‘THEY LOVED EACH OTHER’ : A daughter dead, a son accused — (Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette)

Original article no longer available

Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette

BY CATHY FRYE

Posted on Friday, August 11, 2006

The New Jersey Director for www.drugawareness.org informed SSRI Stories Moderators yesterday [April 11, 2007] that the 12 year old boy accused of killing his 11 year old sister was taking Zoloft at the time of the tragedy, and that his dosage had been increased two weeks prior to the murder.                 7

CAMDEN  Today, Melody Jones will bury her 11-year-old daughter, the girl she nicknamed “Tigger” because of the way she bounced through life.
And then the grieving mother will tend to the child she has left, a 12-year-old son who remains in police custody, accused of killing his sister.
Melody feels torn, disbelieving and judged. Each time the single mother leaves the security of her former in-laws’ house, she feels the stares of her neighbors. She hears their loud whispers.
The 35-year-old woman speaks slowly and haltingly of her children, Kaylee and Thomas Cogdell, describing lazy summer days spent playing dominoes or the board game Sorry !.
“They loved each other,” she says. “Thomas was helping Kaylee learn to read her words. They never did anything wrong to each other. Kids are going to fuss, but they didn’t have any knockdown, drag-outs.”
She’s upset by what people around town are saying, the way everyone keeps speculating about her home, her children, whether she was a good mom.
She’s still close to her exhusband’s family, many of whom also live in Camden, and they have rallied around her. That’s helping her to get through these horrible, difficult days, she says. Still, the gossip hurts.
“I don’t understand”  her voice wavers, then breaks  “why people are being the way they are.”
SECRET PROCEEDINGS Much of the talk appears to be driven by a lack of hard information about what happened at the little gray house at 759 Waco St. Arkansas law mandates that all records pertaining to the arrest, detention and court proceedings involving youthful offenders be kept confidential. Even discussions about a case are limited to a specific group of people  lawmen, social workers, school counselors or spiritual counselors designated by a guardian. So from the moment Thomas was arrested, investigators and prosecutors adopted a cautionary stance. They can’t say anything about the case or Thomas without breaking the law.
The boy’s family members are in an even more difficult position. Even as they mourn Kaylee’s death, they are wrestling with guilt and confusion.
“In my mind, I don’t feel like he did it, but I’m a great-grandmother,” 76-year-old Norma Wedgeworth says of her feelings toward her great-grandson Thomas. “Naturally, I can’t think bad ” she stops, then concludes, “The whole family’s that way.”
Melody can’t talk about her son. Her emotions are still too raw, Norma says.
But Melody will  briefly  speak of Kaylee. She describes her daughter’s friendliness, how eager she was to make friends in their new neighborhood.
“She was my Tigger,” Melody says, “always bouncing around.”
Her voice tapers off. “I’m sorry…,” she murmurs. And then, unable to continue, Melody asks Norma to continue the conversation for her.
‘KAYLEE’S DEAD’ The children spent Sunday night at church, Norma says. When they got home, they turned on the television. When Melody went to bed, they were still watching TV. There had been some bickering over which programs to watch, Norma says, but nothing unusual. She wonders if the kids might have allowed someone in the house. Given the location of Melody’s bedroom, she wouldn’t have necessarily heard the front door open, Norma says. “Maybe they let someone in. [Thomas ] isn’t really saying,” she muses. “Melody didn’t know anything until she went in there to give [Kaylee ] a letter that had come for her.” That was Monday morning, shortly before the residents of Waco Street were startled by the woman’s screams. Many rushed into their front yards, where they stood as Melody cried out and gestured wildly. An ambulance and police arrived a few minutes later. It soon became clear that something awful had happened. Police were treating the house as a crime scene. And no one was being put into the waiting ambulance. Rumors flew. Several neighbors heard that Kaylee had been found dead, tied up and with a bag over her head.
Police aren’t disclosing any details about the girl’s body  where it was located within the house or its condition.
Sources close to the investigation, however, confirm that a bag was found at the crime scene and that it appears Kaylee was suffocated.
One street over, Jane Loftin  whose daughter, Madeline, was a close friend of Kaylee’s  received a phone call from another neighborhood girl.
“Would you tell your daughter Kaylee’s dead ?” the girl asked.
 
