Skip to main content

5-year-old missing for months before police alerted. Why?

By Kevin Conlon, CNN
updated 1:32 PM EST, Sat December 21, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jeremiah Oliver was last seen in September
  • The 5-year-old is still missing
  • The young boy's mother and boyfriend have been arrested
  • "This is a deeply concerning case of neglect," commissioner says

(CNN) -- Five-year-old Jeremiah Oliver was last seen by his Massachusetts relatives on September 14. But the investigation into his disappearance didn't begin until last week when the authorities were first alerted to it.

Now, the child is feared dead, his mother and her boyfriend are in custody, and everyone is left wondering how a child could simply vanish unnoticed for three months.

How could this happen, especially to a child who was supposed to be receiving monthly visits from a state-provided social worker?

Turns out, tragically, Jeremiah was not getting the visits, state officials say.

Who's to blame?

The finger pointing, demands for accountability and calls for investigations are reverberating throughout the state.

"This is a deeply concerning case of neglect and abuse," said Olga Roche, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families. The state agency was charged with the responsibility of protecting children from child abuse.

Roche called the situation "a serious failure" and put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the boy's social worker and supervisor, both of whom were quickly fired.

"The social worker assigned to this case did not conduct the required in-person, monthly checks on the family," Roche said in a statement. "And the supervisor failed to enforce that policy."

Neither the social worker nor the supervisor have been named, but their union spokesman says they have been made "convenient scapegoats" at an overwhelmed agency.

"We are disappointed that Commissioner Roche is more interested in finger-pointing than accepting responsibility for yet another tragedy on her watch," said Jason Stephany of the Service Employees International Union Local 509, which represents caseworkers at the Department of Children and Families. "Instead, the Commissioner has chosen a convenient scapegoat to deflect blame from department administrators."

More blame to go around

But Gov. Deval Patrick hinted Friday that they might not be the only two held accountable.

"I've asked the Commissioner to look into the question about whether responsibility goes beyond those two," he said in an appearance on Boston Public Radio. "I have some reason to believe it does."

The last documentation of an interaction with Jeremiah was in May, according to Department of Children and Families spokesman Alec Loftus.

In June, Loftus says the social worker was told that Jeremiah had moved to Florida to live with his grandmother, but never bothered to follow up or verify whether that was the case.

The last time a visit to the home occurred was in November, at which Loftus says the social worker left behind a business card indicating that this would be DCF's final visit.

Just days later, on December 2, Jeremiah's 8-year-old sister disclosed to counselors at her elementary school that her mom's boyfriend, Alberto Sierra, 22, had abused her, according to a police affidavit.

Multiple calls to Sierra's attorney have gone unreturned.

"As a result of those statements" the affidavit continues, "[she] and [another brother that isn't Jeremiah] were removed from the home and taken into protective custody."

When cops asked Elsa Oliver, 28, where her third child Jeremiah was, she told them that he had moved to Florida, a law enforcement source involved in the investigation told CNN.

This time, however, she was going to have to prove it.

Where is Jeremiah?

Oliver went before a state juvenile judge at a hearing on December 13, where she was "observed to have bruises, disheveled hair, and appeared to have been assaulted," according to court documents.

She refused to divulge Jeremiah's whereabouts, according to the source.

The judge ordered her to produce the child within 72 hours. The time passed with no sign of Jeremiah.

Oliver was arrested.

The mother has been charged with two counts of reckless endangerment of a child and two counts of accessory after the fact of a felony (assault and battery with a dangerous weapon), according to a statement from Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early. A plea of not guilty was entered on her behalf.

Those charges may not necessarily pertain to Jeremiah and more details could emerge at a December 24 hearing, a spokesman for the district attorney's office said.

Elsa Oliver's attorney, James Gavin Reardon, wasn't able to elaborate either.

"I met with her for 10 hours and was unable to obtain any significant information" Reardon said, prompting him to seek a mental health evaluation to determine whether she was even competent enough to stand charges.

He says that evaluation is currently underway.

Sierra, meanwhile, is charged with two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and two counts of assault and battery on a child causing bodily injury, according to the district attorney's office said.

A plea of not guilty was also entered on his behalf.

He also has a hearing scheduled for December 24.

For now, authorities are holding out hope that Jeremiah might be out there somewhere, and they're asking anyone who might know anything to call the Massachusetts State Police.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:49 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
British PM David Cameron has had the narrowest of political escapes.
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
British journalist John Cantlie hadn't been seen in nearly two years. Now, he's the latest hostage to be paraded out by ISIS.
The burial leader. The hospital gatekeeper. The disease detective. All telling powerful, stories from West Africa.
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Alibaba's IPO is unlike anything investors have ever seen and could threaten other online retailers. Maggie Lake reports.
updated 11:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Indian PM Narendra Modi has said al Qaeda will fail if it seeks to spread its terror network into his country.
updated 8:01 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Put yourself in the shoes (and sixth-century black robes) of ISIS' Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the mysterious boss of the terror group.
updated 10:44 AM EDT, Sat September 20, 2014
 Tennis Player Li Na attends the WTA Pre-Wimbledon Party as guests enjoy Ciroc Vodka presented by Dubai Duty Free at Kensington Roof Gardens on June 19, 2014 in London,
Asia's first grand slam singles champion Li Na has called time on her 15-year tennis career.
Jenson Button has some of quickest reactions ever shown at an advanced sports lab.
updated 7:24 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Creative companies with quirky ideas find new lending models advantageous.
updated 10:09 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Even death couldn't part two skeletons excavated from a lost chapel in an English county, found with their fingers entwined.
updated 6:07 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT