Pinellas parents bury newborn who died in Pasco foster care

Investigations

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The death of a newborn infant in Pasco foster care named Kwon McGee is now the focus of two investigations and agonizing questions by his Pinellas County birth parents. 

“Two and a half months later I get a call he’s deceased and you know, it hurts. It hurts,” said his mother, Shira Sangamoung. “I didn’t even get to see my baby.”

“No parent, especially if they have their child taken away from them, expects their child to die in foster care,” said Doug Tobin, spokesman for Eckerd Connects, the agency that DCF hires to lead child protection and foster care in Pinellas and Pasco Counties.

In this case, Eckerd hired Florida Lutheran Services to provide the actual case management and foster care.

“It is a tragedy that’s also felt in the foster parent family, the Eckerd family,” Tobin said.

It all started on July 29 when Sangamuang gave birth at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater and social workers began talking to her about where she would live after she left the hospital. Sangamuang was unemployed and broke and needed temporary shelter, but had plans to move to Connecticut with Kwon to live with her mother.

Days later, those same social workers came to the Travelers Inn in Clearwater where Sangamuang was staying and demanded that she hand over Kwon.

“She’s like, well two officers, two sheriffs came up and said, ‘look ma’am if you don’t give me your baby, I will arrest you and take you to jail and you will no longer have your baby,’” Sangamuang said.

The baby ended up in the care of foster parents in Pasco County while Sangamuang tried to arrange for counseling and other directives ordered by a judge to get her child back. The child’s father, Ladell McGee, was away when Kwon was born and says he never had a chance to see his son.

“I’m pretty sure we’re not the only ones who have gone through this sort of tragedy,” McGee said.

The family’s rough patch turned utterly tragic Oct. 24, when the foster parent reported putting Kwon down to sleep in an adult bed after a feeding and later found him unresponsive.

Eckerd says the foster parents failed to follow Eckerd’s baby safety checklist that says all infants should sleep in a crib with a firm mattress and tight-fitting sheets without other materials that might suffocate a baby.

“Our guidelines weren’t followed in this particular case and that’s the tragedy here. We feel this death could have been prevented if the child had been put in a crib,” Tobin said. “We tell our foster parents, especially with infants 0 to 5, do not put them in a bed.”

The Pasco foster parents called 911 and ambulances rushed Kwon to a nearby hospital where doctors declared him dead. The autopsy and cause of death still haven’t been released. The Pasco sheriff and DCF both have pending death investigations.

According to a DCF report, another Pasco infant died under similar circumstances after being placed on a bed by its birth parents in July. The Pasco Sheriff’s Office is still investigating that case.

After a brief funeral service Tuesday, Kwon’s birth parents and two older brothers carried his tiny white casket from a hearse to a grave at Memorial Park’s babyland in St. Petersburg. A small cluster of 18 friends and relatives listened to a Catholic priest offer comforting words of faith at the grave site.

Last week, Sangamuang contemplated what her final words might be to Kwan when it came time to see him a final time and to bury him.

“I love him and I will miss him and he’s watching over me and I will always know he’s watching over me and he’s my little angel,” Sangamuang said.

Eckerd Connects issued the following statement:

We are saddened to hear about this baby’s tragic death. Our thoughts and prayers go out for this child, his parents and all those who knew him in the Eckerd Connects family. We will be working closely with the Pasco Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Children and Families and all of those involved to find out what happened and to understand if all mandated safety protocols were followed.”

Lutheran Services Florida also issued a statement:“LSF is deeply saddened with this tragic news. Our thoughts and prayers are with the infant’s family as we and the entire community mourn this loss together. LSF will be working closely with the Department of Children and Families to review the  circumstances of this tragedy.”

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