seminary and a bachelor’s degree in religion from Oklahoma Baptist University, according to the Eckerd website.
Kochanek and Norris believe Aedyn’s death needs to be investigated beyond the reasons he died, primarily on why he wasn’t placed into adoption sooner, they told 10News. They also want to see Aedyn’s medical records from the time he went into foster care until the moment he died.
FloridaPolitics.com asked DCF why the medical records haven’t yet been given to the couple yet.
Jessica Sims, a spokesperson for DCF, emailed this message about the medical records: “Regarding the prospective adoptive parents and the medical records, this was through a private adoption agency, so (they) would need to reach out to that entity on their processes. There are also likely HIPAA considerations in a situation related to the release of medical records.
“In general, there may often be more than one permanency plan being sought for a child to ensure permanency is achieved as soon as possible. This is called concurrent case planning. Additionally, there may also be more than one prospective adoptive parent(s) being reviewed as a placement option at one time, especially individuals related to the child.”
In four of the last six years, Hillsborough County has led the state in the number of children removed from their homes. In Hillsborough, DCF does not lead child welfare investigations — the sheriff’s office does.
The idea of sheriff’s offices taking over from DCF began as an experiment in the 1990s in Manatee County and spread to three other Tampa Bay-area counties, to include Pasco, Pinellas and, of course, Hillsborough. Only six counties in the state let the sheriff’s offices handle what would normally be DCF-led investigations.
The other two counties are Seminole and Broward out of the six — six counties out of 67 in the state.
However, in Hillsborough County by the end of the 2016 fiscal year, “investigators with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office removed 1,672 children, the highest number in more than 10 years. That’s almost 450 more than Miami-Dade County, home to roughly 1.3 million more people than Hillsborough,” according to a Tampa Bay Times article from August 2016.
The article went on: “For some, the numbers suggest that the county at times removes children unnecessarily. Others speculate that Hillsborough’s large low-income population, scattered over urban and rural areas, makes it difficult to help with social services. Whatever the reason, the result is an overburdened child welfare system.
“Almost 40 children ended up sleeping in offices and other make-do accommodations over a three-month period this spring and summer because state contractor Eckerd Kids could not place them in foster homes.”
Hillsborough’s Child Protective Investigation Division is comprised of more than 70 civil investigators, not sworn law enforcement deputies. They only take a 12-week training course and then additional on-the-job training to get certified by DCF, then they are granted the power to separate children from their biological parents at their discretion.
The Times article from 2016 also noted Eckerd Kids sets a mediocre goal of “getting 60 percent of children returned to their families or placed permanently with foster parents within one year of removal.”
Over a 12-month period ending in June 2016, the Times noted, Eckerd “failed to meet that goal even once and in May and June also failed to meet the state target of permanently placing 40.5 percent of children within one year.”
FloridaPolitics.com asked Eckerd about these goal percentage failures, but they were unable to answer in time for the publishing of this article.
In Aedyn’s case, both his biological parents and foster parent failed him.
DCF Secretary Mike Carroll responded a request for comment by FloridaPolitics.com, issuing a statement.
“Quality foster parents are essential to our work in helping vulnerable children begin to heal in a safe environment,” Carroll said. “Because we place such sacred trust in them, each one must pass a background screening and home study, as well as go through specific training. There was nothing in Ms. Flythe’s background that indicated she could be a threat to any child placed in her care.
“We ask individuals and families all across the state to step up and become foster parents. We trust them to help us care for these children and that makes it even more devastating when one is accused of hurting the very child they were charged to protect.”
New details emerge in case of foster mother charged in murder of Tampa-area toddler [Florida Politics 3/9/17 by Les Neuhaus]