KNOX, Ind. — In the early hours of Oct. 11, 2021, LaPorte County sheriff’s deputies wound through shadowed thickets of rural Union Township roads, following the path to a home where, two people told dispatchers, a little boy lay unconscious.
One person reported the boy was not breathing. The boy’s mother called police a little before 3 a.m., saying her husband lost his temper and hurt the kids.
When authorities arrived at the house, court records show they were greeted by a lawn filled with garbage. Authorities said they were hit with the smell of urine and feces upon entering, finding three small children and no adults inside.
Court records state a matted, starving dog was locked in a cage, trapped in is own excrement. More animal feces were on the floor.
Inside one of the bedrooms, officers located an unbreathing boy. He was naked on a bedroom floor, covered only in a fluffy blanket and bruises.
An autopsy would later reveal the boy died of blunt force head trauma.
His name was Judah Morgan, and he was 4 years old.
The house where he died, reportedly trashed with litter and animal feces, was not his only home. He had another, with a different family, who had not only taken him in as a baby, but were blood relatives.
Now that Judah is gone from this world, it is his other family who claim they tried to alert DCS to abuse happening inside the home where Judah later died, and were ignored.
"He called me mommy"
Jenna Hullet is not Judah Morgan's biological mother. But from the start, he was always her baby boy.
Four months after his birth, Hullett discovered Judah had been placed in foster care, and reached out to the Department of Child Services to see if she could take care of him.
Hullett is Judah's second cousin - the first cousin of Judah's father Alan Morgan, 28, who now faces multiple charges in connection to his death.
A background check was conducted, and Judah was sent into her home as a kinship placement. Those placements allow children in the foster care system to be placed with family, relatives, or even close family friends.
"He automatically had a bond with us because he was with us every day, all the time," Hullet said.
For the next two years, Judah spent most of his time under Jenna's roof. In those first few years with the Hullett family, Jenna said the visits to his birth family were not consistent.
But Judah did have to spend some time in the home of Morgan and his wife, Judah's birth mother, 26-year-old Mary Yoder.
Before Judah could speak, Hullett suspected he endured abuse at her cousin's hands.
“There were a lot of red flags going on in between the time we got him and when he could vocalize abuse that was going on in the house. Every time he would tell me something, I would tell the case worker and it was constantly overlooked," she said.
As Judah grew older, Hullett recalled how the typically sweet toddler would return from visits at her cousin's house angry. He would hit her and lash out, but also rush into her arms the minute he was returned to her care.
“I remember one time Judah ripped his hand from the caseworker and jumped in my arms. And hugged me like my own kids don’t even hug me. I could tell at that time he was in distress,” Hullett said.
While the brief separations stung, Hullett knew Judah would be safe once he got in her arms.
She made the most of their time together. Under the Hulletts' care, Judah enjoyed a trip to the beach and bike rides. They once took him fishing, and threw him birthday parties.
"He loved to dance. He loved music. His grandmother bought him a Catboy costume for Halloween last year. And he wore that for six months straight," Hullet said.
But in April 2021, Jenna said a judge ordered Judah should be sent back to his biological parents' home for a trial home visit, a step the state of Indiana only takes when "the safety and well-being of a child can be reasonably ensured," among other criteria.
"In my eyes, he was probably scared. Didn't understand why we dropped him off there and never came back," she said.
Any further access to Judah would depend on his biological parents. Hullet claims her cousin denied her access to their home - and to Judah.
Hullett, whose 2020 guardianship claim for Judah is still pending in the state court system, wondered why he was sent back into their care amid her claims of abuse.
Still, she held out hope they would one day be together.
"I was mourning him then, but I always had hope we would see him again. I even told my husband I wanted to write him letters, so when he gets older he knows we loved him," she said.
They are words of love Judah never grew old enough to hear.
Inside a house of horrors
A review of court documents obtained by 13News from Oct. 11, 2021 paint a sobering picture of the conditions Hullett suspected Judah faced inside the home for years.
Court documents show Alan Morgan and Mary Yoder's kitchen fridge had a cord attached to a key-style lock, "so no one could open it," detectives said in an affidavit.
Filth, garbage and animal feces were found throughout the home.
More disturbing, though, was what police reportedly found in the basement.
It was cold, with no working lights. Torn-off bits of silver and camouflage duct tape were strewn about the cold room, and several pieces were taped to a wall.
In one corner, police found a small pair of training pants and an infant-style toilet.
Human waste rotted inside, not far from where a lone fluffy blanket was found, with small pieces of the same silver duct tape that was on the walls, attached.
