'My baby was murdered': Mother heartbroken over 1-year-old's death in foster care
CARVILLE - The foster parents of a toddler who was killed while under their care are behind bars with their bonds set at $500,000 each, and now the little girl's biological mother says the state has blood on its hands.
Jakayla Sonnier said she will live a lifetime of regret for not asking for help with her children. In June, she said someone called the State Department of Children and Family Services on her after her kids kept going outside while she was at work.
Sonnier said she works a late evening and overnight shift and left her 10-year-old in charge of watching her little kids.
"If I didn't work and didn't pay bills, I'd be homeless," Sonnier said. "They probably would have gotten taken anyway from that."
Following a visit in June, Sonnier said the state made routine unannounced visits and removed the kids in July when she kept going to work.
"They made me sign a paper and came and took all of their clothes," Sonnier said.
Three of her older kids were placed in the custody of their father, and her three younger children were placed in state custody. Her twins ended up in St. Gabriel with Ruben and Teresita Morgan.
Although Sonnier's children were not in her care, she was able to contact them. Sonnier said she video called her children every day.
The St. Gabriel Police Department said the Morgans began to foster the two toddler-age twin girls at the end of July. The Morgans were the only ones caring for the child in the two weeks before the incident.
Deputies said the foster parents brought one of the children, Royalty Sonnier, to Our Lady of the Lake Children's Hospital in Baton Rouge with head trauma Sept. 12. The child was pronounced brain dead and taken off life support one week later.
Jakayla Sonnier was notified when Royalty was admitted into the hospital and said she traveled from Lake Charles to Baton Rouge every day to see her daughter.
According to arrest documents, the foster couple gave "multiple inconsistent stories" when explaining what happened to the toddler.
The foster mother later said the child fell at least four times the day she was brought to the hospital. The parents described one incident where the 1-year-old had fallen out of a nearly two-and-a-half-foot stool inside an AT&T store. Deputies reviewed surveillance video from the store but said the child landed on her bottom and did not appear to be "crying or bothered." Ruben Morgan was then seen placing her back on the stool after the fall.
Later that same day, the parents said Royalty hit her head as she was placed in the bathtub. After that, she went limp and hit her head again on the back of the tub. Teresita Morgan told investigators she believed the child was having a seizure and admitted to repeatedly shaking, slapping and hitting the child in an attempt to "revive her." Arrest records said the foster mother also described "slamming" the child onto the kitchen counter and trying to administer CPR, after which the child reportedly vomited.
"The kid fell off a stool... inconsistent with the injuries," St. Gabriel Police Chief Kevin Ambeau said. "She said the kid fell off the sofa... inconsistent with the injuries. She banged the head against the tub... inconsistent with the injuries."
The documents go on to say the woman continued to slap and shake the baby on the entire ride to the hospital. While speaking with officers, she also claimed Royalty fell off the couch during a temper tantrum that same day, busting her mouth, which she had not previously mentioned to investigators or medical staff.
Daycare workers, who were familiar with the twins, told deputies the infants were "relatively lazy" and "never had incidents of 'falling out' or throwing themselves on the floor."
St. Tammany Parish Coroner's Office performed an autopsy on the girl Monday and ruled the death a homicide. The coroner said she died of swelling to the brain, caused by "shaking or rotational injury with impact."
Both Teresita and Ruben Morgan were booked into jail for second-degree murder.
"My baby was murdered," Sonnier said. "I watched her deteriorate in front of my eyes until they took the machines off of her."
The Department of Children and Family Services released the following statement:
We are heartbroken to hear of the allegations of abuse of one of our foster children. We work with hundreds of foster parents every day who do an amazing job to keep children safe and protected. It’s rare to receive allegations of abuse against foster parents.
We are working closely with law enforcement in conducting an investigation into this death. As part of the process, we are reviewing all records regarding the care of the child victim.
The requirements to become a foster parent include, but are not limited to: training, completion of a home study, criminal background clearances, child abuse and neglect background clearances, reference checks, etc.
The Morgans are in Iberville Parish Prison on charges of second-degree murder.