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Boy who was 'full of love and life': Family opens up after 7-year-old child's death ruled homicide

Ja'Ceon Terry's family said the cause of death wasn't told to them at the time, but they've now learned it was a homicide.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The family of a 7-year-old boy who died in state custody has questions about exactly what happened behind closed doors.

According to the coroner, Ja'Ceon Terry died on July 17 under the care of Bellewood & Brooklawn, a foster care facility. 

After two months, family members of Ja'Ceon are now starting to get answers. The cause of death was positional asphyxia and the coroner deemed it a homicide. 

They said from the beginning they felt this couldn't have been an accident.

"What went through my head is how did it happen? And why did it happen?," George Terry, Ja'Ceon's grandfather, said.

Ja'Ceon and his siblings were placed into foster care after his mother, Dominique Terry, said she was going through financial problems and other circumstances.

She said she was unaware her child had arrived to Bellewood & Brooklawn.

"I didn't know why he was in the facility at the time, I thought that he was still with his brothers. But once they told me that he was in a facility to get his mind together, that kind of blew my mind," Dominique said.

Ja'Ceon's family said the cause of death wasn't told to them at that time.

"She [Dominique] let me know that Ja'Ceon passed away on that Sunday. She said there was an incident that happened, but she couldn't tell me what happened or nothing like that," said George.

Credit: George Terry

Bellewood & Brooklawn said in a statement they are making changes such as releasing the two staff members involved, increasing training, implementing better leadership and oversight and increasing screening of youth before admission.

"Definitely not enough. Retraining the staff, they should have been trained in first place. They shouldn't have had a job if they weren't good enough to care for a child that was 7 years old," said George.

Officials with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services said they mourn the loss of anyone in their care, now taking action.

Bellewood & Brooklawn is owned by a company called Uspiritus, which the cabinet says is freezing its relationship saying, "Placements at Uspiritus in all programs have been suspended for placement of children in the care of the state."

"I don't think that that place should be opened for kids in the first place, after all of this stuff happened to my son," said Dominique.

Dominique said although he wasn't in her care at the time, this is still her son.

"Just taking it every day at one step at a time," she said.

Both Dominique and George said they will work hard to always remember the boy who was 'full of love and life'.

Police say this is still an ongoing investigation. 

Once they gather all of the facts of the death, they will present this to the Commonwealth Attorney's Office to decide how to proceed.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services sent WHAS11 this statement:

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services mourns the passing of any child or any person of any age in its care. The loss of seven-year-old Ja’Ceon Terry on July 17 has deeply impacted the cabinet. This sadness was deepened more upon learning the results of the autopsy, identifying asphyxiation as cause of death. The cabinet contracts with licensed foster care facilities to provide residential care for children. Uspiritus, whose facilities include Brooklawn in Louisville, where Ja’Ceon passed, had an agreement with the state to provide care and treatment to children in the care of the cabinet. Placements at Uspiritus in all programs have been suspended for placement of children in the care of the state. A full review of Brooklawn including staffing, regulations and protocol, is continuing from the Department for Community Based Services and the Office of the Inspector General, and placements will continue to be suspended for the time being.

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Contact reporter Ford Sanders at fsanders@whas11.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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