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Documents Show Burns, Bruises, Neglect Complaints in Year Before Columbia Toddler’s Death

Howard County police are investigating the April 13 death of Elijah LaJeuness as a homicide.

The year before, doctors, social workers, police and day care providers investigated several injuries to the child, ranging from bruises to his forehead and ears to burns on the tops of his feet, Patch has learned.

Police have ruled LaJeuness’s April 13 death a homicide. No charges have been filed.

According to the child's death certificate, obtained by Patch, he died from asphyxia--or lack of oxygen. In a box labeled "describe how injury occurred," the medical examiner wrote, "subject assaulted." It also says the injury occurred at the child's residence, 9685 Basket Ring Road #2.

Howard County Police have said the toddler's mother and her boyfriend have Police said both parties were present in the Columbia home the night of Elijah’s death, as was a sibling of the boy.

Friends of Elijah’s father, Robert LaJeuness of Hyattsville, said the child was joyful and friendly, liked going to amusement parks and watching the movie Cars--but he often showed up for visits with bruises.

“He loved to dance and loved listening to R & B songs,” said Bethany Kennedy, a former roommate of Elijah’s father. “He was an amazing dancer. He would stick out his little belly and shake it all around… He was the most carefree little 3-year-old I ever met. [But] he always complained when he had to go home.”

Efforts to reach Joaquinia LaJeuness, listed on Maryland Child Protective Service documents as Elijah’s mother, have been unsuccessful.

Robert LaJeuness, whose marriage to Joaquinia has been annulled, declined to comment, on the advice of his attorney.

The October 2006 marriage of Robert and Joaquinia LaJeuness, now both 28, was registered in Fairfax County, VA, according to a marriage certificate.

Shayla-René Little, the director of the Elsie M. Brown School of the Arts, a series of dance classes offered at community centers in Columbia, said Joaquinia had taught hip-hop to children in her dance school for the past year.

According to Joaquinia’s online bio on the dance school website, she danced for various dance teams during college at California State University, Sacramento, and has a bachelor’s degree from that institution in child development.

Robert is employed by the Department of Defense, according to documents obtained by Patch.

Little said Joaquinia was devoted to her children, whom she sometimes brought with her to dance classes.

“Her children were her priority," Little said. "They were her main concern.” 

Friends of Elijah Speak Out

Friends of Elijah and his father said they were devastated by the child’s death and that the father had filed complaints with social services officials alleging Elijah was abused.

“Nothing was ever done,” said Kennedy. “Robert is beating himself up. … He made many complaints. Nothing was ever done. They brushed it off--'He was 3 years old, it was normal bumps and bruises.' … It was too constant to be the normal wear and tear of a child. A child doesn’t burn his feet.”

In the summer of 2010, Elijah sustained burns to the top of his feet, according to findings by medical doctors whom Robert asked on Nov. 6, 2010, to examine Elijah for signs of abuse. Photos of the alleged burns were obtained by Patch.

According to an Aug. 16, 2010, Howard County Department of Social Service’s letter, obtained by Patch, there was an “indicated finding” that physical abuse occurred and a man said to be associated with Elijah's mother was identified as the alleged abuser. 

Calls to the Maryland Department of Human Resources were not returned this week.

Charlene Gallion, director at the Howard County Department of Social Services, said Wednesday in an e-mail she would not respond to questions about the case until Friday.

There were two cases involving Elijah reported to the police department in May and November of last year, said spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn. Both were conducted as child abuse investigations, but no criminal charges were filed in either case, "indicating there was not sufficient evidence to do so," she wrote in an e-mail.

Police were unable to release any reports on the cases because they are “part of the ongoing criminal investigation into Elijah’s death,” Llewellyn said.

‘Unexplained bruises’

For about two months in 2010, Elijah stayed with his father at the father's home in Hyattsville, a single family home shared by a group of roommates, his roommates said.

Apart from that period, Robert had custody of Elijah every other weekend, according to Howard County Court documents outlining custody arrangements.

According to medical documents obtained by Patch, doctors at Prince George’s Hospital who saw the child in November confirmed that discoloration to the upper surface of Elijah’s feet was from old burns.

That November, officials at Elijah’s day care, Kindercare, on 10820 Little Patuxent Parkway, submitted a report to Maryland Child Protective Services reporting suspected abuse and neglect.

According to the Nov. 3, 2010 report, Elijah came into day care with a knot on his forehead as well as severely pinched earlobes.

Director Christine Kozlov, who filed the complaint, also wrote he had come in with “urine-smelling clothes or BM in his underwear.”

“Elijah comes in with unexplained bruises often and often seems introverted when he thinks he’s done something wrong,” Kozlov wrote. 

When day care providers confronted his mother about the bruises, she told them “he ran into the wall,” according to Kozlov’s account in the report.

Three days later, Robert took Elijah to the emergency room, where doctors diagnosed his multiple bruises and abrasions as possible child abuse, according to medical records obtained by Patch.

Staff also noted skin inflammation in Elijah’s diaper area due to “frequently being in wet/dirty underwear for extended periods of time,” according to the records.

Hospital staff notified Prince George’s and Howard County child protective services of the suspected abuse that day, according to the records.

According to medical forms, Elijah was sent home that day with his father.

Howard County Department of Social Services created a “safety plan” for Elijah Nov. 4, the day after Kozlov’s suspected child abuse report was made.

Joaquinia was ordered to make a plan for Elijah to be placed with his father, pending further investigation, the plan said. The plan also required that a man who was previously identified as an alleged abuser of Elijah was to have no contact with Elijah or his older sister.

On Dec. 15, 2010, Laura Brogno, a worker from the Howard County Department of Social Service, issued another report saying findings indicated abuse against Elijah but were unsubstantiated for neglect.

“The person identified as responsible will be offered the opportunity to appeal in a subsequent letter,” according to the document.

It is unclear when Elijah resumed residence at his mother’s home in Columbia. From there, on April 13, Elijah was rushed to the hospital, where he was declared dead.

His funeral was held April 19 at the Vaughn C. Green Funeral Home in Randallstown. In the program, a poem was published that Joaquinia had written.

“The world would be so empty if you were never here,” she wrote, “if I didn’t have your caring heart, if I didn’t have you near. And now you sit there side by side with your Father up above. You’re safe and free my precious child. We’ll remember you with love.”

Jim Peinkofer August 12, 2011 at 02:09 PM
If you look carefully at the full view photo, you can see marks all over his face and forehead. He also has a tear in his right eye - like he had just been crying and stopped when he was going to have his picture taken. Sad case. James Peinkofer, LCSW Peinkofer Associates childabuseconsulting.com
donald wong September 17, 2011 at 10:23 PM
I there reader......i am very sad too hear this story, especially being the Joaquina's ex-boyfriend and having to find this out from a friend after the fact. When I knew her she didn't seem like the person that would let anyone get away with something like this. But i guess people change over the years. It really pisses me off though, she was a dance instructor for little kids, who's PARENTS trusted HER with their kids. Makes you really wonder if someone is a closet case or is just blinded by excuses they don't realize who they hurt. Yes, my children makes me uppset on a daily bases, but I WILL NEVER goes as far as killing them, or putting a mark on them in any way shape or form. If anyone comes across this comment i just want them too realize "You can never judge a book by it's cover."
Cedric Cedy Ced Lyons January 09, 2012 at 10:21 PM
1) that's not tears that's food, 2) he was with his father when he took that picture adn 3) he got nicks and bruises with his dad also. He's a kid, it happens. There's no way She hurt those kids. No proof what's so ever. They either got the wrong person or trying to put the blame on somebody since they failed to do thier job. it's a darn shame.

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