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System handles children whose parents commit crimes

By Janice Gregorson

gregor@postbulletin.com

The 5-year-old girl heard two shots, then saw two men run from the house.

They had guns. One was bleeding.

That’s what she told police nearly a year ago about the shooting that woke her up and changed her life forever.

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That morning — May 6, 2006 — her stepfather, Cory Richardson, was killed.

Two months later, her mother, Audumn, was arrested and charged with murder.

Today, her mother was to be sentenced to 15 years in prison. The two men running from the house also were charged and are also to be sentenced today.

Also in the house were the girl’s siblings — a 3-year-old sister and a 10-month-old brother.

While police investigated the shooting, others have been quietly involved in caring for the children.

Every day, officials see children as victims, left behind for others to care for when a parent is killed or sent to prison.

Rochester Police Lt. Dan Muyres said officers are trained to call for help from social workers in incidents in which children are at risk, from drug busts and domestic disputes to cases where children are simply left home alone.

In 2005, Olmsted County social workers were called 177 times by law enforcement.

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In 2005, a total of 2,419 calls about children were made by neighbors, family members and police, with 31 percent of those calls related to child protection concerns, said Heather Johnson, child protection supervisor for Olmsted County. There are eight child protection social workers; five work rotating after-hour shifts.

"Our role is child safety, first and foremost," Johnson said.

Social workers first try to find family or friends who will take the children.

In emergencies, she said, social workers and their teams pull family members together to figure out the care and safety network that can be placed around a child.

In the Cory Richardson homicide, the three children initially stayed with their mother, who was not arrested for several weeks. Then a grandmother stepped in to become guardian for the 10-month-old boy, the child of Cory and Audumn Richardson.

The biological father of the two girls was given temporary custody and has petitioned for permanent custody. Judge Jodi Williamson recently transferred custody of the boy, now 18 months old, to a maternal great aunt and uncle.

Williamson appointed a volunteer guardian ad litem last May for the two girls who will represent them in civil court proceedings and make recommendations about custody and visitation. Guardian ad litem Vicki Duncan recommended in February that the father get custody. She said that at the beginning of this case, the 5-year-old girl displayed a "significant trauma because of the murder."

For months, the 5-year-old couldn’t sleep without an adult in the room, the guardian wrote. But the biological father and the girls began working with a therapist. Duncan said the therapists say the father has done an excellent job with the girls and with dealing with the emotions of becoming a single parent. She said he has strong family support and that he and the girls live with his brother and their family in a large home.

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"The (extended) family is there for them as long as needed," Duncan wrote, adding that she sees the bond the girls have with their father. "He is committed to giving them a safe and nurturing environment."

Duncan said she encourages the involvement of the maternal grandparents, who have played a significant role in the girls’ lives since their birth. She said the father supports the girls’ having some relationship with Audumn during her incarceration.

Audumn Richardson, in an affidavit filed in May 2006 in the custody case, said that being with Mustafa Bush the night her husband was killed "was a last-minute choice that I will forever regret."

She wrote that she asked Bush to help her get her husband out of the house "due to our deteriorating marriage." She said she didn’t ask him to harm or kill her husband, just to talk to him about leaving. She said she is the one who should have been killed that night because her decision to spend time with Bush led to an "unimaginable tragedy."

"I cannot express the sadness I feel for the death of my husband and how this is impacting my children," she said in the affidavit.

Jim Martinson, head of the criminal division of the Olmsted County attorney’s office, said the fact that three small children would be without a mother for a long time was not a determining factor in the plea offer he extended to Richardson.

"It may be a factor we consider on lesser cases involving local jail sentences," he said. "But when it comes down to the taking of a life, that is their choice, and I won’t give them slack because they have children."

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