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'Unsubstantiated': DCS investigated at least five abuse complaints against Nakota Kelly's father

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Posted at 7:37 AM, Jul 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-21 12:20:39-04

This is part two of the story of a heartbroken mother who holds out hope that her son’s body will one day be discovered. The boy’s father, Anthony Dibiah, has been charged with murder.

Read the other parts of Nakota's story here: Part 1 | Part 3

WABASH —Dinosaurs, robots and baseballs fill Nakota Kelly’s bedroom.

There's a lot to do with baseball in this apartment. Baseball cards, mitts, cleats, jerseys alongside and in between the other things that mean so much to a 10-year-old boy.

Batman pillowcase and Monster truck-print blanket on the bed that hasn't been slept in for more than a year. Stuffed animals and toys fill the corners. By a window stands a three-foot Transformers robot, its head covered by a cowboy hat.

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Hayley Kelly stands near her son Nakota Kelly's bed,

But Nakota loved baseball. And baseball was the reason Anthony Dibiah was furious with his son’s mother on that Friday in July 2020 when she dropped Nakota off a couple hours late for his weekend visit.

Nakota wanted to play in his Little League game in his a hometown of Wabash. It was his last game of the season and he had missed so many games on weekends he went to his father’s home in Indianapolis. He was tired of letting his teammates down.

“Well then,” Hayley Kelly recalled telling her son, “we'll go to your game. Your dad's just gonna chill out.”

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Hayley Kelly took this photo of her son Nakota at the Wabash County Fair days before the boy was allegedly killed by his father.

But Dibiah was not a man known for chilling out. Rather, Kelly said, he'd often take his anger out on his son during court-ordered weekend visits.

Dibiah was granted those visits in 2016, months after he finished serving a 34-month sentence in federal prison for identity theft and other crimes related to illegally entering and living in the U.S. under a false identity.

And on those visits, Kelly said Dibiah abused or neglected Nakota at least five times.

Kelly provided records to WRTV that show the Department of Child Services investigated abuse or neglect allegations against Dibiah four times. Nothing ever changed. All complaints were unsubstantiated and a judge ordered Nakota's unsupervised weekend visits with his father to continue, records show.

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Nakota Kelly

“They had all the evidence they needed to just to listen and protect my son, and they did not. They didn't do it,” Kelly said.

“I felt like they could have done more investigating.”

Nakota was the subject of a bitter custody dispute between his mother and father dating back to 2016, records show.

Documents Kelly provided to WRTV show she filed four complaints to the Department of Child Services alleging that Dibiah had abused or neglected Nakota during weekend visits between 2016 and 2018.

Records show she urged the Wabash Circuit Court and DCS caseworkers to protect her son from his father. Records show she asked a judge to require that Dibiah’s visits with Nakota be supervised.

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Anthony Dibiah with Jazmyn Kelly, left, and his son, Nakota Kelly.

In each case, records show DCS caseworkers failed to find enough evidence to show that Nakota's father had actually abused or neglected him. Without substantiated evidence of abuse, the judge continued to allow Dibiah to maintain custody of his son every other weekend.

Hard to prove

The allegations against Dibiah ranged from yelling and hitting to pulling the boy down stairs. Each allegation was investigated thoroughly.

The first time Kelly complained was after Nakota's first overnight visit with his father in January 2017 when Dibiah gave Nakota, then 6, a double-dose of ADHD medication. Kelly said her son was acting strange when he came home and she took him to the hospital. Dibiah told a caseworker it was a mistake. The caseworker found the neglect allegation unsubstantiated.

Kelly provided records for three more complaints:

  • In February 2017, Kelly told DCS the Dibiah had pulled Nakota down some stairs, leaving a bruise.
  • In November 2017, she reported that Dibiah had struck Nakota in the face and knocked the boy backward over a couch.
  • In June 2018, she told DCS that Nakota was present when Dibiah threatened to beat her.

Kelly said she filed a fifth complaint in May 2020, but she never received the paperwork from DCS.

In every DCS report, Dibiah denied abusing or neglecting Nakota. Caseworkers noted the boy had a slight bruise on one occasion, but there were no belt-shaped bruises, no broken bones, and no medical reports that found injuries caused by abuse.

