CAMDEN, N.J. -- The state's child welfare agency is reviewing its involvement with a
Camden mother who beheaded her toddler son, stuck his head in a freezer
and then killed herself early Wednesday.
Thomas, 33, who had a history of drug use and mental illness, regained
custody of her son Zahree through a court order just months before the
horror scene played out in her Parkside home shortly after midnight on
Wednesday, according to the state Department of Children and Families.
said it was inside the two-story row home on the 1400 block of Kaighn
Avenue that Thomas used a knife to decapitate Zahree. She then stuck the
boy's head in the freezer and called 911 and reported something had
happened to her child.
officers found the 2-year-old's torso on the bloody first floor of the
home and then discovered his head in the freezer, according to Camden
County Prosecutor's Office spokesman Jason Laughlin. A medical examiner
later determined that the child had also been stabbed in the chest.
then slit her throat, minutes after ending a chilling six-minute phone
call to police dispatchers in which she matter-of-factly admitted
stabbing her son before breaking into a repetition of monosyllabic words
and short phrases.
said Thomas apparently killed the child shortly after a dispute at the
house with her boyfriend. That man, who is not the boy's father and
whose identity was not released, had left the home before the attack
During the 911 call Wednesday, Thomas first accused her boyfriend of stabbing her child, then admitted repeatedly "I did it."
of Children and Families spokeswoman Kristine Brown said Zahree was
previously placed with relatives while Thomas sought "court-ordered
treatment for substance abuse and mental health disorders."
said the division had been working to assist the mother and her son
since Thomas regained custody of the child through an April 3 court
conducting an internal review of information pertaining to this case,
including DCF's role with the family," Brown said in a prepared
Thomas had lost custody of Zahree sometime after she was arrested in
November 2010 for allegedly leaving the boy who was 11 months old at
the time unattended in a car at 29th and Lincoln streets in the Cramer
Thomas, who lived nearby at
the time in the 1000 block of Lois Avenue, admitted she had blacked out
in a nearby park after smoking marijuana laced with PCP, a sedative
that can cause trance-like conditions, according to court records.
Thomas told investigators she could not remember where the child was.
that charge was administratively dismissed in October 2011 when a
female witness who had reported the incident to police recanted,
claiming instead that Thomas had left the child in her care, Laughlin
acknowledging investigators have received reports that Thomas was known
to use wet marijuana that has been laced with PCP Laughlin said
results of toxicology tests would be needed to determine if she was high
when she killed Zahree.
Authorities said there is no record of any recent disturbances at the Kaighn Avenue home prior to Wednesday's violence.
the DCF spokeswoman, said in the news release Wednesday that the
agency's services provided to Thomas "were extensive" and included,
among others, counseling, medication monitoring, substance abuse testing
and treatment and parental capacity evaluation.
with all child deaths due to suspected abuse or neglect, we will
vigorously investigate the circumstances around the death of Zahree
Thomas, as well as his mother," Brown stated in the release.
state agency has been under the supervision of a federal judge and
undergone a major overhaul since 2003 as a result of high-profile lapses
in the oversight of children.
of Thomas from neighbors and friends differed on Wednesday as some who
knew her described a mentally troubled woman who walked the sidewalks
cursing while others described a gentle mother who kept an immaculate
All, however, were shocked by the gruesomeness of the crime.
"This is not heard of," said Kevin Holmes. "You only see that on horror movies. It still has my mind boggled."
One neighbor said Thomas was upset while sitting topless on her front steps in the hours before police were called to the home.
Melanie Troutman said she saw Thomas, who she described as being
"clearly upset," sitting with her boyfriend in front of the home about
10:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Troutman said the boyfriend led Thomas back into the home a short time later.
Neighbor Tayari Horcey said she saw Thomas around 4 p.m. Tuesday and again at 10:30.
said Thomas was sitting outside talking with a man the latter time.
However, she disputed the neighbor's claim that Thomas was topless and
visibly upset. Rather, Horcey said Thomas appeared calm, as she
Horcey said she never noticed any sign of instability from Thomas in the months she and the boy had lived at the house.
If she or other neighbors had been aware of any trouble, Horcey said they would have sought out help.
"People hold that stuff in," she said. "You don't know what's going on."
However, one woman who said she knew Thomas from previous years described the mother as being "in a world all to herself."
Moore said Thomas has dealt with mental health issues for years and had
been seeking help from a behavioral health therapist.
"She just walked around and cursed to herself," Moore said of Thomas.
landlord of Thomas' brick and white-paneled home described her as a
model tenant who always paid her rent on time and kept the two-story row
home well cleaned. The man, who asked not to be named, said Thomas and
her son moved in several months ago.
man said just last week his wife went to the home to collect rent.
During the visit the couple's son and Zahree played together. From all
accounts, Thomas appeared to be a normal mom, he said.
"That's why it was a shock," the man said. "She was just a regular person."
everything was far from normal throughout the day on Wednesday as a
police squad car remained posted in front of the home and friends and
neighbors gathered on the sidewalk and area stoops to discuss the
At the home, three upstairs windows remained open and their screens
discarded on the roof from where officers made entry in attempts to
reach Thomas, who had barricaded herself upstairs.
said Thomas was upstairs still talking to the 911 operator when
officers arrived. Officers held a position on the first floor of the
home while attempts were made to contact her.
however, stabbed herself in the neck with a kitchen knife, apparently
within five minutes of hanging up from her call to dispatchers, Laughlin
said. Police tried to get her to open a door but soon climbed a ladder
and broke through the second-story bedroom windows. Thomas was found
dead in the room.
records show that Thomas claimed residency in several locations. Prior
to moving to Kaighn Avenue, she lived at the Lois Avenue address from
May 2004 to July 2012.
November 1997 to September 2006, Thomas resided in an apartment on
Merchantville Avenue in Pennsauken. A person reached at the home on
Wednesday declined to comment.
filings also indicate that Thomas had legal proceedings taken out
against her previously by landlords searching for back rent.
the city announced that residents of the Parkside community will have
an opportunity to receive counseling this week in collaboration with
Camden Police and resident and community-based organizations.
support counseling will be offered through the rest of the week from 10
a.m. to 5 p.m. at Bethel Deliverance Church on Kaighn Avenue. The
church is less than half a mile from the crime scene.