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Camden Family Seeks Answers After Mother Kills Son, Commits Suicide

Liz-Hur-web-headshot Elizabeth Hur
Elizabeth Hur has joined CBS 3 (KYW-TV) as a general assign...
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By Elizabeth Hur

CAMDEN, N.J. (CBS) - A Camden family is looking for answers after a mother murders her young son and then kills herself.

It’s a gruesome crime that shocked the community.

Friday night, the woman’s family talked to Eyewitness News to share their grief in losing two loved ones overnight.

Chevonne Thomas was Wendell and Jerlaine Birch’s only daughter.

Wendell Birch said, “I’m so empty, I’m so hurt. That was my family. They meant so much to me.”

The couple says they are just heartsick.

Wendell Birch explained, “I just fell on the floor. She’d give you the shirt off her back. She had a heart of gold. She would have done anything for anybody.”

Jerlaine Birch added, “I was lost for words. I was stunned. I didn’t believe it.”

According to prosecutors, Thomas called 911 early Wednesday morning to report the unthinkable. Investigators say Thomas said her boyfriend stabbed her child, but quickly recanted: “You know what, I did it, I’m lying, I’m lying, I’m lying, I did it,” she said.

Jerlaine Birch responded, “It was her voice but it just wasn’t her personality or the way she is.”

Thomas’ daughter Shaterrah added, “She was so loving, she would have done anything she could to see him happy. She tried to be the best mom she could possibly be.”

Shaterrah Thomas remains in shock. She can’t imagine what led her 33-year-old mother to take her own life after stabbing and decapitating her 2 1/2-year-old brother, Zahree.

New Jersey’s Department of Children and Families is now reviewing its open case with Thomas.

On Friday, the agency’s Director of Communications, Kristine A Brown issued a statement which read in part:

“As is always our intention, we plan to provide you with as much information as possible within the confines of the law. At this time I can provide the following details surrounding DCF’s involvement with Ms. Thomas and Zahree.

On November 28, 2010, the Department received an allegation of neglect when Ms. Thomas left her son Zahree unattended in a parked vehicle. Ms. Thomas was later found and admitted to using marijuana and PCP. Ms. Thomas was substantiated for neglect by DCF related to this incident. The child was placed with a close relative from November 28, 2010 through July 11, 2011 when Zahree was returned to his mother’s custody via a court order with DCF support after she had successfully completed substance abuse, mental health and other counseling services.

On August 2, 2011, Ms. Thomas tested positive for PCP in a random urine screen and the child was removed that day and placed with the same relative until April 3, 2012 when he was returned to the mother’s custody via a court order. This return was supported by all parties to the litigation, including DCF, as Ms. Thomas had consistently negative urine screens over an 8 month period, and had successfully completed numerous other supportive services including therapeutic visitation, parenting capacity evaluation, early intervention, therapy and medication monitoring.

Zahree was returned to Ms. Thomas with in-home supportive services, therapeutic community resources, and a strong kinship support system. Court-ordered care and supervision of the Thomas family was terminated pursuant to court order on April 3, 2012, with the condition that Ms. Thomas complete in-home services through an approved children’s services organization. Additionally, random urine screens continued to be conducted after reunification, with negative results received as recently as June 28 and 29, 2012.

A caseworker from the Department of Children and Family’s Division of Child Protection and Permanency Camden North Office last visited the Thomas family on July 3, 2012. After receiving continued favorable reports from Ms. Thomas and Zahree’s providers, the case was reviewed again on July 23, 2012 and was being prepared for closure. Our ongoing review does not reveal that any support systems involved with Ms. Thomas had any indications of relapse or noted any behaviors that could foreshadow harm to Zahree.

As the Department continues its review of the Thomas case, we will continue to offer supportive services to relatives.”

The agency vows to complete a thorough review.

The family maintains, Thomas was a dedicated and devoted mother who unfortunately lost her battle with drug addiction and mental health issues. The family wonders if something could have been done to prevent this tragedy.

For now, the Birches say they ask for continued prayers from the community as they now prepare to mourn in private the loss of their loving daughter and special grandson.