Crime & Courts

No finding of child abuse means no state records released after Lucas' body is found

Emily Glass walks out of the Sedgwick County Jail a couple of hours after District Attorney Marc Bennett announced there are currently no charges being filed in the case of Lucas Hernandez. (May 30, 2018)
Emily Glass walks out of the Sedgwick County Jail a couple of hours after District Attorney Marc Bennett announced there are currently no charges being filed in the case of Lucas Hernandez. (May 30, 2018) The Wichita Eagle

It’s been more than a week since police said Emily Glass led a private investigator to the decomposing remains of 5-year-old Lucas Hernandez.

It’s been more than three months since she reported the boy missing and several months since she was suspected of abusing the Wichita boy.

Still — although it’s now clear Glass wasn’t telling the truth about Lucas’ disappearance and even though the state has records saying she had been suspected of abusing him — the state child protection agency says it can't release any information about Lucas.

Under a new law touted as bringing transparency to the child-protection system, the Department for Children and Families is supposed to provide, upon request, a summary of its previous contact with a child when the child dies of abuse or neglect.

But the agency is saying there's no finding that Lucas died of abuse or neglect. His body was found about 20 miles from his home, hidden under a small bridge and partially covered with debris.

Because there is no finding so far that he died as a result of abuse or neglect, the state says it can't release information about its past contact with Lucas.

Harvey County Sheriff describes the scene where the body of small child was found Thursday after. The body is believed to be that of Lucas Hernandez who has been missing since February.

In an email Thursday, Kansas DCF spokeswoman Taylor Forrest said the DCF “will release a summary on Lucas Hernandez as soon as the cause of death is determined to be as a result of abuse or neglect. That is our legal requirement.”

“In order to determine abuse or neglect of a child, DCF does a thorough evaluation of all information provided to us about the child from all state, local, or federal agencies with records of the child.”

The day after the private investigator called authorities to say he found the body, The Eagle filed a records request with the DCF for a summary of any contact the department had with Lucas.

A DCF summary can help show what the agency did when it received reports that a child was being abused; it’s a way to see whether changes should be made that can protect children in the future.

Judith Heard, Lucas’ great-grandmother, said Friday that she has questions about what was done to investigate past abuse concerns involving Lucas.

“Who went and checked? … Or did it just get laid over on somebody’s desk?”

She wants to know whether any child abuse investigator talked to Lucas or Glass.

“Somebody needs to be accountable,” said Heard, who lives in New Mexico.

“They need to take these children out (of the home where abuse is suspected) and place them with relatives while they do their investigation,” Heard said. “Did we all not yell loud enough for them to do something?”

According to the private investigator — who said he persuaded Glass to lead him to the remains on May 24 in rural Harvey County — the body appeared to be somewhat decayed and under debris. Witnesses said the remains were in shallow water.

Because of the condition of the body, there is no guarantee an autopsy and toxicology examination will be able to determine how Lucas died.

If the cause is not clear from that examination, it could be more difficult to charge someone in his death and to get a jury to convict.

The private investigator, David Marshburn of North Carolina, recorded what Glass said after he and his partner met with Glass last week. At one point, according to a Marshburn recording that aired on “Crime Watch with Nancy Grace,” Glass said: “I did Lucas so wrong. I did him wrong.” Earlier, Glass told Marshburn that she woke up and found Lucas dead in his bed.

Wichita police arrested Glass on suspicion of interference with law enforcement and obstruction the same night after Lucas’ body was found. District Attorney Marc Bennett said he is not bringing charges for the time being as the investigation continues. Glass was released from jail on Wednesday and quickly escorted to a waiting van as protesters chanted “Lucas.”

File --Wichita police are investigating a shooting in the home belonging to the father of Lucas Hernandez and his live-in girlfriend, Emily Glass. Glass led a private investigator to the body of her missing stepson, Lucas Hernandez, last week.

Bennett said prosecutors are waiting on results of a toxicology examination. That testing could help detect substances that might help explain how Lucas died.

On the evening of Feb. 17, Glass called 911 and told Wichita police that she napped that afternoon and when she woke up, Lucas was missing from their new rental home on South Edgemoor. Police said there was no evidence Lucas had been abducted or wandered away.

(Police and court documents have described Glass as Lucas’ stepmother. But some members of the boy’s family have objected to “stepmother,” saying she was the live-in girlfriend of Lucas’ father and that the couple aren’t married. Glass was Lucas’ caregiver while his father, Jonathan Hernandez, was away for weeks at a time for his job.)

There have been multiple previous reports in which Glass was suspected of abusing Lucas, court records show.

The Eagle gained access through a Sedgwick County judge to a key court document filed by a prosecutor two days after Lucas was reported missing. The detailed document — called a child-in-need-of-care petition — laid out the prosecutor’s argument that Glass’ 1-year-old daughter wasn’t safe in her home. Most of the petition dealt with what happened to Lucas before he was reported missing.

Months before Lucas disappeared, the document says, bruises kept showing up on Lucas, and Glass was suspected of being violent with him and causing some of the injuries.

In March 2017, a little less than a year before Lucas was reported missing, someone saw him with “temporary tattoos that were hiding bruises,” the petition says. He had bruises “from head to toe” and a bruise on his bottom “that looked like the shape of a clothes iron," according to a report the DCF received after he was reported missing.

In May 16, 2017, the DCF received the first of two reports that someone suspected Lucas of being abused, the document says. Glass and an “unknown perpetrator” were suspected. Lucas reportedly had bruising in the shape of a hand on his left arm, bruising on his left cheek and on his bottom.

In late October 2017, while Glass and Lucas visited his father in New Mexico, he had two black eyes, the petition says. The black eyes were reported to the New Mexico child protection services agency on Nov. 8, 2017. According to the document, Lucas’ bruises most often showed up after Glass and his father argued, and Glass “may have been targeting Lucas due to her anger” with the boy’s father.

In December, he had bruises on his arm and a large bruise on his forehead, and Lucas said that Glass “became angry and threw a water bottle at his face," according to a report the DCF received after Lucas was reported missing.

Less than a month before he was reported missing, his school nurse counted nine bruises and said it looked like he had been in a fight. Glass said he fell off monkey bars, and Lucas returned to pre-kindergarten with a note from a pediatric nurse practitioner saying his injuries were consistent with a fall. He last attended school on Feb. 9 — eight days before he was reported missing.

Mourners gathered in front of the home of Lucas Hernandez in Wichita late Thursday night. Police have found a body that is believed to be that of missing 5-year-old Wichita boy Lucas Hernandez in southeast Harvey County Thursday evening.