DCF data shows spike in child deaths in Jacksonville

11 child fatalities in Duval County this year described as 'concerning' cluster

By Erik Avanier - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Data from the Department of Children and Families reveals a sudden spike in child fatalities in the first three months of 2017, including one in January, three in February and seven in March.

News4Jax found that 11 deaths were suspicious enough to prompt an investigation by DCF into possible child abuse or neglect.

One of those cases includes the death of 1-month-old Hannah Htoo, who was found unresponsive March 24 inside a San Marco apartment and died several days later.

DCF records show Hannah's death was under suspicious circumstances and her mother, Vung Deih Nuam, 24, was booked March 26 into the Duval County Jail on a charge of child neglect.

"Police say she had some accident. Accident. Because my wife, she loved the baby," said Khad Kab, Nuam's husband.

Brandon Michael Smith, 36, was arrested Tuesday and charged with murder in the March 22 death of 2-year-old Alayna Williamson after the medical examiner determined his girlfriend's daughter died from multiple blunt-force trauma to the head.

Barbara Kendrick, 65, was charged with murder after police said she forcibly threw an infant, who she was babysitting, on March 4. Police said she admitted to throwing 5-month-old Cooper Dubovik into a playpen March 4 because he had been fussy due to teething and fever.

One of the February cases involves the death of a 5-year-old girl, who was shot by her 8-year-old brother and died. Their mother’s boyfriend, Maurice Mobley, was arrested the next day because police said he brought the gun into the home when he wasn’t supposed to be in possession of one. 

Dr. Randal Alexander with the First Coast Child Protection Team helps investigators with his forensic expertise. He described the deaths as a "concerning" cluster.

"The deaths seem to be things from unsafe sleep deaths to some physical abuse deaths. It's sort of scattered to what they are, but we're watching it because we want to see if there's a trend here that is more than just a clustering," Alexander said.

According to Alexander, the leading cause in child deaths is neglect. He also said child advocacy groups throughout the state are currently having a difficult time reducing the number of these cases.

"There's no question that neglect cases seem to be pretty steady. We just can't make a dent. We're trying," Alexander said. "It's hard because the cases aren't so common, and how do you get to the exact person who is going to do this at the moment they have a decision to make, then they make a bad decision instead of a good decision."

In some rare cases, Alexander said, there are medical conditions with physical symptoms that mimic evidence of child abuse. But he said if a parent walks into an emergency room and says their child fell, but the child has serious injuries that don't add up, there's a good chance an investigation will be launched. 

A statewide child abuse and neglect conference will be held April 20-21 at 200 Ocean Crest Drive in Palm Coast. Alexander and other professionals from around Florida who deal with child abuse cases will be in attendance.

Some of the topics that will be discussed include child sex trafficking and child abuse deaths. 

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