A 7-year-old Philadelphia girl found dead Monday in an apparent murder-suicide carried out by her father was reportedly in the center of a bitter custody dispute.
Family members told The Philadelphia Inquirer that Kayden Mancuso died after father Jeff Mancuso, 41, struck her four times in the back of her head with a weight. Jeff’s body was reportedly found in another room in the home.
An uncle reportedly made the grisly discovery after Jeff failed to bring his daughter to the Bucks County home she shared with her mother and stepfather. In addition to being bludgeoned, the 7-year-old was suffocated, according to the girl’s aunt.
“She was in the same clothes my brother dropped her off in,” aunt Jennifer Sherlock told the Inquirer.
Another one of Kayden’s aunts, Heather Giglio, told the local newspaper that Jeff left behind a note on Kayden’s body stating that the family “got what we deserved.”
Alarmingly, Sherlock revealed that the judge had been warned “so many times” about Jeff’s violent tendencies. Despite this, he was still granted custody on the weekends.
In a protection-from-abuse order filed by Kayden’s mother last fall, she wrote that the 7-year-old “has told multiple family members that she didn’t feel safe with her dad.” According to the mother, Kayden feared her father because he assaulted her grandmother in front of her.
The Inquirer reports that a judge granted the order. However, the order controlled the interactions Jeff had with Kayden’s mother—he was still allowed unsupervised time with Kayden.
It was in May when Bucks County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey G. Trauger reaffirmed custody of Kayden to her mother. (The order was initially implemented in October 2016 but both parents accused one another of being in violation.) Relatives said the order meant that Jeff went from having Kayden alternate weeks to only having her the weekends.
The judge’s order noted Jeff’s violent criminal history: He was convicted of assault for biting off part of someone’s ear at a Philadelphia bar in 2012; he had a violent encounter with Kayden’s teacher and principal and; he had been diagnosed with severe depression.
Nevertheless, his weekend visits with Kayden reportedly remained unsupervised.
“The therapist suggested he needed to seek help and the judge still let her go with him,” Giglio told KYW-TV, noting that Kayden’s mother fought to keep Jeff away from their daughter. “He threatened to kill all of us. But that wasn’t enough, we had to wait for actions.”
“We had to wait for him to actually kill her, for something to be heard and now what, what can we do? We don’t get her back.”
As family and friends grieve the 7-year-old’s senseless death, Bucks County court administrator Stephen Heckman told The Inquirer that Judge Trauger considered all evidence when determining custody in this case.
Heckman said, “It is no consolation, but he did what he had to do as judge.”
[Featured image: Kayden Mancuso/Fitzgerald-Sommer Funeral Home]