Two Licking boys who recently drowned in the Big Piney River endured neglect, potential physical abuse and four years ago were briefly removed from a home infested with roaches, according to a case file released to the Herald last week by the Missouri Department of Social Services.
The documents, which were requested by the newspaper under the Sunshine Law, detail a history of neglect and abuse leading to the Aug. 9 deaths of Jesse Bagley, 7, and his 4-year-old brother, Wyatt.
Troubles in the household are detailed in the two-inch thick case file.
Authorities allege Jesse, Wyatt and their younger sister, Belle, 3, were roaming unsupervised on the afternoon of Aug. 9 and ended up in the Big Piney River behind their home on Hazelton Drive in northwest Texas County. The children’s mother, Jennifer Bagley, and two grandparents were inside the home.
Belle Bagley alerted her mother that the boys were missing. A 911 call for help was made at 5:20 p.m., setting off a massive search that included nearly 300 volunteers. It ended the following morning when the boys’ bodies were discovered in the water.
Texas County Coroner Tom Whittaker estimated the boys entered the river between 3-5 p.m. Sheriff Carl Watson said Jennifer Bagley waited potentially two hours before calling for help.
Watson said Belle had wet clothes when volunteer searchers arrived.
“I think she had been with them, and I think she had been into the river,” Watson said of Belle Bagley. “How she got out and why she didn’t drown, too? We can’t answer that.”
Belle was removed from the home following her brothers’ drownings. Arleasha Mays, assistant communications director with the Missouri Department of Social Services, said state law prohibits the organization from saying whether or not she remains in their custody.
Calls date to 2005
The Division of Child Services, which oversees the welfare of children, last had contact with family through a hotline call Aug. 9 alleging a lack of supervision of Jesse and Wyatt after they went missing. It follows a four-year string of investigations related to their care. The division was notified in July 2005 of unsanitary living conditions inside the Licking trailer of James and Jennifer Bagley.
In a report, a member of the investigative unit of the Texas County Children’s Division described adult and small roaches “crawling everywhere and all over the trailer.” They were reportedly crawling in and out of food in the kitchen, falling off the ceiling and were alive in the refrigerator. The bed, where 6-month-old Wyatt slept with his parents, had no sheets and more than 100 roaches crawling on it, according to a report.
The boys, who according to the paperwork had bug bites and open sores on their bodies, were allowed to stay at the home of Jennifer Bagley’s sister while the trailer was cleaned. They returned to their parents’ home, which had been sprayed for the bugs, six days later.
A family assessment deemed the Bagleys would benefit from services. Jennifer Bagley, who worked at Casey’s, was pregnant. James Bagley did not work and was on probation. During week two of the intervention, the family was evicted from the trailer park and moved to St. Louis, where James Bagley had relatives. The case was closed.
In March 2006, a hotline call was received alleging Jennifer Bagley was not feeding her infant daughter, according to the documents. Bagley stated she had ran out of formula and taken the one-month-old baby, who had only gained 7 ounces in a month, to the doctor. The children were observed and services were offered by the state agency to the family. They were declined.
A third hotline report was received in November 2007, stating Wyatt Bagley had been physically abused. A social worker discovered bruises, welts, red marks, abrasions and lacerations on Wyatt’s body. One bruise “looked like someone put their fist into Wyatt’s chest,” the worker wrote.
According to a report, a witness said Jennifer’s boyfriend had been called to the home around 1 a.m. to help get the boys asleep. The witness alleged the boyfriend “slammed Wyatt against the wall a few times,” grabbed him by the throat and swatted him 15 times. He also “grabbed Wyatt by the ears only and carried him across the room and threw Wyatt against the wall.”
The boyfriend told the Texas County Sheriff’s Department that he and Jennifer Bagley, along with her three children, had lived together two times. The most recent had been about two months. They had been apart about three weeks, the boyfriend told investigators.
He denied the allegations and said he never physically disciplined the children. He admitted to wrestling with them.
Wyatt received medical treatment at Texas County Memorial Hospital. Jennifer Bagley agreed her children would not return to boyfriend’s home, according to the paperwork.
According to the state agency’s investigation, a preponderance of the evidence determined that the boyfriend abused Wyatt, and Jennifer Bagley was negligent by not protecting him. According to court records, no charges were ever filed.
Just 11 days later, the Phelps County Children’s Division investigated a concerned call regarding a purplish area on Wyatt’s privates. James Bagley, who had custody of Wyatt since the alleged abuse report, had his son examined by a medical staff. The incident did not rise to the level of a child abuse or neglect report, according to documents. Since that time, James Bagley was sentenced to prison on a controlled substance charge.
In September 2008, an investigation was made following a hotline report of alleged physical abuse to Jesse Bagley, who had three small bumps on his forehead. Jesse told an investigator that he hit himself in the head with a ball bat. His grandmother, Cheryl Coleman, said Jesse told her he ran into the windowsill. The grandfather, John Coleman, said Jesse told him he ran into the bumper of the truck.
Jesse denied any physical abuse.
An investigator said the children, who were under the supervision of the Colemans at a home they rented on Hazelton Drive, were well taken care of and appeared neat and clean.
Mays said the children’s division closely examined its handling of the Bagley case.
“We’ve reviewed our records and found the children’s division’s responses to calls about Jesse and Wyatt were prompt and thorough,” she said. “We feel the actions we took in each case were appropriate and addressed the situation at hand.”
A final hotline report regarding lack of supervision was made hours after Jesse and Wyatt Bagley disappeared Aug. 9. According to Watson, Texas County Prosecutor Mike Anderson is awaiting toxicology reports before filing any charges. Watson said his department has conducted several interviews, but none will have a barring on any potential charges.
Mays said social services is conducting an investigation with the cooperation of local law enforcement. She said a report will be released when the investigation is completed.
Watson said family members were at least negligent.
“They did nothing other than the fact that the children were not supervised with the river being nearby,” he said. “They were in the house and not watching the children.”