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Baby had DCS history prior to blunt force death, advocacy group says

De’Reya Hill died December 27 on city's east side
Posted at 4:57 PM, Dec 31, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-31 20:01:15-05

INDIANAPOLIS— A push for change and demand for answers is underway after the death of a six-month old baby on the Indianapolis east side.

De’Reya Hill died on December 27 from multiple blunt force injuries, according to the Marion County Coroner’s Office, and the death has been ruled a homicide.

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IMPD officers were dispatched to 1551 Renton Street around 7:30 pm on Friday on a call that a child had stopped breathing, and when they arrived, they found little De’Reya unresponsive.

A makeshift memorial now sits outside of the home with stuffed animals, candles and flowers.

Call 6 Investigates has been digging into what happened and has learned the baby had recently been a part of the state’s child welfare system.

Kristi Cundiff, head of the Indiana Foster and Adoptive Parents Resource and Advocacy Group, said De’Reya Hill had been removed from her parent’s home at one point and had lived with a foster family.

Cundiff wrote emails in September to the Indiana Department of Child Services, Governor’s office and state lawmakers expressing concern about the baby going back to live with her parents in what Cundiff called an “unsafe living environment.”

No one responded to her email, Cundiff said.

Three months later, De’Reya was dead due to multiple blunt force injuries to her body.

"I'm upset that yet again we've lost another child in the state of Indiana that could have been prevented," said Cundiff. “We had people crying out for help to help this child and not to put them back into that environment and nobody listened."

Recent state fatality reports show about 15-20% of children who die from child abuse and neglect in Indiana had a prior substantiated history (of abuse or neglect) with the Indiana Department of Child Services.

"I think that number is a lot higher,” said Cundiff. “We have children dying at alarming rates. It’s very heartbreaking."

Daysha Puckett lives next door to the Renton Street home where De’Reya died and said the baby’s mother brought her other children over on December 27.

"She just came and was frantically at my door that her baby wasn't breathing,” said Puckett. “The baby was unresponsive and changing colors and not moving basically.”

Puckett said the baby’s mother blamed someone else, but RTV6 is not naming who because no one has been charged in connection with the death.

“She kept frantically yelling what did you do to my baby?” said Puckett. “It makes me sick to my stomach, knowing this was happening right next door. It just really scares me how bad this world is getting.”

RTV6 tried to speak with De’Reya’s parents, but no one answered the door.

Kristi Cundiff said the state needs to develop policies that focus less on reunification with the parents, and more on the safety of the children.

“It will haunt me,” said Cundiff. “The writing was on the wall. We are losing children and we will continue to lose children until the Governor takes a strong stand that we aren’t going to tolerate this anymore.”

No arrests have been made in baby De’Reya’s death.

In addition to DCS, the courts also play a vital role in placing children back in the home.

However, Call 6 Investigates can’t get those records because a new law prevents the state from releasing documents about a child death until the criminal case is resolved.

RTV6 reached out to DCS and spokeswoman Noelle Russell told us, “"Unfortunately, Indiana confidentiality laws prohibit us from commenting on DCS involvement (or lack thereof) with a family."

The Governor’s office issued a similar statement when asked to responded by RTV6.

“I have to refer you to DCS’s statement on Indiana confidentiality laws," said spokesperson Rachel Hoffmeyer.