Authorities say a young Florida boy who died after he was severely injured was murdered, but the circumstances of the death remain under investigation and no arrests have been made, WTLV-TV reports.
Last week, 4-year-old James Reese was brought to Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville with multiple broken bones and a skull fracture.
His injuries were so serious that the decision was made to take him off life support, so on Wednesday, Reese was baptized and had his ventilator removed.
“It’s the most horrific thing I have ever witnessed in my life,” the boy’s uncle, Christoper Nastasi, told WJXT-TV about the family’s decision to take the child off life support.
Exactly what happened to Reese has not been made public, except that there was an incident on April 15. A heavily redacted report shows that the incident occurred between 7:25 a.m. and 9 a.m. at a Jacksonville home. Someone started doing CPR on the child while emergency crews were summoned, according to the Florida Times-Union.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has classified the death as a murder, but no arrests have been made.
Doctors informed the family that the boy’s injuries likely were not the first that were inflicted, Nastasi said in an interview with WJXT-TV.
“Some of the fractures were old, like weeks-old fractures,” Nastasi told the television station.
Reese was among four siblings who were living with relatives as part of a “kinship placement,” which is similar to foster care except that the children live with people related to them, according to WTLV-TV.
The children were sent to live with the relatives a year ago.
Nastasi told WJXT-TV that the children were removed not because they were being harmed, but because his sister was the victim of abuse.
“I want him to be remembered as a brave little boy, because he had to be brave to endure what he endured.”
Loved ones hold a vigil for 4-year-old James Reese Jr. who was murdered. Details about his tragic death at 10pm. @wjxt4 https://t.co/Gr0rSGYW8U pic.twitter.com/UphUaoDlF0
— Corley Peel (@WJXT_CorleyPeel) April 24, 2021
“The removal was not due to negligence or abuse or drug use. It was due to the fact my sister was a victim herself – in an abusive relationship that was difficult for her to get out of,” Nastasi told WJXT-TV.
WTLV-TV contacted an adult in the kinship home, but that person declined to comment.
Lynn Salvatore, a former lawyer for Florida’s Department of Children and Families, told WTLV-TV that the child’s death raises serious questions.
“It’s heartbreaking whenever a child dies. It’s heartbreaking,” Salvatore told the television station. “When you have a situation where a child has been removed from a family, from parents, and placed in a home that everyone has investigated, believes is safe, the child is now ‘better off’ in this foster home. And then the child dies from intentional serious injuries, you’ll have to question, ‘How did this happen?'”
She added: “There is some responsibility there from the state. Even if it was not a licensed foster care home, these individuals were approved by a state agency for placement for children who have been removed from their parents.”
Reese’s three other siblings have since been removed from the kinship placement.
“I can only imagine the parents, how they feel thinking that ‘my child has been removed from me because someone believes I am a risk to my child and now my child is dead,’’ Salvatore told WTLV-TV.
The mother had supervised visits with the children on Zoom. Nastazi told WJXT-TV that his sister had raised concerns that her son appeared withdrawn and did not want to be on camera during a recent visit, and that she was told he was not feeling well.
Family Support Services, a child welfare agency that works with the state Department of Children and Families, told WTLV-TV in a statement that the case is under investigation.
“Our hearts break at the news of this tragedy and right now our concern is for James’s family as well as the social services workers who are involved in the case,” the statement reads, according to WTLV-TV.
“For those who have dedicated their lives to protecting children and strengthening families, it’s the worst imaginable scenario for a child to be harmed at the hands of an adult. FSS and our partners are working closely with law enforcement to ensure that whoever is responsible for harming this child is brought to justice.”
A vigil for Reese was held Friday at Jacksonville Beach.
For the latest true crime and justice news, subscribe to the ‘Crime Stories with Nancy Grace’ podcast. Listen to the latest episode.
[Feature Photo: James Reese via WJXT screenshot]