DFCS tried to take kids away months before fatal fire | Families
DECATUR, GA (WXIA) – New information emerged Wednesday in the fatal fire that left three young brothers dead, and their mother facing charges.
A state Department of Family and Children's Services case manager tried to take all five children from their mother this past April and put them in foster care, but a judge refused.
Now, three of the five children are dead and the mother is facing charges of felony murder and cruelty to children.
11Alive News obtained the DFCS case file on Rockell Coleman and her five young boys through Georgia's open records law.
The file paints a picture of Coleman struggling to take care of her children in the 18 months before Friday night, December 12, 2014, when a fire broke out in their Decatur home.
That night, police said, the boys – ages 3 to 10 – were home alone. The fire left three of them dead.
But Coleman says she can prove that she had not left them alone, and that there was an adult babysitter watching them, who no one can find now.
Neighbors said it wasn't unusual for the boys to be alone.
"These kids are always here by themselves, there's never anybody at home," one neighbor said in the early morning hours of December 13 while firefighters were still putting out the fire.
And someone did report it, at least once. The DFCS file shows that 18 months earlier, in June 2013, someone told DFCS that Coleman had left her five boys alone at home, with little or no food, for a day or two while she was in Savannah. But when DFCS investigated, case workers concluded that the complaint was false, and that Coleman had, in fact, arranged for a babysitter.
Still, DFCS saw enough about the children's situation at home to keep the case open, citing "risk factors" to the safety of the five children -- living in filth, for example. DFCS put Coleman through intense parenting classes, and she cooperated. But by the spring of 2014, according to the files, conditions in the home had not improved.
"Case Manager Chatman attempted to file for deprivation on 4/17/14, but was denied by Judge Linda Haynes," the file said in part. "Judge Haynes felt it would be more harmful to remove the children from the home than for them to remain in the home."
DFACS then tried to get Coleman to place the boys with other family members.
"Ms. Coleman was tearful..." saying "give her 'just two more weeks,' but was unable to clearly identify a plan for how anything would change."
Nevertheless, the boys stayed in Coleman's custody, in the home that would catch fire, somehow, while she was out for the evening.
The DFCS documents that 11Alive News obtained cover a period of about one year, up to July 2014. 11Alive News will be getting the final 100 pages, covering what happened with the case in the five to six months immediately preceding the fire, in a few days.
11Alive News has not, yet, been able to reach Ms. Coleman -- was was released from jail, on bond -- for comments about the DFCS case.