August 30, 2014

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Various agencies were involved before 18-month-old’s death

VERMILION — The list of agencies involved with the Brothers-Bartholomew family continues to grow, and three of the children were provided services by Vermilion Schools, although Superintendent Phil Pempin said the children were not attending regular classes.

The family is at the center of an Erie County Sheriff’s investigation after an initial autopsy of Adrienne Bartholomew and James Brothers’ 18-month-old son revealed that the child was malnourished, dehydrated and had two collapsed lungs and a brain bleed. The couple told police that their son, Isaac Brothers-Bartholomew, had various medical issues, but police say evidence shows that those claims may not be true.

Erie County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jared Oliver said Isaac’s autopsy showed no signs of a continuing medical ailment and the boy had not been diagnosed with an illness, nor had he seen a doctor in eight months.

Oliver said the Sheriff’s Office is still waiting for a complete autopsy to be done and for medical records of the couple’s six other children, four of whom they said also had medical issues.

No charges have been filed.

The family has been involved with two Children Services agencies — Erie County and Cuyahoga County — since at least 2005, but Erie County Children Services spokeswoman Karen Balconi Ghezzi said the agency hasn’t been involved with the family since 2009, when the court granted custody of the children back to Brothers and Bartholomew.

The agency was involved after reports that the family was avoiding medical appointments for the children, and protective custody was given to Children Services in 2007.

According to Pempin, three of the children had been receiving services from the school district, although they weren’t enrolled in regular classes. Oliver said the children’s parents told police that the children were all homeschooled.

Pempin said the Vermilion school district’s guidance counselor and Special Education Department worked with the three children through the Help Me Grow program provided by the Erie County Board of Developmental Disabilities.

Help Me Grow is offered through the Ohio Department of Health and offers assistance for expectant parents, newborns, infants and toddlers with developmental services designed to prepare children to start school, according to Erie County Board of Developmental Disabilities’ website.

Carrie Beier, director of Early Childhood Services at the Erie County Board of Developmental Disabilities, declined to comment because of the ongoing investigation.

Oliver said the last reported home visit by Help Me Grow was in June.

Pempin said the family also was involved with the Erie-Huron County Community Action Commission, which provides Head Start services as well as assistance with emergency food and utility bills.

Pempin did not specify just how the school district was involved with the family and he would not comment on whether staff members noticed abuse or neglect because of confidentiality concerns.

According to the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, four of the couple’s children were hospitalized after police discovered those children were malnourished as well. All of the children are now in the custody of Erie County Children Services.

Oliver said a grandmother, Deborah Nelson, was a home health care nurse for the children. That is under investigation as well, he said.

The family’s attorney, Denise Demmitt, said because police have not officially charged her clients, “it’s too early to speculate” on the allegations made by police. She said she is waiting for police to charge her clients before any action is taken.

She released a written statement Wednesday to The Chronicle-Telegram.

“The family has been cooperative with investigators since the onset of the loss of their child. The family is grieving in private, and they ask that they be given time and space to do so in peace. My clients’ only focus beyond their all-consuming grief is reuniting with their children at the earliest possible moment,” Demmett said in the statement. “My clients, whom love their children deeply and have devoted their lives to their care, have every reason to believe the truth of this matter will clear them of any wrongdoing.”

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com.