Mom told police she and common-law husband had sex while son was dying

Thursday, March 25, 2021
HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The mother of an 8-year-old boy found dead inside a hotel with "horrendous" injuries told police she and her common-law husband had sex while her son was dying.

Harris County court records revealed the new details just hours after the child's maternal grandparents told ABC13 his mother concealed him from them before his death.

Tuesday night, police and firefighters responded to a possible drowning call at the Quality Inn and Suites off the West Beltway around 11 p.m. However, investigators said it was obvious there was more to it. Police said Keyontae Holzendorf was found unresponsive with both new and old injuries, including patches of missing skin and deep ligature marks.

Sheryl Holzendorf, Keyontae's grandmother, traveled to Houston following the news of the boy's death.

WATCH: Family of 8-year-old killed: 'We just want to know why'
Family of 8-year-old killed: 'We just want to know why'

"It's just shocking that this could happen to us," Sheryl said. "None of us knew what was going on because [Keyontae's mother] was so short on the phone, and every time that we would talk to her and Keyontae, she would have his face covered or we couldn't see his face at all. We could just hear him in the background, so we had no idea this was going on."

Sheryl said she and her family did not know Keyontae and his mother, 24-year-old Kayla Holzendorf, were staying at a hotel with her common-law husband, 28-year-old Dominique Lewis. Both Kayla and Lewis appeared before a judge on Thursday facing charges of injury to a child and tampering with evidence. Those charges could later be upgraded following the child's death.

WATCH: 8-year-old boy's parents charged in connection with his death
8-year-old's parents held on charges related to his death

"One of the charges that each defendant is charged with right now [is] tampering with evidence related to a pair of handcuffs that were initially seen by the first responders," the chief prosecutor said in court. "Once the formal search of the apartment was conducted, those handcuffs were found inside, stuffed underneath the mattress, and [Kayla] admitted that they moved those. So, we believe those handcuffs may be associated with those ligature marks on the ankles."

According to court records, the couple told investigators they "don't know what happened" to Keyontae. Police wrote they observed new and old injuries on his body the night he died and the details are graphic. They include burn patches on his chest and body, burns to the shaft of his penis, bruising to the left side of his forehead, a laceration to the left ear, small puncture wounds to different places and ligature marks on his ankles and wrists.

Kayla told investigators Tuesday night they sent Keyonate to the hotel room bathroom to take a bath while she and Lewis had sex. Afterwards, when they checked on him, they found him unresponsive in the bathtub.

Sheryl said Kayla called her after the incident. She said the minute she heard the news, she and her family packed up and traveled to Houston. This included Sheryl, Kayla's father, Timothy Holzendorf, her stepmother, Ericka Holzendorf, and their children. They traveled from Florida and Georgia.

"I want everybody to know that Keyontae had a family," said Ericka. "We love him. He wasn't by himself, and he's not alone, and we're here to find out what happened ... we're here until we get justice."

The family has since set up a GoFundMe account to help give Keyontae a proper burial.
Kayla is scheduled to appear in Harris County District Court on Friday morning.

Meanwhile, Keyontae's death has since shed light on a much larger, more grim picture of child abuse in the Houston-area.

According to Child Protective Services, between Jan. 1 and March 25, there have been 1,715 confirmed victims of child abuse or neglect in Harris County. That's compared to 1,496 victims reported this time last year.

In 2020, a total of 48 child deaths in Harris County were related to abuse or neglect.

The Harris County Medical Examiner's Office says in the first three months of 2020, there were 11 reported child deaths ruled homicides, most of which included Black or Hispanic children.

In 2021, so far, the county is seeing the same amount of children murdered (11) so far. This includes domestic violence and other violent crimes.

Chau Nguyen, Chief Public Strategies Officer for the Houston Area Women's Center, said their domestic violence and abuse hotline has received more than 6,000 calls in just the first two months of this year.

"We feel like this is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to child abuse cases," Nguyen said. "We are very worried."

Eyewitness News also learned a witness called police three weeks prior to Keyontae's death suspecting abuse after seeing the boy selling muffins in a food store parking lot with scratches and bruises. Police said Kayla and Lewis claimed the injuries were from a bike accident.

READ MORE: Houston police had contact with 8-year-old boy 3 weeks before his death
HPD had contact with 8-year-old 3 weeks before his death

Nguyen said the witness did the right thing by calling police and reporting what she saw. Police said Keyontae was not in school at the time.

"We know that kids have been staying home. They've disappeared from the school system," Nguyen said. "Oftentimes, teachers and counselors are the frontline reporters of child abuse and child sexual abuse, so what we are very concerned about as kids go back to school, we might be seeing more cases and reports of child abuse."

Sarah Hernandez with the Children's Assessment Center said April is Child Abuse Awareness Month and the center will have training and resources available for family or community members who want to be the voice for child victims and learn the red flags or signs of abuse.

"See something, say something," Hernandez said. "It is all of our responsibility as adults to stand up and protect the children that are in our community, and the impact you can make in a child's life by reporting any suspected abuse could change the trajectory of their life."

Hernandez said statewide, 175 children experience a form of abuse every day.

Thursday afternoon, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Houston) made an example of Keyontae during a news conference touting her Violence Against Women Act, which still needs Senate approval.

"If we learn any lesson, it's to watch out for the children," Jackson-Lee said.

Here are several ways to report child abuse:

  • You can also report it to law enforcement by calling 911.

DFPS prevention hotlines and websites:

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