DFCS report shows history of abuse for family charged in connection to Effingham teen deaths

Published: Dec. 17, 2019 at 2:35 PM EST
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EFFINGHAM COUNTY, GA (WTOC) - It’s been over a month since the shocking discovery of the bodies of two teenagers buried in the backyard of an Effingham County family’s home.

Fourteen-year-old Mary Crocker had not been seen for months, and her brother, Elwyn Crocker, Jr., had not been seen since 2016 when he was also 14.

A case file from the Department of Family and Child Services shows the Crocker family’s long history with the department after abuse was documented, including almost bi-weekly visits in 2012 and 2013.

The question is - how did this family and these kids slip through the cracks? The DFCS case shows what the agency did to make sure something like this wouldn’t happen.

"If you see something, say something."

DFCS first got involved with the Crocker family because someone did just that. In 2012, a shopper at Hilton Head Goodwill called the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office for a welfare check because Crocker, Jr. had a bruise on his face.

Effingham County deputies responded to the family’s Rincon home. The children’s step-uncle, Mark Anthony Wright, was actually arrested for backhanding Crocker, Jr. in the face.

Over the course of the next year, a case manager and school leaders at Sand Hill Elementary School in Effingham County met with Mary and her brother, as well as the parents.

At first, the case file shows an apathetic father. In statements he made, he even said the state of Georgia only required him to feed, clothe, and give shelter to his children.

By the end of the year-long investigation, DFCS employees say the father had opened up and recognized the importance of loving his children.

DFCS closed the case after citing “significant improvements in the family.”

“Once they worked through their case plan, they were thriving. They were working through. Therefore, we closed our case because there was no longer a need for us to be in that family’s life.”

The second case involves an anonymous call in 2017. A child who was in the family’s home says the step-grandmother, Kim Wright, beat and whipped Crocker. Jr. a year earlier.

The little girl told a school counselor about this after learning what abuse was in class. The call was never investigated because of the length of time from the apparent whipping and the lack of an apparent, immediate threat.

In the report, a DFCS employee says the “safety threshold has not been crossed.”

DFCS stands by this decision. We asked the region director if this tragic ending would encourage them to look at their agency policies.

“You definitely want to look back and see if there’s anything we need to do to strengthen our policies. Not saying we did anything wrong at that time because we did follow our agency’s policies.”

Crocker, Jr. had not been seen since late 2016. It’s unclear if he was alive at the time of the anonymous call.

The case file has no details surrounding what could have possibly happened to Mary Crocker. It also doesn’t shed light on the death of either child. Charged with cruelty and concealing death, the sheriff’s office has not upgraded charges for any of the five suspects.

The still heartbroken community is hosting a memorial for the children.

“My concern was that they had no voice and it’s been a tragedy for this community, and so many people feel like there needs to be something done to bring closure, if you will,” one community member said.

The vigil will be held at Baker’s Lake in Springfield on Feb. 9 at 6:30 p.m.

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