Relatives of 5-year-old Dashawn Harris said Sunday they saw signs of abuse, neglect, and drugs in his North Philadelphia home in the weeks and months leading up to his death.
Dashawn was pronounced dead at Hahnemann University Hospital about 1:30 a.m. Saturday after his mother, Lashay Patterson, called 911. The boy was covered with bruises, welts, cuts, and burns from head to toe that were apparently caused by a belt and a hair dryer, Philadelphia police Lt. Phil Riehl said.
Patterson, 23, and her boyfriend, Christian Patrick, 25, have been charged with murder and child endangerment.
Patterson's other son, 3-year-old Daqwon, has been placed in the custody of his father and paternal grandparents.
Tracy Merriweather, the boys' paternal aunt and Patterson's next-door neighbor in the 600 block of North 13th Street near Ridge Avenue, said she had seen sores and bruises on her nephews' arms over the summer. After she inquired about the marks, Merriweather said in an interview Sunday, Patterson stopped letting her see the boys.
Patterson also stopped the father's regular visits, Merriweather said. "She started saying, 'They sick. They got homework. They can't come.' It was always something," she said.
The boys were rarely seen outside, even as other boys ran around the lawns of the West Poplar Apartments, throwing footballs and skating on the sidewalk. A neighbor said of Patterson, "I forgot she had sons, because I never saw her with kids."
But Patterson still allowed Merriweather's two daughters to visit their cousins.
On Wednesday, Merriweather said, her 10-year-old daughter came home and told her they were playing in Patterson's living room when "the mom just grabbed Dashawn and started beating on him." Merriweather said she and her mother tried to talk to Patterson on Friday but were turned away.
Patterson's family says Dashawn's death was an accident. "He had gotten a spanking. And then his condition got worse, and she called the ambulance," Patterson's mother, Shelby Frazier, said.
Ladonna Owens-Frazier, Patterson's older sister, said, "I know deep down that Lashay and Christian didn't mean for this to happen."
Patterson and Patrick initially told police Dashawn had fallen off his bike. But they later said they had been teaching the boy school lessons at home, and they admitted to striking the child as punishment, Riehl said.
Dashawn was home-schooled, Merriweather said.
Merriweather said Patterson became "a whole different person" after she started dating Patrick.
"At first, she was real quiet and sweet," Merriweather said, recalling two years ago, when Patterson was still living with the boys' father.
On Patterson's Twitter account, which was used briefly in June 2009, she described herself as a fan of the Sims video game and posted a picture of herself with a smiling baby boy. One day, she wrote, "looking at my kids sleep ! they look so peaceful. i wonder what they are dreaming about!"
"She used to be real healthy," Merriweather said, but after Patrick came along, she "lost all her weight." Merriweather said the house was littered with marijuana, and Patterson was rumored to be doing stronger drugs such as pills and "wet," marijuana laced with PCP.
Patrick has a history of drug arrests and was known to police, according to Riehl.
It is unclear whether the Department of Human Services had seen the family before Dashawn's death. DHS officials declined to comment Sunday, citing confidentiality.