Police found the body of 2-year-old Zahree Thomas in the family's Camden rowhouse early Wednesday. His head was in the freezer. His mother, Chevonne Thomas, stabbed herself in the neck minutes after placing a rambling, sometimes incoherent call to 911. Thomas told a dispatcher that she had stabbed her son.
Thomas lost custody of the boy in 2010 after admitting to police that she smoked marijuana laced with the hallucinogenic drug PCP, blacked out and left Zahree alone in a car. She regained custody in April 2010 under an order signed by Judge Angelo DiCamillo of Camden County Superior Court's Family division, according to Tamara Kendig, a court spokeswoman.
Kendig said all standard procedures for placing a child in a home, including substance abuse, mental health and parenting skill evaluations were carried out in Thomas's case.
Jason Laughlin, a spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, said it will take weeks for toxicology tests to come back. But there were indications that Thomas might have still been using drugs, Laughlin said.
Thomas told 911 dispatchers she was on the anti-depressant Prozac but didn't take it that day.
"I didn't take it today, but I should have. I should have," she said.
The case raises questions about New Jersey's Department of Children and Family Services, which has been under federal oversight for more than a decade. Agency spokeswoman Kristine Brown said it's still investigating the circumstances of Zahree and Chevonne Thomas' deaths.
The department said Wednesday it had an open case on the Thomases and its "staff visited with the family regularly, and was in communication with all service providers." The state said it provided the family with substance abuse testing, reunification services, counseling and other services.
The case comes a month after a report from a federal court monitor showed that social worker caseloads at the Department of Children and Families were starting to rise and only 55 percent of children put in foster care placement had two documented visits by caseworkers each month, the number mandated by the federal settlement.
"The Monitor continues to be very concerned by this low performance given the importance of visitation by caseworkers during the first few months of placement to assess children and families' needs and to ensure stability," the report states.
The state Legislature cut $11.5 million from the 2013 DCF budget.
Mary Coogan, the assistant director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, a nonprofit children's organization, said it will try to get more detail on the Thomas case.
"How often were people actually out to this home?" Ms. Coogan asked. "We hope the department really looks at a case like this in detail and really has a public conversation about it."
TRANSCRIPT FROM 911 CALL
Chevonne Thomas: Hell no, hell no, hell no. Keep thinking that. Keep thinking that.
Dispatcher: 911 where's your emergency.
Thomas: Yes, somebody just stabbed my baby. Please get here.
Dispatcher: They just did what?
Thomas: Stabbed my baby Dispatcher: Do they know who it was, ma'am?
Thomas: Yes, it's my ex, it's my boyfriend. My current boyfriend.
Dispatcher: What's your address?
Thomas: 1415 Kaighn. You know what? (dispatcher comments indecipherable) I did it. I'm lying. I'm lying. I'm lying. I'm lying. I did it.
Dispatcher: Do you need an ambulance, ma'am?
Thomas: No. I mean, no. He don't need, no.
Dispatcher: What's your name?
Thomas: Chevonne Thomas. Chevonne Thomas.
Dispatcher: Chevonne, you said your baby was stabbed. Is this your son? How old is he?
Thomas: Yes, yes, yes, yes. My son is 2. He is 2.
Dispatcher: He was the one that was stabbed?
Dispatcher: He was stabbed with what?
Thomas: A knife.
Dispatcher: Is he bleeding? Where is he bleeding? Is he bleeding from anywhere?
Thomas: No. I mean he is, but not much.
Dispatcher: From where.
Thomas: Not much.
Dispatcher: Chevonne, where is he bleeding from?
Thomas: Not much. He's not bleeding that much. Not bleeding that much.
Dispatcher: Where's your boyfriend at?
Thomas: I think ... I knew it. I knew it.
Dispatcher: Chevonne, Where's he at?
Thomas: My boyfriend is, he's gonna come in the back door. He's gonna come in the back door.
Dispatcher: Who did it? Your boyfriend stabbed him?
Dispatcher: Who else is in the house?
Thomas: I knew it. Nobody. Nobody at all. Nobody. Nobody at all.
Dispatcher: And your boyfriend is outside?
Thomas: Yep. Yep.
Dispatcher: You guys were fighting?
Thomas: Yep. Yep.
Dispatcher: Aright, we're going to send officers out there, OK?
Thomas: Yep, yep. Yep.
Dispatcher: You're at 1415 Kaighn Avenue, right?
Thomas: Yep, yep, yep.
Dispatcher: All right, we're going to send somebody out there.
Thomas: You better, wait, wait. You know what? I don't even want to play this. I did it. OK? I did it. I did it. I did it.
Dispatcher: Stay on the phone, OK?
Thomas: I keep trying to make it, I'm about to, no, I have to find some money, I got to. I got to try to find some money. I got to, I got to, I got to. I don't care.
Dispatcher: Chevonne, what's the problem?
Thomas: I knew it. I knew it. I knew it.
Dispatcher: You knew what?
Thomas: I knew it. I know. I knew it, I knew it.
Dispatcher: You knew what, Chevonne? What did you know? You need the police?
Thomas: Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, uh-UH, uh-UH. Nope. Nope.
Dispatcher: Do you need the police?
Thomas: Nope. mm-MM. mm-MM. I don't need nothing.
Dispatcher: Do you need the police?
Thomas: Nope. Um-um. I don't need nothing. I don't need nothing.
Dispatcher: How old are you, Chevonne?
Thomas: I don't need nothing. I'm 33.
Thomas: 33 years old.
Dispatcher: Where do you live at?
Thomas: 1058. 1058.
Dispatcher: 1058 what?
Thomas: 10. 10.
Dispatcher: 1058 what? Chevonne? Who lives at 1415 Kaighn?
Thomas: Nobody. Not me. My boyfriend is right here. He's right.
Dispatcher: Can I speak to him?
Thomas: (indecipherable) Dispatcher: Do you take medicine?
Thomas: I used to.
Dispatcher: What kind did you take?
Dispatcher: Prozac. OK, you don't take it anymore?
Thomas: Nope. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, I do.
Dispatcher: Do you still take it?
Thomas: I still take it.
Dispatcher: Did you take it today?
Thomas: I still take it. I still take it. No. no, no. I did, no. I didn't take it today, but I should have. I should have. I should have took it today.
Dispatcher: Ok, where are you? She didn't take her Prozac today.
Thomas: I did. I did. I did. Keep playing.
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