LAKEHURST, N.J. (AP) — The mother of a toddler killed in New Jersey last week sought help from the state to protect her from the girl’s father, who’s charged with killing the 2-year-old by tossing her into a creek while she was still strapped in her car seat. But the toddler’s maternal grandmother said the state’s child-protection system failed her.
“She tried to get help and nobody helped her,” Michelle Simmons, the grandmother, told The Associated Press on Wednesday, a day after Arthur Morgan III was arrested in San Diego on murder charges. “That was so wrong.”
Tierra Morgan-Glover’s body was found partially submerged in a creek near a roadway overpass in Shark River Park in Wall Township, N.J., about 20 miles north of her Lakehurst home. Her cause of death was listed as “homicidal violence, including submersion in water.”
Prosecutors would not say whether authorities believe the girl was thrown from a vehicle into the creek, or whether she was carried into the park and placed in the water.
Morgan, who could not be reached for comment, had been the subject of a coast-to-coast manhunt and had been featured on the website of “America’s Most Wanted” after the child’s body was found. He was being held early Wednesday in California, and it was not yet known when an extradition hearing would be scheduled.
The girl’s mother, Imani Benton, called police after Morgan failed to return the girl on Nov. 21 – the day of his first visit with the girl in weeks.
Benton and Morgan apparently had a tumultuous relationship. And Benton and her daughter at least twice sought refuge in shelters for victims of domestic violence – but eventually moved back to her mother’s home after each stay.
The New Jersey Department of Children and Families had been involved in their family on and off for more than a year, said Allison Blake, commissioner of the department.
Blake said in a statement that the department’s Division of Youth and Family Services first opened its case Oct. 29, 2010 when it received a report of violence between Benton and Morgan. Benton also got a court to issue a temporary restraining order against Morgan. But a court dropped the order, saying there was not sufficient evidence that domestic violence occurred.
The agency left its case open anyway, for a time, and set up counseling and parenting classes for Benton. Blake said Morgan was offered parenting classes and a substance abuse evaluation, but he declined to participate.
The case was closed Feb. 25.
There were three later contacts between DYFS and the family. One was about conditions in the home where Tierra and her mother were living and one was over a report of violence between Benton and her brother. Each was closed within about a month.
The most recent contact between the agency and Tierra’s family began on Nov. 9, when Morgan called in saying he did not know where the girl was. The state said that claim and others he made were unfounded.