Two states, on opposite sides of the country, had a chance to save 16-month-old Daymeon Chrystopher Wygant. Both Florida and California child welfare administrators expected the other state’s agency to protect the boy, whose parents had a well-documented history of sexual battery, mental illness, weapons possession, homelessness and neglect.
Neither state did.
Last week, police say, Daymeon’s father smothered the toddler with his hands, then wrapped him mummy-like to stop his fussing. Cody Eugene Wygant then left the boy to die while he resumed an online Xbox game — and watched three episodes of the science fiction TV show Fringe.
Daymeon and his infant sister were under the supervision of the California Health and Human Services Agency in January when social workers in the Sacramento Valley city of Redding, in Shasta County, placed the boy and his parents on an airplane bound for Central Florida, nearly 3,000 miles away. They asked their counterparts in Florida to look in on the boy’s family. The investigation that followed was superficial, a top Department of Children & Families administrator acknowledged Friday.
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“It is deeply troubling that the department failed to truly understand the import of the extensive needs of the family and the high risk of these children,” said DCF Deputy Secretary Pete Digre. “I feel if both California and Florida had used the established child protective systems and process, a better outcome would have been achieved. This would have required more through and transparent communication from Shasta County and a comprehensive assessment in Florida.”
California child welfare administrators released a short statement Friday to the Miami Herald: “Any time a child is hurt or harmed in any way, it is a tragedy and that is what we work to keep from happening. Unfortunately, we cannot comment on any specific case,’’ said Tim Mapes, community education specialist with the Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency.
About three months after Daymeon arrived in Homosassa, a tiny hamlet north of Tampa Bay, the boy died. Family members initially told police they discovered Daymeon in his playpen no longer breathing. Hours later, Wygant told the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office he suffocated the boy because he was “very frustrated” that Daymeon was crying uncontrollably — preventing the father from focusing on his Xbox.
Following the smothering, a police report says, Wygant wrapped him in layers of bedding, preventing him from “receiving fresh air.” In his death, police said, Daymeon may have saved his 3-month-old sister, who was later found to have been so severely neglected that the rear of her skull had become flattened, the result of seldom being moved. The newborn also had a severe rash on her neck, armpit, back and leg, causing tissue loss. She is now in state care.
The Wygant home, the police report said, “was heavily infested with bugs, insects and contained a very foul odor, which could be smelled from the street.”
Daymeon joins more than 477 Florida children — whose stories are detailed in the Miami Herald’s Innocents Lost series — who died of abuse or neglect since 2008 after members of their family had come in contact with DCF.
“It is inconceivable that a father could kill his infant son — it just baffles the mind,” Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy said in a statement April 17. “We did exactly what we needed to do to bring justice to him swiftly.”
Wygant, 24, faces charges of murder and neglect causing great bodily harm, and he remains in jail with no bond. He tested positive for marijuana following his son’s death.
Wygant’s 22-year-old girlfriend, Jessika Lynn DuFour, and her mother, 55-year-old Geneva May DuFour, also have been charged with child neglect. The day Daymeon died, Jessika DuFour tested positive for illegally obtained prescription drugs.
Neither authorities in Florida nor California would discuss the family in detail Friday. But several letters sent between the two states, obtained by the Miami Herald, show that California social workers contacted their counterparts in Florida on Dec. 30 to inquire whether Geneva DuFour and her adult son had a history of arrests or child abuse. Workers were considering sending the Wygant family to live with DuFour.
After DCF told them Geneva DuFour and her son had a clean record, the Wygant family was flown to Florida, with California paying the bill. Then, on Jan. 6, social worker Tammy Maxey told DCF the family had arrived three days earlier. Maxey requested that investigators in Florida make “a follow up visit...to assess the safety and well-being of the children, and to link the family with community resources.”
“The mother and father have a history of marijuana use. The mother has a history of mental health concerns. The father is said to have anger management issues,” Maxey wrote, adding the family also had been homeless.
“Our agency is concerned that the parents’ homelessness may have caused the child, Daymeon Wygant, to have some developmental delays,” Maxey wrote.
Here is what Maxey did not tell Florida authorities, according to a DCF administrator: Wygant’s and Jessika DuFour’s history in California included “a substantiated finding of child neglect, several other child maltreatment allegations, a history of criminal activity, including crimes involving weapons and sexual battery, mental illness, homelessness and basic neglect of the children’s health and cleanliness.”
The parents, DCF’s Digre said in a letter Friday, had been assessed to be at “very high risk” of harming their children while they remained in Redding.
“Without a full understanding of the history of this family, we were unable to take the necessary steps to protect these children,” Digre wrote. “In the future, we will expect to receive more transparent communication from California counties if they intend to send very high-risk families to our state.”
“Frankly,” Digre added, “it is impossible to understand why Shasta County did not move to shelter these children.”
From the records DCF provided to the Herald, it is difficult to determine what measures the agency undertook to determine whether Wygant’s children were safe.
A DCF spokeswoman said Friday that all notations arising from the agency’s assessment of the family were contained within the margins of Maxey’s Jan. 6 letter. The notes comprise about four handwritten scribbles, including: “no pediatrician,” “no daycare,” “Cody is going to work [and] not using,” “Daymeon teething,” and “don’t trust random people.”