February 11, 2019
On February 11, 2019, a 911 call was placed about 7:45 A.M. to the 1800 block of East North Street in Decatur, Illinois. Two year old Ta’naja Barnes was found unresponsive. She was wrapped in a soiled blanket and smelled of urine. Her hands, feet, face and head were extremely dirty. Her core body temperature would not register on their medical equipment.
Police reported that the residence had “the overwhelming smell of urine, feces and rotten food / garbage”. There were signs of rodent and insect infestation in the home. The pluming under the sink was not connected. The water was shut off from the inside of the residence. The bathroom toilet was filled. The bathtub had a box filled with liquid and debris. In Ta’naja’s “room” they found a toddler sized bed with no sheets or blanket, empty bottles and debris apparently eaten by rodents, and feces.
The inside of the residence was at 45 degrees though the thermostat was set at 75 degrees. During police presence, that temperature went up quickly, showing that the temperature must have been raised (or just turned on) just moments before police entered. The mother told police the furnace was not always on and had been turned off the night before. She said Ta’naja had a heater in her room but took it out of there because that heater was broken.
Ta’naja was rushed to St. Mary’s Hospital where she was pronounced dead.
The autopsy stated her body showed signs of physical neglect, malnourishment, dehydration and cold exposure. Her little two year old body weighed only twenty-one pounds. The average weight for a two year old girl is 26.5 pounds. The one year old boy in the house was reported to weigh 28 pounds at the time. The cause of death was not ruled a homicide until March 2019 following a coroner’s inquest.
Ta’naja Barnes body was cremated.
Twenty-one year old Twanka Davis was charged with First Degree Murder, Involuntary Manslaughter and Endangering the life or health of a child. Twenty-five year old Anthony Myers, the mother’s boyfriend was later charged the same. The mother pleaded not guilty. Later, she changed her plea to guilty and was sentenced to only twenty years in prison which is day for day. She must live out the entirely short sentence.
Her boyfriend Anthony Myers was found guilty of murder and endangering the life of a child. Initially he refused a plea deal for 20 years and chose to go to trial. He will now be serving a 30 year sentence and must serve 100% of the sentence. Credit was given day for day on the time he served in jail awaiting trial.
The mother, Twanka Davis, 21 at the time lived with her boyfriend, their infant son and Ta’naja. She said she last saw Ta’naja about 7:00 P.M. the night before and brought her red beans and rice for dinner, which she refused to eat.
WAND NEWS said the “Court records show an administrative judge ordered Davis and her boyfriend to correct violations at the home in December. On January 28, the City of Decatur asked a county judge to order the two to appear in court and described "willful and contumacious refusal to comply with the Administrative Judgement."
DCFS took the second child in the home in to protective services after the incident. Reports show that DCFS had prior involvement with the family. In June 2018 Ta’naja was removed from the mother’s care during an abuse investigation. At that time she weighed 25,8 pounds, still under average. In August however, she was returned to the mother.
The Herald & Review reported the relationship with DCFS history.
On Nov. 6, a call to a DCFS hotline alleged “non-compliance with voluntary community services and medical neglect for lack of immunization.” But Dyer-Webster said no action was taken because the information as did not substantiate allegations of medical neglect.
The agency’s involvement began Dec. 23, 2017, with a hotline call alleging Ta’Naja was being neglected. At this time the child was living with Davis, 21, and Davis’ 25-year-old boyfriend Anthony Myers. Both now face murder charges and charges of endangering the life and health of a child through a combination of starvation and neglect.
Both Ta’Naja and her younger half-brother were placed in foster care Dec. 27, with the case managed by the Decatur-based Webster Cantrell Hall private agency. The next day, a court had granted DCFS temporary custody of Ta’Naja and her brother while Davis and Myers received mental health assessments and underwent parenting classes and drug screens.
“The family was compliant with services. Visitation with Ta’Naja was established for her mother and (biological) father,” Dyer-Webster said.
By March 27, 2018 the children were returned home by court order after the successful completion of parenting classes. But, based on what Dyer-Webster called “case-specific interactions,” the custody of Ta’Naja was granted to Barnes. Her half-brother was returned to Davis and Myers.
Beginning in March 2018, under court supervision, Dyer-Webster said aftercare services were provided by Webster Cantrell to both the homes of Davis and Barnes. Visitation was established between the two families and caseworkers made routine visits to both homes.
But on June 27, 2018 Ta’Naja was removed from her father’s care after Dyer-Webster said a hotline call alleged abuse; she was again placed in foster care.
Barnes said he believes it was Davis who contacted a DCFS hotline to cause trouble for him. He also believes DCFS didn’t want him to have custody and “they had no intention of letting me keep my baby.”
On Aug. 8, 2018 Dyer-Webster said, Ta’Naja was returned to the home of Davis and Myers by court order, and Webster Cantrell Hall continued to monitor the home through weekly unannounced visits.
On Sept. 12, 2018 DCFS said it received a report alleging Ta’Naja had red scratches on her stomach and diaper rash. But an investigation concluded the report was unverified and the marks on the body were judged to be scarring from a previous incident.
By Oct. 24, 2019 following a recommendation by Webster Cantrell Hall, based on “family cooperation with services and satisfactory monitoring of the home," a judge ordered the case closed. “With that case closure, the child welfare community’s involvement with the family ended,” said Dyer-Webster.
It is unfathomable for anyone to comprehend what truly happened to Ta’naja, and even worse, why it happened. Those that were supposed to protect her failed. DCFS failed. Anyone who saw Ta’naja and saw the abuse, failed. We must all not only learn to become more aware of our children, but more involved. It is your business. It’s all our business. This is where our statement is more than ever, true. “it takes a village to raise a child”. Teachers, bus drivers, neighbors, church members… if you see a child at the park, at church, on the bus, at school, your neighbor child, say something. If you don’t know who to go to, call DCFS. Call the police. Call us. Say something. We’re all in this together, and every single child deserves a chance at life. Real life.
Rest in peace dear Ta’naja.