CPS looked at 7-year-old's injuries twice in months before his death, 13 Investigates finds

Brooke Taylor Image
Wednesday, December 14, 2022
CPS looked at 7-year-old's injuries twice in months before his death
Did CPS investigators fail to keep a 7-year-old alive? 13 Investigates dug into documentation that suggests signs of abuse were looked at but nothing was really acted on.

SPRING, Texas (KTRK) -- New records from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services reveal they investigated abuse allegations toward a 7-year-old boy, twice, months before he was found dead in a washing machine at his home in Spring.

Despite possible signs of abuse and a caseworker saying the boy's explanations didn't match up to the injuries, DFPS findings deemed him safe and at low to moderate risk.

Troy Khoeler, 7, was found in a washing machine in July after his adoptive parents reported him missing. The medical examiner said he suffered from being beaten, suffocated, and possibly drowned.

His adoptive parents, Jemaine and Tiffany Thomas, were charged in connection with his murder. According to prosecutors, text messages describe how the adoptive father said he was going to kill the boy for stealing his snacks.

ABC13 obtained records after DFPS closed its investigation, and the findings show how the boy's death could have been avoided.

In 2015, records state the biological mother and the child tested positive for opiates and benzodiazepines at birth. The child had withdrawal symptoms, and the mother admitted to abusing pills that were not prescribed to her, according to the records. DFPS found that the biological mother abused her child, who was then removed and placed in a foster home before he was adopted in 2019.

In 2022, two separate investigations took place after a teacher reported concerns because of bruises on Troy's face. The first investigation took place in January. According to records, the child said his cousin hit him with a toy. But the report said, "The child's explanation of getting hit with the toy does not seem consistent with the injuries to both his eyes." The report also states the child flinches, but it was not known if he flinches because of current abuse or his history of abuse by foster parents. The child also could not recall how he sustained a burn on his back.

Reports from the investigation went on to say, "The child disclosed that he was jumping on the bed and fell on the floor when questioned about his facial bruising. He also described he tripped on a toy and hit his eye when he fell while on a sleep-over with a relative. The father said the child was playing football with his cousin and was elbowed in the eye."

The child was assessed by medical staff and it was determined that the injuries "may result from abuse or neglect but accidental/natural explanations are possible."

The findings from the January investigation show the case was closed, and he was determined as safe with a low-risk assessment.

Nearly two months later in March, DFPS was notified again after concerns from a school nurse and teacher. The report said, "He had a red mark on his eye that covers half of the eyelid and there is some darker bruising near the hairline area. He has a fingerprint on his neck near the Adam's apple, and a scratch on the lower cheek area below his ear."

According to the report, the child gave different stories of what happened. He said he fell on concrete, fell on the carpet, and then said he fell on the grass. He also mentioned his cousin punched him. The child was described as hyper, antsy, and skittish when approached. He also mentioned his father tried to break his Chromebook and requested it not be sent home.

The father claimed the child was playing football and wrestling with cousins when he may have been hit on the eye by his cousin. According to the findings from the March investigation, DFPS could not confirm the allegations that the child was abused. The case was closed and he was marked as safe with a moderate-risk assessment.

Four months later, Troy was found dead in a washing machine and his adoptive parents are behind bars.

Karleana Farias, an attorney with years of DFPS experience, said her biggest concern is the vetting process behind the adoptive parents.

"This child was under the eye, and I would hope watchful eye, of a wide variety of individuals. The courts, caseworkers. The process of adoption is a complicated process that requires a lot of different people to look into the best interest of the children," Farias said.

She added that the timeline in which he was adopted, close to the pandemic, may have been a factor in whether the adoptive parents were properly monitored.

"Between 2019, the pandemic year, then this child ends up dead in 2022, what happened in that interim?" Farias asked. "Where was the process of adoption? Had it really been completed? Adoption can sometimes take nine months, 12 months, or even longer, especially in the pandemic year. So, whose eyes were looking at this?

ABC13 asked DFPS for an in-person interview and was told they would not be doing interviews, and the report contains everything they are able to release.

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