When detectives later interviewed Yoder, she told them those were all techniques her husband would use to punish Judah for not being potty-trained.
Yoder told police Judah was sent to the basement three times a week, sometimes for days. That reportedly included a time when the rest of the family was upstairs for a birthday party, having cake.
When officers asked a seven-year-old victim where Judah was during that party, the child responded "in the basement, where he normally was".
Other child victims told police they saw Judah bound with duct tape around his hands and ankles, or with his arms behind his back.
Hullett remembers the morning she found out Judah was gone.
Every night since Judah left her in April, she woke up around 3 a.m., which turned out to be around the same time those first 911 calls about Judah's death came in.
"My youngest sister called me, and told me that Judah was gone. And I lost it. And then I received a message from Mary stating that she was sorry, and I just responded with, 'Please tell me it's not true.'"
That Judah was not potty-trained is a claim Hullett denies. The only time she saw him struggle was after overnight visits with Yoder and Morgan.
"That is the only time he would ever have a bedtime accident, is after a weekend visit with them," Hullet said. "He would run to my room, I could hear him run across the floor, and crying. And then I would change him, and put him in some fresh undies. And everything would be fine after that, up until his next visit."
After tragedy, demanding changes
At Wythogan Park in Knox, Indiana, the place where Judah and the Hullett family spent their last day together, memories of him are everywhere.
There's the slide he loved going down, and the little bouncy white horse he favored. At the park's edge sits an old cannon he once climbed on, and the pond where they took him fishing on that final day.
"Everything's a reminder. I can't go into Walmart. Every time we'd go into Walmart, the first thing we would do is pick out his strawberries. He loved fruit, so we would go straight to the strawberries, and to the little Cuties he called oranges. There's children previews for different new movies and stuff and everything is a constant reminder," Hullett said.
As memories of Judah swirl in Hullet's mind, so too does a list of things she said DCS told her would be done in connection with Judah's case that never were.
Hullet claims DCS workers in LaPorte County twice told her they would file a termination of parental rights for Judah's case.
"For some reason, they didn't file the termination of parental rights on two separate occasions. I believe the first one was because of COVID, and the courts were closed, but I don't know why they didn't just push it further. But then they were supposed to file it again, and for some reason, unknown to anybody, they didn't," Hullett said.
A mandatory bonding assessment, which she believes would have proved Judah was more attached to the Hullets than his biological family, was also never conducted.
"Ultimately, if they had done their job, he would still be in a loving, caring home," Hullett said.
Weeks after Judah's death, Hullett started the Justice for Judah Facebook page. It's a space where she is calling attention to what she says are inefficiencies in our state's foster care system.
"The only thing I can do is try to make sure it doesn't happen to anybody else. I'm tired of hearing about the system failing children and babies. No one should have to bury their child," she said.
Judah's case has caught the attention of state lawmakers.
Senator J.D. Ford, a Democrat representing Marion County and parts of Boone and Hamilton counties, filed a bill for the 2022 legislative session that was inspired by Judah's case.
"In cases like these you can't help but think about Judah. And about the other Judahs that are out there," Ford said.
In Indiana, the Department of Child Services has to release a Child Fatality Report every year. Ford's bill centers on making changes to what type of information DCS has to include in that report, specifically about children with a previous history of abuse.
"And to determine what happened, if there's a pattern. Can we find information so this does not happen again. We need that information sooner, rather than later, put into play to prevent something like this from happening again," Ford said.
As the Hulletts wait to see what happens with that piece of legislation, Hullett said she will keep pushing to tell Judah's story.
Because last year, Judah was in her home preparing to watch his favorite Christmas movie.
This year, as Christmas lights sprinkle across the street from a statehouse where Hullett hopes change can be made, his ashes hang in a locket around her neck.
It reads, "Mother of an Angel."
"I am under such an overwhelming amount of stress. I'm only doing this because I want awareness for other children. I want justice for Judah. It's the only way I can pay him back. Because it didn't have to happen, and it shouldn't have happened. He was happy with us," Hullett said.
Alan Morgan was charged with felony first-degree murder, five counts of felony neglect of a dependent and misdemeanor cruelty to an animal.
Mary Yoder faces two counts of felony neglect of a dependent, misdemeanor cruelty to an animal and misdemeanor failure to report.
Both pleaded not guilty at an arraignment this October. Their trials are set for October 2022.
Ford's bill was filed at the statehouse on Dec. 1.
On Saturday, the Hulletts are hosting a benefit lunch and candlelight vigil for Judah from 11 a.m until 4 p.m. at 818 McClung Road in LaPorte.