"I thought one day he’d come home. But I never thought something like this."
The biological mother of a 10-year-old boy who was drowned by his adoptive father believes that the system failed her son.
Jatoya Ruff had her son, Kentae Williams, when she was 14, a point in her life when she admitted to having her own behavioral issues and an unstable home life. Ruff said the 10-year-old's grandmother temporarily had custody of him, but courts allegedly ruled that she didn't have a safe home for Williams, who was diagnosed with Autism. When Williams was only 3 years old, he was taken from his mother by the Department of Family and Child Services.
Ruff said she never wanted to stop fighting: "I wanted him to come home," she told only 11Alive's Faith Abubey. "I just thought he'd be safe in DFCS until I get myself together."
For three years, Ruff tried to regain custody of her son and would frequently visit him while he was in foster care. She even had a relative attempt to adopt Williams but was unsuccessful. It was ultimately Leon Williams, the man accused of drowning Kentae, who adopted him in November.
According to the godmother, April Umstead, Leon doted on his newly-adopted son and was proud to be a dad, which made it hard to even more diffucult to understand why he allegedly told the 10-year-old boy that he was "going to die tonight" before burning Kentae's feet with hot water before holding him under water.
"He was proud of him and proud when Kentae called him dad. He was loved," Umstead told 11Alive. "We all loved him and accepted him and welcomed him."
Ruff and her mother said they were watching the news when they found out about Kentae's violent death. They said the 10-year-old boy would have still been alive had a juvenile court judge allowed him to stay with his family.
"I think the system failed us," Ruff's mother Antoinette said. "I understand people have dysfunction in their family, but she could have let him come home. He wasn't deprived."
However, state Rep. Erica Thomas said it wasn't necessarily that the system failed, rather the system just needs more support.
"We don't exactly know here the failure was, right now," Thomas said. She was part of a legislative committee that met Tuesday in support of Kentae's case, one that said it's committed to fighting for changes and improvements to the DFCS system.
"We don't know right now if there was a failure in the vetting process, and if it was, is it because there wasn't enough money to put a caseworker here? Or did they need resources to put this here," Thomas said. "I want to know if that was the case or did someone fail inside of the system."
Right now, the coalition plans to introduce legislative bills to address changes with DFCS, the court system and offer mental health support for foster and adoptive families.
Meanwhile, Kentae's family is continuing to mourn his loss and remember him as a wonderful little boy.
"Kentae was a fighter, a victor. He had challenges and required a little more patience and skill to support," Umpstead said. "He was a good kid and we loved him. Kentae was happy to have a family, a large family; community of people. Pool parties, cupcakes, puppies, little brothers, hot dogs, sushi and new shoes. He was so glad and he let us know it."
Leon Williams remains in jail without bond. He was also suspended without pay from his state job with the Department of Administrative Affairs.
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