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No call from Sununu for DCYF review in Laconia boy’s homicide


No call from Sununu for DCYF review in Laconia boy’s homicide

Mar 08, 2023 | 3:27 pm ET
By Annmarie Timmins
No call from Sununu for DCYF review in Laconia boy’s homicide
Gov. Chris Sununu takes questions from the media following Wednesday's Executive Council meeting. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)

Gov. Chris Sununu declined Wednesday to say whether he will call for a review of the state’s handling of nearly 25 reports of suspected abuse against four Laconia children, one of whom died from blunt force trauma in 2019, shortly after the last report.

The homicide of Dennis “Boo” Vaughan Jr., 5, remains open and has never received the public attention from Sununu that he gave the recent murders of three other New Hampshire children. 

Asked whether this case also deserved his public response, Sununu said the state reviews all child fatalities.

“It’s always incredibly tragic, you know, whatever the situation may be, whether the child is involved in DCYF or not,” he said. “We just have a process there.”

Sununu took a different approach in the case of 7-year-old Harmony Montgomery of Manchester, who was initially reported missing and later ruled the victim of homicide. 

In that case, Sununu ordered a review of the Division for Children, Youth, and Families’ handling of reports of suspected abuse and neglect that preceded her disappearance. He called for the review to include the lack of communication from the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families to New Hampshire after it had relocated Harmony from her mother’s home in Massachusetts to her father’s in Manchester without informing New Hampshire authorities.

Sununu released the report, which included details about the reports of suspected abuse and the two states’ responses, in February 2022. In it, he called for several changes in the state’s handling of abuse and neglect reports.

He has not publicly called for the same review in Dennis’ homicide. In the 2½ years prior to his Dec. 24, 2019, homicide, DCYF received nearly 25 reports of suspected abuse, most of them from school officials, nurses, law enforcement, and social workers, according to a lawsuit Dennis’ mother, Danielle Vaughan, brought against the Department of Health and Human Services in December.

Asked Wednesday why he has not publicly called for the same review in Dennis’ case, Sununu echoed what his office and the Attorney General’s Office said when the Bulletin asked for comment last week: Each case is different and can’t be compared. He also said the lawsuit limited what he could say.

“You’re talking about the death of a child, so of course, you can always express condolences,” he said. “The Harmony case was really primarily about where the system had clearly failed … with the issue of the lack of transparency across borders. It was a totally different situation.”

Asked whether the lawsuit’s claim of 25 reports of alleged abuse and neglect also warranted a review of the system, Sununu answered generally.

“So again, every child fatality has a review process that goes through both DCYF and the child advocate,” he said.

Others have joined Danielle Vaughan in calling for more attention on Dennis’ homicide.

A Concord woman who did know Dennis has launched a “Justice for Dennis ‘Boo’ Vaughan Jr.” Facebook page to raise awareness about the case. A Gilford woman is raising money to put Dennis’ face on a billboard, hoping to generate tips in his case. 

Friends and family of Elijah Lewis, whose death was ruled a homicide in 2021, have begun using their own public Facebook page, “Eli’s Army,” to draw attention to the state’s handling of Dennis’ homicide and the reports of suspected abuse and neglect that preceded it.

“Why does it seem like his life didn’t matter?” wrote Michayla Morrison, one of the page’s administrators. “When will an arrest be made?”