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photo
Police inspect the home on Crenshaw where the boy, 4, was shot and killed. [Times photo: Cherie Diez]
Caseworkers received allegations of abuse

By AMY HERDY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 20, 1998


TAMPA -- To investigators with the state Department of Children and Families, the name Joseph Bennett Jr. was a familiar one.

Officials at the agency said they recently had ordered a caseworker to supervise the 4-year-old boy's home after allegations that he and his sister had been abused by Hank Earl Carr, their mother's live-in boyfriend.

But because of a staffing change, that never happened.

The next word the agency received about the family was from police, who called Tuesday morning to say Joseph had been shot to death inside the home, said Children and Families spokesman Tom Jones.

Jones said the tragedy stunned the agency.

"It's like most of the stuff we deal with: There's no way you can predict this type of incident," Jones said.

Joseph's 5-year-old sister, Kayla, is now in protective custody, Jones said, and will be placed in a foster home.

• Detective hailed as hero, professional, friend

• Among police, 'the world is paralyzed; everybody is crying'

• Trooper had been on job less than year

• Detective Bell just weeks away from 'dull' job

• Carr lived as he died: in violence

• Made-for-TV tragedy unfolded too quickly for live reports

• Caseworkers received allegations of abuse

• Handcuff procedures questioned

The agency received two complaints that Carr had abused the children, Jones said, one in February, the other in March.

Both times investigators visited the home with police. Both times they left without removing the children, satisfied that they were not in any danger.

And since the family voluntarily agreed to let protective services supervise the home, there was no need for court-mandated visits, Jones said.

Shelba Bennett, the children's paternal grandmother, said the children should not have been in Florida at all.

The children's parents, Bernice "Denise" Bowen and Joseph Lee Bennett, had agreed to let Bowen's mother, Connie Bowen, of Marietta, Ohio, have custody of the children, Shelba Bennett said.

Connie Bowen confirmed the custody arrangement in a brief interview Tuesday night.

"I've got full custody of them kids, and I plan on bringing them back to me," she said.

Shelba Bennett said if she had known the children were in Florida with Carr, she would have stepped in.

After checking on the abuse allegations, the caseworker planned to make supervisory visits to the home, but never got the chance, Jones said.

"We were about to place protective services when the caseworker assigned quit, and the new caseworker assigned had not yet had a chance to get out there," he said.

Jones said staff members at the agency also were surprised to learn of Carr's real name. He had told them his name was James Earl Reed. Jones said the agency had checked and had not found a criminal background on anyone by that name.

Jones said that the agency's records would not be released until the investigation on the child's shooting was over but that he did not believe Carr's explanation that the boy's death was an accident.

"Anyone who would point a gun, loaded or unloaded, at a child does not have good intentions."

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