Mother Sought Help for Autism Before Murder of Her Daughter

Mother Sought Help for Autism Before Murder of Her Daughter August 4, 2018
Picture Courtesy of GoFundMe


Yesterday I shared a story about the horrific murder of a 4-year-old girl at the hands of her mother. The mother, Shakayla Denson, dragged the non-verbal, autistic four-year-old to the river and let go of her. Je’Hyrah Daniels was recovered by divers shortly after witnesses notified police. Police arrested the mother within a mile of the crime.

Yesterday the Tampa Bay Times provided new information about the CPS investigation filed against the mother. Six weeks ago a child protection officer fielded a report from a concerned citizen regarding the care of Je’Hyrah Daniels. The caller told the officer that Denson appeared “overwhelmed and tired” from caring for the child.

The Tampa Bay Times Shared:

The first report of concerns for Je’Hyrah’s well-being came June 19. The information that child-protective investigators received was that the girl had wandered off while visiting her great-grandmother’s home, and walked to a nearby park, the report stated.

A tipster expressed concern that Denson “is always tired and sleeping,” according to the report.

“The mother is easily distracted and doesn’t show much attention toward Je’Hyrah,” the tipster stated. “She just lets her run around and do what she wants. She doesn’t seem to have the maturity to address the special needs that Je’Hyrah has.”

“It seems like the mother is upset that she has these disabilities and (she) is not the baby she dreamed of having,” a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s child-protective investigator wrote in a record of the initial report.

Despite the report, when investigators met the girl on June 20, she appeared happy and healthy. Denson and her daughter shared a two bedroom, two bath apartment. The apartment had a security system in place to alert Denson for the potential elopement of her daughter.

Denson told investigators her daughter had a preoccupation with water. She kept the alarm on to alert if she tried to wander. Denson also told investigators she had support from family and friends to help with childcare.

When investigators followed up with her sister and friends, none of them expressed any concern about the safety or well-being of Je-Hyrah. Investigators found no visible marks or bruising on the girl to indicate abuse.

Denson told them the child’s diagnosis did change their lives. Her daughter was non-verbal and prone to behavioral issues. However, Je-Hyrah attended behavioral therapy. The family was working on enrolling her in the Florida Autism Center of Excellence (FACE).

In late July, officers followed up with the child’s grandmother. The grandmother reported that Je-Hyrah was doing well. Investigators learned Je-Hyrah attended the Center for Autism and Related Disorders. She was learning to communicate by pointing to pictures. Also, Denson had successfully enrolled her daughter FACE school.

On July 31st the case was officially closed.

Despite the concerns about the initial report, investigators were unable to uncover evidence of neglect or abuse.

As bystanders to the case, it is easy to point fingers at the failure of CPS. However, the investigation appeared to be thorough. Denson told investigators everything they needed to hear. My primary concern in details of the case is the lack of attention to the well-being of the mother.

Anytime a child is diagnosed with a disability; there is a period of adjustment for families. Most parents struggle in the beginning to understand the disability. Many mothers go through a period of grieving as they attempt to make sense of the new reality. For many parents, this period can create extra stress and anxiety.

I went through this last year after my son’s Autism diagnosis. We struggled to understand what this meant for his future. Additionally, the number of therapy sessions experts recommended overwhelmed me. Luckily, I had an excellent support system in place with my husband and family. Even with the support I had, I still struggled to manage the change in our lives. I struggled with severe anxiety, insomnia, and panic attacks.

When my family, friends, and husband noticed me struggling, several recommended I seek professional help. I found a therapist to help me work through my feelings, understand my grief, and problem solved ways to move forward. Through my therapy, I received proper coping strategies. My therapist also was able to accurately diagnose and treat the anxiety and panic disorders I experienced.

Knowing how much therapy and medications helped me, I’m most surprised there is no reference to the mental health of the mother. The initial report indicated said Denson appeared to sleep more than average. They also said she seemed overwhelmed and lacking the maturity to deal with the disabilities of her daughter.

Anytime I hear that someone is sleeping too much, I immediately think of Depression. WebMD states symptoms of depression can be effect sleep patterns, impact energy levels, increase feelings of hopelessness, and increase irritability. Based on the way the caller described Denson, my gut reaction was she suffered from Depression. While I’m not a mental health professional, I deal with depression and anxiety.

My biggest question is why the investigation didn’t provide resources to the mother to address her mental health. Perhaps a recommendation or referral to a psychologist to help her manage the change could have helped Denson.

By no means am I discounting what the mother did to her daughter. The facts are that most parents of children with disabilities don’t resort to violence following the diagnosis of the child. Additionally, most parents that have anxiety or depression don’t kill their children. Disability of any kind is never grounds to harm or kill a child.

However, I do think there was a missed opportunity by CPS to help the mother deal with her mental health issues. Two days after they closed the case against Denson, Je-Hyrah was murdered. There is no coincidence in this scenario. The initial reports given by the concerned caller were likely correct. Unfortunately, CPS didn’t do everything they could to help the family in crisis.

We still don’t know the motive or any details about the mother’s mental health. I’m sure we will learn more information about the case in the coming days.

Stay Tuned.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • What a horrible situation. I don’t know all the details, but what came to mind was that relatives might have been covering for the mother to CPS.

  • My thoughts too

  • John-Hugh Boyd

    Too often, people think of CPS as thieves and thugs out to steal their child while all they are concerned about is the child’s welfare and making sure the child has enough supports. Often, CPS can cut through the insurmountable pile of red tape that can take forever to get that support ( I have a nephew with autism and co-morbid Möbius syndrome). The likelihood that there was a lot of cover-up, by both the parent and her family is high.

  • Those were my thoughts too. They had to have been lying

  • John Gills

    First, there are single mothers doing wonderful parenting albeit with extraordinary efforts.

    However, over and over I hear of similar tragic cases like this and wonder, “Where the hell was the sperm donor?” It seems that the patriarchy protects male irresponsible sexual behavior from any and all consequences.

    On a parallel point, I can only think of one instance when statutory rape was actually prosecuted. How about enforcing equal parental responsibility? Make a baby. Support the baby.

  • Father was involved and paid child support

  • John Gills

    Thank you. That’s good to know. He deserves our support on his loss.

  • Agreed. It is a horrible tragedy