In interviews with caseworkers, Dibiah claimed Kelly was the problem. He told one caseworker in 2017 that Kelly “tries to say he is abusive to Nakota to try and get parenting time changed.” He told them he had a lawyer and was fighting the boy’s mother in court.

Each allegation was unsubstantiated and each case was closed, records show.

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Hayley Kelly reported abuse to the Department of Child Services, but the allegations were unsubstantiated.

A spokeswoman for DCS said state law bars the agency from commenting on any specific case and declined to say anything at all about Nakota Kelly.

Experts who work in agencies that support Indiana’s child welfare system told WRTV it takes clear evidence to substantiate that a child has been physically abused. Finding such evidence, they say, can be difficult.

“There are some cases where it's obvious, you know, broken bone or head injury… or you have somebody at the hospital saying this is not something that happened by the child just falling down,” said Sandy Runkle, director of programs at Prevent Child Abuse Indiana.

In Nakota’s case, records show DCS caseworkers never found a “preponderance of evidence” needed to prove abuse.

“There were clear indications that this child was in jeopardy,” said Robert Turner, Kelly’s attorney.

“The child felt it and the mother felt it. The DCS, or somebody representing her interests, should have made an effort to delay or deny visitation until the court could assess the danger.”

Turner said he plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit against DCS on Kelly’s behalf. In December, Turner sent a tort claim notice to state officials, which is the first step in suing a public agency in Indiana.

The last visit

Nakota played on a Little League team in Wabash. Games were on Fridays and weekends and were a source of friction between his parents.

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Nakota Kelly

Dibiah lived nearly 100 miles away from Wabash. Kelly said he never attended his son’s ball games. The parents would meet in Kokomo to handoff Nakota for his weekends with his father.

On July 18, the start of Nakota’s final visit with his dad, he wanted to play in his last game of the season. His mom let him, even though they both knew it would mean he'd be a couple of hours late for his weekend with his father.

Dibiah was angry. He vowed to take Kelly to court, Kelly said.

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Text messages exchanged between Anthony Dibiah (gray boxes) and Hayley Kelly on July 17, 2020.

That night, handing her son over to his father, was the last time she saw Nakota. The next evening, prosecutors say, Dibiah smothered the boy in a west-side Indianapolis apartment and did something to the child’s remains that left behind blood and brain matter.

Dibiah fled his Indianapolis apartment and disposed of Nakota's remains somewhere between Indiana and Missouri. Police have not found Nakota's body.

Dibiah and his attorney have declined WRTV's request for an interview.

Wabash Little League coach Alan Zimmerman said Nakota had the potential to be a very good ballplayer, but he missed too many games because he was off on weekends in Indianapolis with his father.

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Hayley Kelly's hand brushes over her son's Little League helmet. Prosecutors say Nakota Kelly, 10, was killed in July 2020, by his father.

“He wanted to be a professional baseball player to buy his mother a house, and to support his mother,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman said Nakota was a reliable base runner and solid pitcher. He gave Nakota the nickname “Fergie,” after Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins.

Nakota told his coach about what he wanted to be when he grew up. His aspirations changed as he aged, but always with an eye on helping others.

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Wabash attorney Alan Zimmerman was Nakota Kelly's Little League coach.

“As the hearings went on and he had to visit with his father, with the allegations of emotional and physical abuse,” Zimmerman said, “he wanted to be an attorney, so other kids wouldn't have to go through this.

“Then he wanted to be a judge. And finally, just before he died, he wanted to be a lawmaker to make sure that no other child would have to go through this.”
Wabash, where Nakota lived with his mom and sister, is a city of just more than 10,000 residents about 45 miles west of Fort Wayne.

There’s no grave, no headstone, but Nakota’s image is etched on a plaque at the baseball field where he used to play.

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Plaque honoring Nakota Kelly at the Wabash Little League field.

It’s a sign, Zimmerman said, of how much the boy meant to his teammates and how this community will mourn his loss for a long time.

“For those that were close to Nakota, there’s no body; there’s no funeral,” Zimmerman said. “The grieving goes on.”

Part 3 | The last visit: Nakota Kelly's short life ends in violence at his father's home

Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at victor.ryckaert@wrtv.com or on Twitter: @vicryc.