CHILD WELFARE

BSO reports give chilling details of mother of dead child’s descent into mental illness

 

cmarbin@MiamiHerald.com

After not seeing her 2-year-old grandson for three weeks, Shonta Rivers found him lying with his mother on her bed. She asked her daughter, Destene Simmons, if she could give the little boy a kiss.

She was shocked at Simmons’ rage: No, Simmons said, you can’t touch your grandson. “I will make sure you can’t see him.”

She apparently meant forever.

A Broward Sheriff’s Office report from that June 13, 2011, evening offers chilling details of what happened next: Simmons took the youngster into another room and closed the door. From inside, Rivers could hear her grandson, Antwan Hope, screaming.

“Mommy stop! Mommy stop!”

“Rivers said she opened the door and saw Simmons holding a pillow over Antwan’s face,” the police report said. “Rivers said she wrestled with Simmons to get off of Antwan. She said that she had to call for other family members to assist her with getting Simmons off Antwan.”

Earlier this week, police believe, Simmons finished what she started exactly two years ago.

On Monday morning, Coral Springs police officers responded to “hang up” 911 calls at Simmons’ home and found Antwan dead. They have called the youngster’s death “suspicious.”

The Broward Medical Examiner’s Office completed an autopsy on the child Tuesday, but has yet to release a cause of death.

Simmons, 23, was arrested Monday on unrelated charges of driving with a suspended license. She was released from jail late Tuesday, but was committed under the Baker Act for an involuntary psychiatric examination, said Dani Moschella, a BSO spokeswoman. Simmons remained hospitalized Wednesday.

Records released to The Miami Herald Wednesday show Simmons had contact with law enforcement officers on several occasions — often involving calls about her mental state.

Records of Simmons’ descent into mental illness appear to begin in the spring of 2011. On May 24 of that year, Simmons called police herself.

When deputies arrived, they found Simmons tearful and confused. She said Antwan’s father had taken “her baby without permission,” and would not return him. “Destene could not formulate a cohesive description of what had happened,” a sergeant wrote. “All she kept saying is she wants her baby and then she would start to cry.”

Simmons’ mother told deputies she had “been acting irrational for the last three months and that she does not know what had happened. Simmons has been waking up in the middle of the night and picking up her child and walking around the neighborhood for no apparent reason.”

Antwan’s father, also named Antwan Hope, told investigators that Simmons had recently been in a Boca Raton hospital for treatment, though he did not know her psychiatric diagnosis.

One month later, deputies were called again when Rivers found Simmons trying to suffocate the child, BSO records say.

Simmons had stopped taking showers and she was not bathing her son either, a report said. Nor was she eating properly. Her mother told police Simmons “has completely turned into a different person and does not let anyone get near Antwan and that she never leaves his side. She said that in the past [Simmons] always used to let someone watch Antwan and that this behavior is completely out-of-character for her.”

On June 13, 2011, Rivers returned from work to find Antwan and his mom lying in bed. She hadn’t seen her grandson in weeks.

But Rivers’ longing for her grandson ended that day with him screaming under a pillow and a frantic call to 911.

BSO deputies arrived and took Simmons to Imperial Point Medical Center under the Baker Act. And state child protection workers took Antwan to live with his father, where he remained until the following December, when child protection investigators were called yet again to assess his welfare.

This time, Antwan’s father called BSO on Dec. 28, 2011. Though Hope had pledged to child welfare workers that he would retain custody of the boy — and to protect him from his mother — he told police that he and Simmons were sharing custody. On that day, Hope said, Simmons came to his home, confronted him, and “made verbal threats to harm the child.”

Simmons, police were told, “takes medication for mental issues,” and has been involuntarily committed “on several occasions.”

That day, Hope picked the youngster up at Gentle Hugs Daycare, “causing Destene to become angry,” the report said. “She stated before she left that she would ‘hurt the boy.’”

The state Department of Children & Families was alerted and Antwan was taken from his father’s care after investigators learned he was sharing custody with Simmons.

It appears that Simmons neglected to tell her mother that investigators had removed the child and sent him to live with a maternal aunt.

On Jan. 2, 2012, Rivers called police to report that both Simmons and the boy were missing.

“Rivers has not heard from either of them and states that this is very uncharacteristic,” the report said. Rivers added: “Simmons is going through a child protective investigation and has been distraught.”

Antwan remained with his aunt until recently, when Broward’s privately run foster care agency, called ChildNet, suggested it was time to return him to his mother. In preparation for a reunification with Simmons, a Broward judge, against the objections of a court-appointed advocate, granted unsupervised visits.

Simmons’ first weekend alone with her son began Friday. It ended Monday with Antwan being transported from her home in a mortuary van.

Read more Broward stories from the Miami Herald

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