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Murder arrests made in death of 4-year-old allegedly beaten in a 'kinship placement' foster home in Jacksonville

James Reese died of severe head injuries that police say he received in a home where he was placed by state welfare officials for his safety.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — Two adult caregivers of a 4-year-old boy who died in April were arrested Thursday on charges of murder and manslaughter, according to jail records.

Michelle Sipko and Alex Pino were arrested for the April death of 4-year-old James Reese. