Abuse reported before boy was beaten to death by father

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- What went on inside the Sturgis’ home was more than just abuse, it was torture. Tramelle Sturgis was bound with duct tape, beaten with a wooden club, a belt and his father’s fists for hours.

According to court documents after a long and violent night, someone inside the home on West Washington called 9-1-1 early Friday morning, the boy was not breathing.

When police arrived Tramelle showed no signs of life, he was pronounced dead at the hospital. The boy’s father, 35-year-old Terry Sturgis was arrested for murder.

Tramelle suffered numerous injuries, two broken bones and bruises over his entire body. Investigators said some of the injuries looked fresh; but he also had old wounds, ones that appeared to be healing as well as a number of scars on his back.

“Somebody who had contact with that child on a regular basis had to know that he was being beaten,” said Captain Phil Trent, South Bend police spokesperson.

“It does take a community to keep kids safe,” Ann Houseworth said. Director of Communications for the Indiana Department of Child Services, Houseworth said all citizens of the state are mandatory reporters of neglect and abuse.

With increased insight and added interaction, Houseworth said teachers, doctors, and neighbors have even more a responsibility to protect children from abusive parents.

Tramelle’s school, Greene Elementary directed all questions and inquiries to the South Bend Community School Corporation. The spokesperson there also declined an interview but the SBCSC released a written statement on Monday on behalf of Greene Elementary. It listed comments from teachers about Tramelle such as; “He had a big, beautiful smile,” and “He made friends easily.”

There was no mention of signs or reports of abuse in the statement. SBCSC told ABC-57 News over the phone that it would not comment on those matters because of the ongoing police investigation.

Friends who went to school with Tramelle say they saw the signs of abuse; it started about a year ago. One of Tramelle’s classmates said he came to school with a broken arm this year, the 10-year-old told people he had slept on it funny and it broke. When asked about the bruises, the boy said he had fallen down.

Trent said, “Whether or not they come up with some sort of explanation that should be looked into, that’s a classic sign that something is going wrong.”

But someone did take notice of the abuse and he or she tried to get the police look into it.

On Monday, ABC-57 got a hold of the incident report from the South Bend Police Department.

An anonymous caller dialed 9-1-1 just after midnight o n May 28th, 2011, four months and one week before Tramelle’s death.

The call was short and vague, according to the report, “Refused caller states that there are about 10 children there…Possibly being abused.”

Two officers went to the Sturgis’ home to perform a wellness check.

“We were at a complete disadvantage when we got that call we didn’t know what we were looking for or who we were looking for, so when we got there and the kids were all right….” Trent said the officers left without making a recommendation to CPS or filing an official police report.

An officer wrote in the incident report, “Children are with adult, and all appear to be fine. I saw and spoke with the kids and everything appeared fine.”

Trent said, “Nobody looked injured, nobody looked malnourished, no one looked like they were being unkempt.”

“There was no sign of abuse,” was the final note to complete the wellness check.

Houseworth said, “I’m certain that if the police were there and if they did a thorough investigation that they would have taken appropriate action.”

But the question is, was the investigation thorough, did officers miss something?

“Yea, yea, I can honestly tell you that that officer may have never even seen this, the child that was murdered.” Trent said without knowing an exact number of children inside the home, the officer could have seen eight children who do not show signs of abuse and concluded the investigation.

Trent suggested maybe the abused child was kept out of sight while officers were at the there and because the caller did not specify the name or age of the child being abused and the exact number of kids inside officers did not have much to work with and did all they could without a warrant.

When asked if it was possible the call was made from one of the children at the home Trent said he wasn’t sure. “That’s a good question, if it was it should have been noted in the report and I don’t see anything.”

The caller refused to give his or her name and dialed from a blocked number.

According to police nine kids (ages 4-14) and their grandma, Terry’s mother were at the home while the brutal beating went on in the basement.

All of the children, except the oldest have been placed in foster homes. The 14-year-old, Tramelle’s brother was also beaten that night and remains in the hospital.

At the time of the murder, Houseworth said CPS was not investigating the Sturgis family, but state law prevents her from commenting on if the agency has ever been called to or visited their home.

Child Protective Services is now reviewing the case, Houseworth said they are conducting interviews with the police at the school and in the neighborhood.

Trent admitted somewhere, the system failed 10-year-old Tramelle.

Terry Sturgis is in the St. Joseph County Jail charged with murder and two counts of battery.

Houseworth said if it failed, the investigation will shed light on where and how Tramelle fell through the cracks.

"The man who killed that child, that ‘s where the blame needs to go," Trent said.

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