Investigation: Alexa Linboom twice subject of Illinois DCS probe - WFLA News Channel 8

Investigation: Alexa Linboom twice subject of Illinois DCS probe

HAWKINS COUNTY, TN (WJHL) - Before her death on January 3, 2012, Alexa Linboom was barely known in the Hawkins County town where she had lived for only a few months.

But when the autopsy report surfaced two years later and revealed the way she she died, the 5-year-old girl made headlines around the world.

A lethal quantity of grape soda and water killed Alexa, according to the local medical examiner in a report completed in July 2013.

In February 2014, Alexa's father, Randall Vaughn, and his wife Mary were charged with first degree murder. They first appeared in court two years after the couple appeared in a local emergency room with their violently ill child.

Investigators said the Vaughn's made Alexa drink all that soda and water as punishment for drinking an adult's soda without permission.

According to spokesman Rob Johnson, the Tennessee Department of Children's Services first learned about Alexa Linboom when a case worker was called to the hospital in Johnson City where the little girl spent the final hours of her life.

But a News Channel 11 investigation revealed Alexa was twice on the radar of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services in the years prior to her move to Tennessee. In fact, her autopsy report said Alexa "moved to Tennessee to live with family members due to allegations of neglect."

"The Department's first contact with the family was in July 2007," Karen Hawkins, spokesperson for Illinois DCFS, said. 

What prompted the call of concern about the 11-month-old's well-being and the specifics of how the case was handled are no longer part of the state record, Hawkins said, but records do show the state opened and closed its case within a period of 3 weeks.

"Whatever interaction there was with the family that we set goals with them and those goals were successfully achieved," Hawkins said.

Almost four years later in March 2011, someone called Illinois DCFS again, concerned about the possibility that Alexa was being neglected by her mother who had custody of the child.

"Neglect investigations can be anything from the home is messy, there's not enough food in the home, all kinds of things," Hawkins said.

Illinois DCFS immediately placed Alexa's case in its program called Differential Response, a federally funded five year program designed to keep children out of the custody of the state unless absolutely necessary.   

"Differential response is really aimed at providing whatever responses were needed to keep the children in the home and kind of allow that family to stay out of our system, to allow it to not be an investigation," Hawkins said. "It's a way to keep families out of the system and children out of care because we know that states are not great parents. If we can support a family to allow children to stay with the family, that's always our goal. If we can keep that child safe and keep them with their parents, that's always what we try to do."  

Hawkins said state records show no DCFS case worker ever actually made contact with Alexa or any member of her family.

"I show a worker making several attempts both by phone and by going to the home," Hawkins said. "The worker went to the home with a supervisor to try to make contact with the family and was not successful. So, they had been referred into the program. The worker went to work with the family but ever made contact with them and was referred back to investigation. And that's where it goes cold for me. I don't see an investigation for them and that could mean a couple of different things."

The second case involving Alexa was opened and closed within the period of one month, Hawkins said.

By the fall of 2011, Alexa was living with her father in Surgoinsville, Tennessee, a man who was known by case workers at the Tennessee Department of Children's Services. Spokesman Rob Johnson said privacy laws don't allow him to say why, but he did confirm DCS "had previous contact with the family."

Johnson said a case worker who went to the Vaughn home after Alexa's death expected to find only two children living there. Instead, the case worker found that five children had been living in the house.
One of them was Alexa Linboom.

The rest of the children were removed from the Vaughn home 13 months later, Johnson said.

On Feb. 6, the Hawkins County District Attorney confirmed that Randall and Mary Vaughn had been charged with first degree murder in the death of Alexa Linboom.

The Vaughn's have been scheduled for trial in October and a judge has issued a gag order barring attorneys from discussing the case.

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