HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — Houston police officers spoke with an 8-year-old boy three weeks before he was found unresponsive with both new and old injuries, including patches of missing skin and deep ligature marks.
The boy’s mother, Kayla Holzendorf, 24, and her common-law husband, Dominique Lewis, 28, have been charged with injury to a child and tampering with evidence. Those charges could be upgraded.
Nahji Jackson told ABC13 she called police on Feb. 28 to report abuse. The boy, who had been identified in court records as Keyontae Holzendorf, was selling muffins outside a Food Town on Briar Forest. She said he was unkempt but also injured.
“He had a cut here,” Jackson said motioning to her eye. “Old cuts and bruises. When I asked the little boy if he was okay, all he did was stare at me. He did not speak.”
Jackson provided video of the encounter to ABC13. Three and a half weeks later, the boy was found dead.
“I felt like I could have did more, but what more could I have done?” asked Jackson.
According to HPD spokesman John Cannon, the officer wrote in his report that the boy seemed playful and not fearful of his parents. The parents told police he got the cuts and bruises from falling off a bike. Following procedure, the officer contacted Child Protective Services, who ran a check and found no records. Cannon said the officer also contacted state CPS and the Physical Abuse Unit as a precaution.
CPS has had prior contact with the family, confirmed a spokesperson. “But details are confidential according to law,” wrote Melissa Lanford in an email.
Tuesday night, police and firefighters responded to a possible drowning call at the Quality Inn and Suites off the West Beltway around 11 p.m. Investigators said it was obvious there was more to it.
“I can’t completely say we are sold that it was a drowning. When HFD and Houston police arrived, this complainant had many, many signs of chronic abuse, both old and new injuries and the new injuries are horrendous,” explained Gilbert Sawtelle, the chief prosecutor of the Child Fatality Division at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. “It involves large patches of skin missing from his chest, upper arms, thighs and genitalia. He also had fairly new, deep ligature marks on his ankles.”
Handcuffs and duct tape were found in the room, said Sawtelle. He added the mother admitted to hiding the handcuffs, which led to the tampering charge.
“We believe those handcuffs may be associated with ligature marks on the ankles,” he said.
Officers found the boy on the floor in the middle of a room on the second floor of the hotel. Paramedics began CPR and transported the boy to Texas Children’s Hospital in Katy where he was pronounced dead.
Holzendorf and Lewis were in the room when officers arrived and were questioned, police said.
“We believe this to be domestic violence related and we are investigating this now with our homicide division,” Assistant Chief Wendy Baimbridge with the Houston Police Department said at the scene. “We suspect foul play.
An autopsy will determine whether charges against the couple should be upgraded, said Sawtelle. He added the boy did not go to school and had very little contact with other people beyond selling baked goods to strangers.
“They would use their son to go out and get sympathy donations,” said Sawtelle.
Wednesday night, the couple remained in jail, awaiting their first court appearance.
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