Stunned, Jane ran to her car and drove to the house where her daughter had spent the night several times.
“I just didn’t believe it,” she recalls. But when she saw all the people gathered out front, “I knew.”
Jane had met Melody several times. She was impressed by the woman’s tidy home and the children’s detailed chore list that hung in the kitchen. “She was real pleasant. All she talked about was those kids.”
The family wasn’t well-off, but Melody and her children seemed content with what they had, Jane says. “I really hadn’t seen any people so happy when they were so poor.”
Jane told one of the investigators that she knew the family and asked if there were anything she could do.
He told her to go over to the police station, where Melody and Thomas were waiting. “He said, ‘She really needs somebody, ’” she says.
Jane went right away, and found Melody crying. “I just went in and hugged her, and she said, ‘ Whoever did this shouldn’t get away with this. ’”
Thomas, she says, was sitting silently next to his mother.
Late that night, the boy was taken into custody.
Meanwhile, Jane spent a long and sleepless night with her daughter, comforting her as she was sick to her stomach. As she held Madeline, Jane cried over Melody’s loss.
“I just kept putting myself in her place,” she says. “I’ve got a boy and a girl, too.”
Tuesday afternoon, Jane went over to Melody’s house to check on her. She found the woman packing clothes, preparing to move in with her former in-laws. “She was trying to keep her mind on getting her stuff together. But she kept on saying, ‘ I cannot believe this. I can’t believe he would hurt her.’” Jane felt helpless as she watched Melody pack and cry. But what bothered her most was the despair in Melody’s voice when she realized how empty and quiet her house was. “They’re both gone,” she told Jane. “They’re both gone.”

TROUBLE FITTING IN

Melody and her children moved to Waco Street from across town at the beginning of the summer. “She thought it was such a nice area,” Norma says. But the people living on Waco Street seemed clannish, she adds, and a lot of the kids were mean to Kaylee.
The girl felt more comfortable hanging out with Madeline one street over, she says.
Some neighbors say the family’s poverty might have been the problem. Kaylee’s clothes often came from other people. And she acted younger than her peers, they say.
This angers Norma, who says Kaylee was shunned because she wouldn’t smoke, or dress and dance seductively, like some of the other girls her age.
“I think it was wrong that they would try to classify her as babyfied because she wouldn’t fit into all that,” she says.
Jane says Kaylee was a cute girl, and that even though her wardrobe was secondhand, many of her clothes looked the same to her as what the other kids were wearing on hot summer days. Several outfits came from Madeline.
Still, it was clear Kaylee was having trouble with the kids on Waco Street.
Jane attributes the bullying to Kaylee’s sensitive nature. Her hurt was immediately visible. Kids are good at picking out victims, she says. “They can be so cruel.”
The Cogdell children’s father lives in Germany. Norma appears reluctant to say more, other than he won’t be able to return for the funeral.
Melody gets by primarily on disability and food stamps  no child support, she says. She always kept her children clean and was an extraordinarily involved mother, Norma says. Jane agrees. She remembers when Madeline came home from Kaylee’s house, telling her mom, “You have to meet Kaylee’s mother. She’s so cool.”

AN INTELLIGENT BOY

While Kaylee roamed her new neighborhood, Thomas stuck close to home, reading and playing video games, family members and neighbors say. Some people found his reclusive ways odd, especially when all the other children were playing outside. Norma says indignantly: “He would rather read a book than get out in the heat and run up and down the street. Well, I would too. And I don’t classify myself as strange.” Thomas was reading college-level books at age 10, family members say. “Oh, he’s a brilliant child,” Norma adds. “And mannerly.”
People on Waco Street agree that Thomas is smart and polite.