Summer Stiles had no idea her toddler son had been missing for much of an hour.
When Indian River Sheriffs deputies returned 3-year-old Dakota Stiles to his mother July 12 he had wandered into a neighbors backyard she acknowledged she had lost track of her children that day. I guess Im missing one, the 34-year-old said.
More shocking, though, to state child welfare investigators was the condition of the Stiles home: One toilet was clogged with feces, and the only working bathroom was in a garage that was filled with garbage, mold and stacks of wet clothing. Dakotas room was a pigsty, piled with garbage, old food and other filth.
But it was the pool that concerned the investigator the most: It was described as exceptionally unsafe green from disrepair, filthy, filled with unsanitary water and bugs and unknown contaminants. The report noted Dakota could get to the pool by merely turning a knob.
These conditions, and the parents flat reaction to the child victim getting out of the home, an investigator wrote, pose a significant risk of harm to Dakota.
Nevertheless, the Department of Children & Families did nothing to protect Dakota as it continued to investigate his parents. At this time, a report said, there does not appear to be an immediate negative impact on the victims safety.
On Thursday two weeks after hed been found in his neighbors yard Dakota drowned in the slimy green pool the department had found so dangerous.
He became the seventh child to die in Florida of abuse or neglect after DCF had concluded they were safe. Hes also the second to die on the watch of DCFs interim secretary, Esther Jacobo, who inherited a department in chaos after then-DCF Secretary David Wilkins resigned two weeks ago.
Late last week, I learned of the tragic death of Dakota Stiles, Jacobo told The Miami Herald on Monday. I am deeply saddened and outraged. We have only begun to review DCFs prior involvement with this family, but we will now turn our full attention to determining what could have been done to prevent this tragedy. No one will bring a more critical approach to this review than me, because we must fully understand what happened and move quickly to take any corrective action that is needed to keep children safe.
Among the seven deaths is Cherish Perrywinkle, an 8-year-old Jacksonville girl who police say was raped and strangled by a registered sex offender her mother had befriended. Cherishs abduction and murder traumatized her native Jacksonville, and the sex offender, Donald James Smith, was indicted on June 21 on three counts of first degree murder, sexual battery and kidnapping. He is facing the death penalty.
Internal DCF records for both Dakota and Cherish were provided Monday to The Herald in response to a public records request.
Dakota first came to DCFs attention at birth, in October 2009, records say. His mother said she was taking the narcotic Roxycodone for chronic back pain, and the newborn Dakota was born with opiates in his system. Summer Stiles produced a prescription for the pills, and one of her older children, then around 11, told an investigator that although her mother took pills, she denied it affected her ability to care for the children.