Five-year-old Bryan Hence Jr. was “always happy,” his aunt said Friday as she wept outside her nephew’s Camden apartment building.
“I’m so heartbroken,” said Aiyishia Dickerson, 33.
Authorities charged the boy’s mother, Marlena Cook, 29, and her boyfriend, Saeed Bey, 27, with murder in the fatal beating of the boy, who died Tuesday.
Dickerson, Cook’s sister, said Bryan lived with his two older brothers, ages 9 and 11, their mother, and Bey in a second-floor apartment on Willow Walk, near the 2500 block of South Eighth Street, in the Crestbury Apartments.
“He was always happy to see somebody,” she said of the boy, who was nicknamed “BJ.” “They were good kids.” The older boys are now with another aunt, said Dickerson, who lives in a different Camden neighborhood.
According to court documents, Camden County police were called to the apartment about 3:50 p.m. Tuesday and found the boy unconscious. He was taken to Cooper University Hospital, where doctors determined he suffered numerous injuries, and he was pronounced dead that night.
Cook allegedly initially told detectives her son fell while playing with his siblings. She later admitted she had beaten him on Sunday and Monday, causing him to hit his head at least twice, according to the affidavit of probable cause for her arrest. But she didn’t call 911 until midafternoon Tuesday, the affidavit said.
Bey admitted to detectives that he had “disciplined” the child multiple times in the past using a belt, hanger, and flip-flop, according to court documents.
An autopsy found an “innumerable” amount of “whipping” marks over the child’s body, the documents say. Medical Examiner Gerald Feigin also found swelling in the boy’s brain. He ruled that the cause of the boy’s death was blunt head trauma, with injuries to his thighs, back, and upper extremities as contributing factors.
Cook and Bey are in custody at the Camden County Correctional Facility awaiting detention hearings. It was not known if they had attorneys.
Dickerson said she wasn’t close to her sister and had no idea what might have happened to the child. She said her sister started “acting different” after getting involved with Bey a couple of years ago.
Outside the child’s apartment Friday, a white sheet was taped onto the door with words written in memory of him, including: “Always In Our Heart BJ.” A large blue Cookie Monster stuffed animal sat on the front step with arms outstretched around other stuffed animals. About 50 glass-enclosed candles were placed on the steps, and a child’s chair was placed on the sidewalk.