By Paul Kurtz and Robin Rieger
CAMDEN, N.J. (CBS) — Authorities in Camden are investigating an unspeakable crime. They say a woman decapitated a toddler then killed herself.
Investigators say Chevonne Thomas, 33, called 911 and dispatchers alerted police that her son was in trouble.
(Warning: audio contains indecent language and may be disturbing)
Listen to the 911 call here
Jason Laughlin, spokesman for the Camden County prosecutor’s office, says when police arrived at the home in the 1400 block of Kaighns Avenue, they found the headless body of Thomas’ two-year-old son, Zharee.
“They were aware there was somebody else in the home, they could tell there was somebody upstairs, so police withdrew from the house,” said Laughlin.
Police say Thomas was upstairs on the phone with the 911 dispatcher as officers surrounded the house. They could not get her to come out, and before they were able to get in a second floor window, she killed herself.
“Ultimately, she stabbed herself in the neck and she also died,” Laughlin said.
Laughlin said the boy’s head had been placed in a freezer.
“She was a good mother, she took care of her kids,” says a woman who would not give her name but called herself a friend of Chevonne Thomas.
Sources say police believe that Thomas had been smoking marijuana laced with PCP prior to the incident. Her boyfriend, who sources say is not the father of the child, was not in the home at the time the child was killed. A neighbor says she saw them both the night before and was disturbed by the sight of Thomas without a shirt on.
“I seen the back of her going in the house, but you could tell that she didn’t have anything on, she was covering herself and he was covering her—but she was crying, looking up,” a neighbor said.
Sources say Thomas and her boyfriend were arguing Tuesday night and he was questioned by police.
Sources also say Thomas had a history of mental illness and had a previous charge for endangering the welfare of a child stemming from November 2010 incident in which she reportedly left her son unattended in car while allegedly doing drugs. Camden County Court records indicate that charge was administratively dropped. Thomas had lost custody of her son, but regained it five months ago.
The NJ Department of Children and Families released a statement Wednesday regarding the case and their involvement with Thomas’ family:
“The NJ Department of Children and Families is deeply saddened by the deaths of Zahree Thomas and his mother Chevonne Thomas. The death of a child is a tragedy under any circumstance, and we extend our sincere condolences to the extended Thomas family.
Our immediate priority is to support the family while we work with law enforcement officials to gather information and facts surrounding this situation. That process is underway, and we are conducting an internal review of information pertaining to this case, including DCF’s role with the family.
At this time we can confirm that DCF did have an open case and was working with all family members to support the mother and her child, who had recently been reunified consistent with the court’s order of April 3, 2012. As has been reported in the media, Zahree had previously been residing with relatives while his mother sought court-ordered treatment for substance abuse and mental health disorders.
The services and supports provided to the family by community and state agencies were extensive and included therapeutic reunification services, individual counseling and medication monitoring, substance abuse testing and treatment, parental capacity evaluation, post reunification services, job training and child care. Our staff visited with the family regularly, and was in communication with all service providers.
As with all child deaths due to suspected abuse or neglect, we will vigorously investigate the circumstances around the death of Zahree Thomas, as well as his mother Chevonne. In accordance with our mission of being a transparent and accountable organization, we will share facts whenever possible, as permissible under the laws and guidelines regarding confidentiality to which we must adhere.”
City Offers Counseling
KYW’s Robin Culverwell reports that the City of Camden is offering counseling starting this afternoon to anyone who wants to talk in the wake of this morning’s apparent murder-suicide.
Two counseling centers have been set up so that anyone distraught or upset by the grisly murder of two-year-old Zahree Thomas has a place to go.
Counseling is being offered at Bethel Deliverance Church Camden, at 812 Kaighns Avenue today from 2pm to 6pm and Thursday and Friday from 10am to 5pm; and at Parkside United Methodist Church, 1418 Kaighns Avenue, 10am-7pm on Thursday and Friday.
Camden spokesman Robert Corrales says counselors will include clergy from area churches, a police department chaplain, and members of the Congress of Resident and Community Based Organizations.
“This really affects not only family members but a whole neighborhood also, so we want to make sure to let the community know that the City of Camden… we’re all family and we’re here to help you out during the grieving process,” he told KYW Newsradio.
Corrales adds that counselors will be available whether one person or ten or 100 show up to talk.