The adult boyfriend, emails say, took the teen to Indiana, where the girl became critically ill. She was hospitalized on May 10, released from the hospital, and died a day or two later.
Emails among high-ranking DCF administrators suggest leaders were dismayed to learn the caseworker knew that the girl had been missing for more than a week and never sought the help of police or missing-child organizations — as state law requires — to get her back.
“Case manager never filed a missing child report, nor reported [the] guy to law enforcement,” DCF Assistant Secretary Pete Digre wrote in a May 16 email. Stephanie Weis, a DCF administrator in Orlando, suggested in an email the couple may have been using the narcotic methadone during their odyssey.
Because the teen did not die directly at the hands of her parents, DCF did not investigate her death, said Whitney Ray, an agency spokesman. But the caseworker has since been fired.
For her short life, Jewel spent much of her time at her grandmother’s Sarasota home while her mother worked. It was in that apartment that Jewel would watch Yogi the Bear cartoons and eat pickles right out of the jar. This was also where she was learning to ride her brand-new Snow White bike, all pink hearts and pom poms and training wheels, a gift for her third birthday.
“Jewel was a real loving child,’’ said Tiffany Howard. “She was quiet. And she was sweet.’’
Her caregivers did not share the youngster’s sunny disposition: Rosier’s criminal history includes nine arrests. Edwards had faced charges of battery, marijuana possession, resisting arrest and cocaine sales.
Howard says that in her final months, Jewel would often cry when it was time for her mother to pick her up.
“I didn’t think much of it, but now I feel like they were hints,’’ she said.
On March 5, DCF opened an investigation after Jewel was discovered with a deep laceration on her lower lip. Rosier, her mother, reported that Jewel had bitten her own lip, but her father, Joshua Howard, said Jewel had told him she was hit by Edwards, Rosier’s boyfriend. The toddler later told investigators she caused the injury but was unable to demonstrate how.
Florida’s Child Protection Team determined the injury was suspicious but “indeterminate for physical abuse.”
Three weeks later, Rosier took Jewel and Jumiyah — her infant daughter fathered by Edwards — to the hospital, both sick with asthma.
On the evening of April 10, after Jewel had spent an afternoon of play with her grandmother, she went home with her mother, a five-minute drive away. Rosier would later tell investigators that Jewel was sick that night, vomiting and complaining of abdominal pains. She said Jewel had asthma, so she administered nebulizer treatments and put her to sleep. She also told a family friend they had a doctor’s appointment, which police said was not true.
Jewel was gravely ill. She was lethargic and still vomiting. By the next morning, the family friend was so worried, he argued with the couple, urging them to take her to the hospital. The family friend finally called 911 himself, telling the dispatcher the girl was “flopping” around and had become non-responsive.
An hour later, Jewel was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Her mother demanded an autopsy, telling police that although the girl had asthma, she believed her daughter had died from something more serious.
She was correct: An autopsy revealed the details of Jewel’s death — blunt force trauma to her abdomen, which caused a lacerated and crushed liver, other internal injuries and “a vast amount of internal bleeding.” The medical examiner called her death the result of “homicidal violence” and investigators determined that her fatal injuries were inflicted while she was in the couple’s care.
Rosier and Edwards, both 21 at the time, were arrested, and are being held without bail on charges of felony child neglect.
Howard, left with three surviving grandchildren, is still trying to make peace with Jewel’s death, her grief renewed each day as she passes the child’s beloved bike parked in a back bedroom.
“When I lost her, I lost a huge chunk of who I am,’’ she says. “Now I believe that in her own way, Jewel was crying out for help.’’