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Parents charged in death of son

Ronnie Paris, 3, died weeks after he was taken from his foster mother and returned to his birth parents in Tampa.

By CURTIS KRUEGER and SAUNDRA AMRHEIN
Published February 2, 2005


TAMPA - Just before Christmas, caseworkers took 3-year-old Ronnie Paris from his foster mother and sent him back to live with his mother and father in Tampa.

The reunion lasted less than six weeks.

Ronnie died Jan. 28, and Tampa police on Tuesday charged his father, Ronnie Bernard Paris, 21, with murder and aggravated child abuse, saying he beat his son to death. The boy's mother, Nysheerah Paris, 20, also was arrested on charges of child neglect and failing to obtain medical attention for her son.

She told police she saw her husband "pick up the victim and slam the back of his head against the wall" on Jan. 21, records state.

Faye Bing, Ronnie's former foster mother, clutched a tissue to her face and repeatedly slapped a chair in disbelief and frustration Tuesday. The Bradenton woman said she had feared Ronnie was being mistreated and pointed out some injuries to a caseworker after she visited him at his parents' apartment.

As she listened to the details of Ronnie's beating death, Bing, 44, took down his picture from her living room wall, cradled it and began sobbing.

"Bubba, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry," she cried, calling the boy's nickname.

The case is another blow for Hillsborough Kids Inc., the nonprofit agency overseeing foster care work under contract with the state Department of Children and Families. The agency's executive director quit abruptly last week, and a state investigation criticized his handling of various administrative and financial matters. The agency already has been forced to explain how another child under its supervision died in Alabama, and how another former foster girl died last year in a Tampa swimming pool where her sister had drowned two years before.

"This is a heartbreaking case and it's tragic," said Russ Thomas, chairman of Hillsborough Kids board.

Besides the criminal investigation, DCF also is expected to review the circumstances of Ronnie's death, including an investigation of how caseworkers handled it.

"How a parent could allegedly murder a child is unimaginable, and heartbreaking to every parent," DCF spokesman Andy Ritter said. "The department will thoroughly review the circumstances surrounding the death and work with all parties ... to ensure the safety of all children."

Under the law, parents who lose their children to foster care must complete an extensive "case plan" - often including parenting classes, anger management, drug treatment and other goals - before they can get their kids back.

The fact that the Parises regained custody of Ronnie shows they completed a case plan and won approval from a circuit judge to resume parenting Ronnie, Thomas said.

"It's a very structured system," he said.

Caseworkers also are supposed to make sure parents can support their children in a healthy home. But court records show Ronnie Paris, a city of Tampa wastewater department employee, and his wife were sued in July for failing to pay their $550 per month rent on an apartment at 12711 N 58th St. in Temple Terrace. They lost a default judgment in August - four months before winning the right to get young Ronnie back.

State records also indicate Paris was charged twice last year for driving with a suspended or revoked driver's license.

According to Tampa police, the Parises were attending Deeper Life Ministries Bible study at a friend's house on Jan. 22 when they noticed their son was no longer breathing.

The Parises were rushing him to a hospital but stopped when they saw a police officer and asked for help. The officer attempted CPR and so did paramedics, but Ronnie remained in cardiac arrest. He was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital and placed on life support. He was pronounced dead last Friday. During questioning by police on Tuesday, Nysheerah Paris said that after Ronnie returned to their care on Dec. 14 she saw her husband hit him several times in the back of his head. Once he threw the boy at her, and aimed punches at the boy's head while she said she clutched him at her shoulder to protect him.

The recent beatings were not Ronnie's first.

In May 2002, when he was 5 months old, his father took him for medical treatment for a condition called failure to thrive. But doctors noticed the boy's arm and leg had been broken earlier, and were starting to heal.

"The injuries are clearly non-accidental," a police report states, but authorities were unable to determine who caused them.

Caseworkers had given Ronnie to his father a month earlier. The little boy already had been briefly in foster care after he was removed from his mother, according to a police report.

After doctors discovered the broken bones, Ronnie was placed in foster parent Faye Bing's care. He arrived with his arm in a cast.

Bing said that in her home, Ronnie was treated as a member of the family, just like a brother to her two daughters. He taught a younger foster child how to walk, and always was laughing and playful, Bing said.

Bing said she would have been willing to adopt the boy she raised as a son. As she cared for him, Ronnie's parents visited their son at Bing's home. His mother would follow him around the house; his father would sit on the couch, not talking much, Bing said.

Bing said a caseworker called her late last year and told her a judge ordered Ronnie returned to his birth parents because the pair went through parenting classes.

Ronnie moved in with his parents on Dec. 14, in an apartment on Humphrey Street.

Teia Davenport, 21, who lives in the apartment above the Paris family, said the couple's fights often included shouting, fists banging on doors and objects thrown against walls.

Meanwhile, Bing still longed to see Ronnie. She drove up from Bradenton three times for visits. Ronnie would cry in Bing's arms, but he wouldn't talk, she said.

The visits troubled her. Bing said she noticed what looked like a burn mark on Ronnie's forehead and a bruise on his cheek during visits in early January.

Ronnie also looked like he had lost weight and no longer spoke.

She pointed out the marks and the changes to Ronnie's caseworker, the boy's fourth caseworker in three years, Bing said. But the caseworker stood by the mother's explanation.

"The mother said he fell," Bing remembers the caseworker saying.

On Jan. 13, Bing's sister went with her to Tampa for a visit. Tammie McAdams thought maybe her sister had been exaggerating about the boy's condition until she saw him for herself.

"He wasn't nothing but head; all his weight was gone," said McAdams, of Bradenton.

On that visit, Ronnie was sick, released from the hospital three days earlier for an illness, McAdams and Bing said. His mother allowed them to take him for a ride. He threw up in Bing's vehicle.

McAdams wanted her sister to steer south for Bradenton with Ronnie on board. But they feared the parents would call the police, that no one would listen to them, that Bing's other foster child would be taken from her home.

Bing said she did not call police. And Thomas, the Hillsborough Kids chairman, said no formal complaints were called into the state's abuse hotline.

A woman at a home on N 18th Street in Tampa who identified herself as Ronnie Paris' mother declined to speak about the death of her grandson or the arrest of her son.

"I don't have anything to say," she said. "I'm just real sad."

At her Bradenton home on Tuesday, Bing flipped through a scrapbook holding photos of Ronnie. When the local news flashed a picture of his face, she threw herself against the television, weeping.

"He didn't have to do that," Bing said of Paris. "If he didn't want (Ronnie), let me take him back."

Times staff writer Brady Dennis and staff researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Curtis Krueger can be reached at 727 893-8232 or krueger@sptimes.com

[Last modified February 2, 2005, 04:03:31]


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