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Jersey Journal, Star Ledger
By The Associated Press
August 23, 2012
CAMDEN – The 911 call from Chevonne Thomas was rambling and incoherent, but authorities said she made one thing clear: Her 2-year-old son had been stabbed, and “I did it.”
What police found at her Camden rowhouse early Wednesday was even more horrifying. Thomas had decapitated her son and placed his head in the freezer.
The 33-year-old mother later fatally stabbed herself after hanging up on emergency dispatchers, a violent end to a troubled life.
Thomas only recently regained custody of son Zahree after allegedly leaving the boy unattended in a car in 2010, telling police she had smoked marijuana laced with the hallucinogenic drug PCP and blacked out in a nearby park.
In a statement, the state’s child welfare agency, the Division of Children and Families, said it would conduct an internal review of information pertaining to the case — including its role with the family.
“At this time we can confirm that DCF did have an open case and was working with all family members to support the mother and her child, who had recently been reunified consistent with the court’s order of April 3, 2012,” the statement said. “… Zahree had previously been residing with relatives while his mother sought court-ordered treatment for substance abuse and mental health disorders.”
Thomas was charged with child endangerment in the 2010 car incident, but the case was dropped because of a problem with a witness, said Jason Laughlin, spokesman for the Camden County prosecutor’s office.
The gruesome events began unfolding Tuesday night. Neighbor Melanie Troutman reported seeing Thomas and her boyfriend sitting on the steps of their home, a familiar sight. But Troutman said that on this night, Thomas was topless and “clearly upset.” Another neighbor, Tayari Horcey, who lives a few doors from Thomas on Kaighns Avenue, insisted the woman was clothed.
About two hours later, Thomas called 911. During the call, she first accused her boyfriend of stabbing Zahree, but then quickly recanted.
“You know what, I did it, I’m lying, I’m lying, I’m lying, I did it,” she said, according to a recording of the rambling, often incoherent call released last evening.
“I did it, I did it, I did it,” she repeated later.
Asked if she takes medicine, Thomas said she used to take the antidepressant Prozac.
“I didn’t take it today, but I should have,” she said.
Police later found Zahree’s body on the first floor of his mother’s home, then discovered his head in the freezer. A medical examiner found a chest stab wound and marks on the child’s arms, said Laughlin, the prosecutor’s spokesman.
Thomas stabbed herself in the neck with a kitchen knife shortly after hanging up on dispatchers, Laughlin said.
Distraught family members who arrived at the scene late Wednesday morning expressed shock and declined comment.
Some neighbors described strange behavior by Thomas, who had just moved to the neighborhood from elsewhere in the city. Others saw no evidence of problems.
“Because had we known something was up, I’m quite sure all the neighbors on this block would have talked to her,” Horcey said. “But, you know, people hold stuff in. You don’t know what’s going on.”
Speaking outside the rented apartment Wednesday evening, Thomas’ landlord described her as good-natured.
“She was a really nice woman for the short amount of time that she lived there,” said the landlord, who did not want to be identified publicly. “She was never late with her rent and just a short time ago my wife was there and my kid played with them.”
A teen who lives a few doors down said Thomas moved into the neighborhood about two months ago.
“She used to sit on the step with her son,” the young man recalled. “She really didn’t speak. She just kept to herself. We’d see her out there, smoking cigarettes, but we didn’t really know her.”
Meanwhile, Camden officials took the unusual step of offering “community support counseling” for the entire city.
Counseling took place Wednesday, and continues today and tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at Bethel Deliverance Church on Kaighns Avenue.
Clergy, the mayor’s staff members and city police will be on hand to help and counsel residents.
“My deepest sympathy goes out to the young child, family members and friends,” Mayor Dana L. Redd said in a statement. “As the investigation into the circumstances that led to this tragic incident moves forward, we need to remember that all life matters … In the city of Camden, we are all family and we will be here to help through the healing process.”
Star-Ledger staff writers Mike Frassinelli, Susan K. Livio and Saed Hindash and the Gloucester County Times contributed to this report.