VANCOUVER, WA (KPTV) - According to a Clark County medical examiner, 15-year-old Karreon Walker-Franks weighed just 70 pounds at his time of death. "Starvation and neglect" were listed on the death certificate as the cause of death.
The Vancouver Police Department is still investigating, and no arrests have been made.
Police affidavits filed in support of search warrants and bank records detail the observations teachers, family members and child welfare workers made in the days and months leading up to Karreon's death. Two reports were made to CPS in 2017 that Karreon and his siblings were being denied food as punishment.
Court papers filed in February of this year show that an aunt made a report to Child Protective Services just seven days before Karreon died on November 27, 2020. In that report, according to the affidavit, the aunt reported the teen was a "walking skeleton" and that he "falls down due to malnourishment."
Observations made by teachers before the pandemic hit also revealed some red flags about the teen's home life months before his death.
According to family, Karreon was autistic, non-verbal and partially blind. Court documents say Karreon and his two brothers were legally adopted in California back in 2012, and that Karreon was enrolled as a sophomore in the special education program at Mountain View High School.
Affidavits state that before the pandemic forced students into remote learning, Karreon's teachers observed that he was very food motivated. The court document says one teacher noted he would eat as much as he was given, and "binge until he'd vomit."
A special education teacher told detectives that Karreon's parents made it clear he was not supposed to have snacks, and that Karreon came to school "crying and starving." The affidavit says the teacher asked the teen's brother about what happened, and he said that they were punished for getting into the refrigerator at home by not getting food for the rest of the weekend. The teacher reportedly told a school counselor, who then contacted the boys' mother. "[Mother] told school personnel it was their business how they utilize discipline," the court document said.
Child advocates say it's always best to contact law enforcement or Child Protective Services directly.
"The obligation is on the individual mandated reporter, not on the organization or entity, so it's really incumbent upon folks to take that ownership and take that responsibility seriously," Amy Russell, Executive Director of the Arthur D. Curtis Children's Justice Center told FOX 12.
Russell says the pandemic has made reporting suspected child abuse even more challenging since kids have been stuck at home. She says child abuse reports, both in Washington and nationwide, have declined by about 50%.
"We know that child abuse isn't stopping, in fact it's much more likely to be increasing because of all of those family stressors," Russell said.
Court documents show that a CPS worker went into the teen's home on November 21, the day after Karreon's aunt filed a complaint. The welfare worker spoke to Karreon's mother and two brothers. The boys described spankings that would leave marks and make them bleed, the affidavit said.
One of the brothers told the welfare worker that they observed Karreon's mother hit him with a cane "and that sometimes it is because he vomits," the affidavit said.
The Washington Department of Children, Youth and Families couldn't comment on whether any action was taken after that home visit.
According to court documents, Karreon was pronounced dead six days later. The medical examiner's office was contacted by the funeral home "due to concerns with Karreon's appearance."
During the autopsy, court documents indicate that the Clark County medical examiner discovered Karreon had "abnormal bone and hair growth, as well as abnormal lesions, most likely caused from starvation." At the time of the autopsy, Karreon weighed 61 pounds.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention month. Child advocates are stressing the importance of recognizing and reporting signs of possible abuse immediately to investigators or a child abuse report line.
In Washington, that number is 866-363-4276. In Oregon, that number is 855-503-7233.
Additional resources for families and community members can be found here.