It seems impossible that anyone could hurt an innocent child and indeed of all the crimes that we commit against one another, those perpetrated against innocent children seem to hit hardest of all.
It is therefore even more horrific when we find that a parent is the perpetrator in these cases. This story is one that is not for the faint-hearted. It begins as most do, with the happy birth of a child but it ends in a much different and much more horrifying way…
Adrian’s first two years of life were, by all accounts happy ones. Of course, even the beginning of his life was far from perfect. Though he lived with his biological mother and siblings in Lawrence, Kansas, the toddler was often left home unsupervised. As such, he was eventually removed from the home and sent to live with his father.
This was not the stable environment that social workers hoped for and within three months of living there, child welfare workers were informed that problems had arisen in that home as well. People were calling into the hotline with tales of Adrian’s father’s house being full of guns. Not only that, but Adrian’s stepmother was seen to be high on drugs multiple times. This was only the tip of the iceberg…
It wasn’t just Adrian who was suffering because of his parents either, his siblings were reported to have suffered a number of physical injuries and significant weight loss during their time there. When he wasn’t being starved or neglected, Adrian was being beaten and choked by his father. One time, the helpless three-year-old was spanked so hard his buttocks bled.
As expected, Adrian entered school with a number of personality problems which led to disruptive behavior in the classroom. When confronted by the school about the behavior, his parents explained that he was even worse at home. Adrian wet the bed, stole and hoarded food, picked at sores (the result of his beatings no doubt), and lit fires. According to them, the boy’s problems were all his own…
Eventually, the family moved to Missouri, if only to escape the reputation they had earned in their Kansas neighborhood. Their problems however, followed them there. One of their new neighbors called in to report that Adrian’s stepmother would, as they put it, “beat the living daylights out of the kids for no reason” and would sell meth out of the home.
When they came to investigate, child welfare agents questioned Adrian directly, and he had quite a story to tell. “My daddy keeps hitting me in the head and punches me in the stomach and my mom keeps pulling on my ears and it really hurts,” said the boy. “Mommy and Daddy lock me in my room by myself. Mommy and Daddy can’t feed me.” Despite all this…nothing was done…
The Child welfare agents did nothing to help Adrian or his siblings. And as a result of his loose lips, Adrian was punished severely by his parents. He was forced to stand in the corner and do jumping jacks and push-ups a for an entire day. Another time, he was strapped to a table and blindfolded, or made to stand neck-deep in the filthy, fetid waters of their swimming pool overnight.
In 2014, things finally came to a head and Adrian, sick and mentally unstable, was placed in a residential treatment center. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder but rather than be sent to foster care, was discharged into his parents’ care, on the condition that they follow an aftercare plan. As can be expected in poor Adrian’s case, the agency never followed up…
Adrian’s stepmother, Heather Jones, would often post angry rants about him to her Facebook page. She would talk about how she wished to kill him, maim him, even shoot him in the back of a head. Nevertheless, no one seemed to be willing to reach out to help the boy and the agency responsible for following up and checking on him, was nowhere to be found.
As if all the calls and reports weren’t enough to force action, Adrian’s abuse was also fully documented: meticulously so. The Jones’ had dozens of surveillance cameras, even as they moved from Kansas to Missouri, they captured photos and videos of all the terrible things they did to the poor boy, if only for their own amusement. This evidence wouldn’t find its way to the authorities until it was too late…
In some of these photographs, Adrian’s bloodied, bruised mouth could be seen in all it’s gruesome glory. His teeth were rotting, his hands were swollen from the restraints, his skin was pock-marked with infections. One particularly cruel picture shows the seven-year-old tied up with a plate of food in front of him, and a bar of soap shoved in his mouth.
Eventually, the Jones’ removed him from the public school system entirely: so that they could torment him full time. Adrian Jones’s short life was spent in isolation and pain. He was kept away from anyone who pried into his plight and on the several occasions where his abuse was reported, he was ultimately sent back into the clutches of his twisted parents…
Adrian’s final days were spent trapped in a white-tiled shower, where he was left to starve to death. His parents meanwhile, sat inside the house placidly, listening to him screaming through the vent and begging them for food. “I’m going to die” he yelled to them and all they replied was “suck it up.” Just over a year after Adrian Jones was discharged from the residential treatment center, he died of starvation.
Michael and Heather Jones kept the boy’s body inside the house for two weeks before they figured out what to do with it. And as if the manner of his death and his lifetime of torture weren’t enough, his parents decided to feed his body to pigs they had purchased for that exact purpose. They were arrested by police soon afterwards after one final call was made to child services…
With hundreds of pieces of photographic evidence, dozens of calls, and a telling coroner’s report against them, Michael and Heather Jones didn’t have a leg to stand on. They both pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and were sentenced to life in prison. To this day, many of the investigators on the case, including some of them who testified in court, refer to it as the worst thing they’d ever witnessed.
It was so disturbing in fact, that it prompted a state lawmaker to introduce legislation that would penalize adults who fail to report child abuse at home. Yet even with his killers behind bars and his siblings now in foster care, hopefully going to healthy, happy homes, one must ask: how could Adrian’s tragic death have been prevented?
More Could Be Done
The world and the rest of Adrian’s family has been left wondering the same thing: could more have been done more to prevent the boy’s death? Indeed, the boy’s records in both Missouri and Kansas reveal a “seemingly endless series of reports and hotline calls” about his treatment, which should have alerted social services to the egregious abuse that needed to be dealt with. And yet, no effective plans to save the boy were ever enacted.
They Failed Adrian
It is no surprise that a wrongful-death lawsuit was ultimately filed in both states by Adrian’s biological mother, maternal grandmother, and oldest sister. The lawsuit alleges that child service agencies failed to keep Adrian out of harm’s way and from this end of the story, it’s hard to disagree with that contention…
Stood Idly By
The family’s lawyer came out with a strong and damning statement regarding child welfare services: “Despite all the warning signs, the hotline calls, and the evidence of the child’s mistreatment, they effectively allowed his father and stepmother to continue to abuse, torture, and ultimately murder the little boy, while they stood idly by, writing it all down.”
As a writer, I am frequently called to tell stories like this, tales which sit like bad shrimp in the pit of your stomach for the whole day. But the sad story of Adrian Johnson is perhaps the most egregious example of system failure and human cruelty I have ever had to tell. One only hopes that it will be a lesson to our society to keep a better eye on the warning signs and hopefully, save some lives.