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Bernice Bowen, whose 4-year-old son Joey Bennett was killed by her boyfriend this week, cris during a hearing Thursday where the state's child abuse records on Hank Earl Carr were made public.
[Times photo: Tony Lopez]

Carr gave child abuse investigators 'uneasy feeling'


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 1998

But according to files made public Friday, investigators from the Department of Children and Families found no evidence of injury to either child.

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Because Carr gave officials an alias -- James Earl Reed -- and did not provide his true date of birth, state officials said his extensive criminal history did not surface in background checks.

"This guy was a professional," Department of Children and Families spokesman Tom Jones said. "He was a chameleon."

Joey Bennett, 4, died Tuesday from a gunshot to the head. During the police investigation into the shooting, Carr killed two Tampa detectives and a Florida Highway Patrol trooper before committing suicide.

Child welfare officials also said the neighbors who this week told reporters that Carr brandished guns and talked about running from the law, never told those stories to investigators looking into the abuse reports.

As a result, Children and Families district administrator Donald Dixon said, investigators had an "uneasy feeling" about Carr, but an "absence of evidence" meant they could not remove the children from the home.

As a result of the investigations, officials did persuade the children's mother, Bernice Bowen, 24, to accept voluntary family services aimed at providing adequate day care, medical care, a stable home and appropriate discipline. The shooting took place before any of those services were delivered.

Investigators opened their first file on Carr Feb. 5 after receiving an allegation that he had dropped Joey head-first into a bathtub for soiling his pants. The allegation also said Carr spanked Joey's 5-year-old sister, Kayla, hard enough to raise blisters and that those blisters were opened by a second spanking.

Kayla, however, told investigator Kenneth Kessler that Carr had not spanked her, and no injuries were seen on either child.

"Both children appeared to be healthy and thriving," wrote Kessler.

On March 17, state child abuse investigator Rochelle Theriault looked into a second allegation phoned in from a doctor's office. The office called police after an employee saw Carr strike both children. Again, there were no signs of injury on either child, and both Bowen and Carr denied abusing them.

During a court hearing Friday on whether the files should be made public, Bowen said little, but her mother, Connie Bowen, said she hoped to get custody of Kayla.

"The only thing that I want to happen is that my granddaughter don't go through no more pain," Connie Bowen told Hillsborough Circuit Judge Claudia R. Isom. "I'm trying to get her back."

A separate court hearing will take place next week on the custody issue. In 1995, a judge in Washington County, Ohio, gave Connie Bowen custody of her grandchildren, but last fall she let them move to Florida with her daughter. After the shooting, the state petitioned a court to place Kayla in an emergency shelter, where she has been since Tuesday.

Dixon said state officials are considering whether to recommend that Kayla be returned to any of her relatives. He noted that Joey Bennett lived with his mother when he was shot, and "that will always raise questions about whether you can adequately protect your child."

He also questioned why Connie Bowen allowed the children to move to Florida with their mother.

"If you have custody of kids, why do you have custody if you're going to allow them to leave and go away for six months?" he asked.

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