Prosecutor: School address on abused kids outdated

AP News
Posted: Nov 12, 2014 7:38 PM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The staff at a Philadelphia-area elementary school visited an outdated address while checking on the long-absent brother of a 3-year-old boy who was later beaten to death, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

Chester County prosecutor Michael Noone told The Associated Press the school's files were not updated after the family moved to a mobile home in mid-October, weeks before Scott McMillan's Nov. 4 death. Prosecutors say both boys were being abused at home before Scott was beaten to death.

Coatesville Area Superintendent Cathy Taschner said a district review found staff followed protocols during the kindergartener's two-week absence and made multiple, unsuccessful attempts to contact his parents by telephone, in writing and by visiting an address on file.

The district said it relies entirely on parents and guardians to provide up-to-date contact information and, without being informed, had no way of knowing the kindergartener had moved.

"All a public district can do is work with the information a parent gives them," district spokeswoman Beth Trapani said Wednesday. "There was really no reason to believe that wasn't the correct address, and there's no way of tracking down a new one that early in the absence, nor is it within their capacity or responsibility."

Taschner ordered a review of the district's handling of the kindergartener's absence after prosecutors said it coincided with a period of repeated abuse that culminated in Scott's Nov. 4 death.

The boys' mother and her new boyfriend regularly punched and spanked them, turning their new home in a West Caln Township trailer park into a torture chamber, prosecutors said.

A week in, Jillian Tait and Gary Fellenbaum hung the boys upside down and whipped them, prosecutors said. The day Scott died, prosecutors said, they made the 6-year-old kindergartener punch the younger boy for "discipline."

Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan called the case "an American horror story."

Tait, 31, and Fellenbaum, 33, are jailed without bail on murder and abuse charges. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Friday. The 6-year-old was placed in the custody of relatives.

Trapani said school staff never saw evidence of abuse before the kindergartener's absence and that the district remained confident it did not miss any warning signs.

"Had anyone seen bruises, et cetera, on the kindergartener they would have alerted authorities," Trapani said. "Since most of the abuse is said to have occurred during the two-week period in which he was absent, there really was no 'red flag' that his absence meant he was being kept home because he was being abused or because the family was in turmoil."