TORONTO - In the months before she was murdered by her guardians, little Katelynn Angel Sampson came to the attention of the Children's Aid Society of Toronto no less than six times.
One was a referral from its sister agency, the Catholic CAS, which had received a disturbing phone call from a Parkdale neighbour concerned about Katelynn living with guardian Donna Irving, who was doing crack and partner, Warren Johnson, who was a violent drug user. The CAS COO admitted for the first time at an inquest Tuesday that the alert got misplaced and no one acted on it.
In April 2008, two months later, Irving herself called the CAS and said she and Johnson couldn't care for Katelynn anymore. That call was passed on to the Native Child and Family Services — a referral which the agency insists it never received.
Four months later, Katelynn was dead, failed by the very child welfare authorities responsible for her protection.
"The alarm bells were ringing," Justice John McMahon said three years ago in sentencing the couple to life in prison for second-degree murder, "but no one was responding."
Irving and Johnson may have been the ones who actually inflicted the 70 blows that broke her young body, but at least they're being held accountable. How much less blameworthy are the child protection agencies repeatedly alerted to the horrors going on in her Parkdale apartment, and yet did shockingly little.
At the long-awaited inquest into her preventable death — seven long years after her murder — the CAS is finally being questioned about what they knew. Native Child and Family Services — which had carriage of the file because Irving was part-aboriginal — will have their feet held to the fire following the CAS.
CAS chief operating officer Nancy Dale, with her prim blonde bob and glasses, has the unfortunate task of outlining how her organization dropped the ball so many times — though she was loathe to describe it that way. Instead, she focused on how procedures have been changed and tightened so no other children will slip through the cracks.
Which is laudable. Unfortunately, it comes far too late for Katelynn.
The girl's biological mother, Bernice Sampson, had a history with the CAS from 1983 to 1995, Dale explained, during which five of her children were apprehended. When Katelynn was born in 2000, she was "committed to getting it right with this child."
In 2003, Sampson was once again referred to the agency for substance abuse concerns and she agreed to co-operate with CAS workers. Her file was closed in 2005.
Two years later, struggling with crack once more, Sampson made the fatal mistake of asking her neighbours to care for her daughter. Unwittingly, she had handed Katelynn to the devil. And to their shame, the CAS had abundant files about the dangerous couple now caring for her.
With two of her children seized by the CAS, Irving should have been well known to the agency. So, too, was Johnson. In a shocking disclosure, Dale said they have a record of a 1991 investigation that concluded he'd sexually abused a five-year-old girl. No charges were laid because the child was too traumatized to testify, she said.
After Katelynn's murder on Aug. 3, 2008, the CAS searched its records and discovered six interactions with her file in the eight months before she was killed.
Six chances to intervene.
Instead, Katelynn died of septic shock, her body a horrific map of 70 bruises and broken bones. Police found traces of her blood in every room and almost every cupboard of that Parkdale apartment, on a plastic baseball bat and on a paperback entitled The Devil's Chimney. She died in excruciating agony, convinced she was unloved and alone.
"I am A awful girl that's why no one wants me," Katelynn had been forced to write out 62 times, lines of punishment that echoed the invisibility she was accorded by government agencies who owed her so much more.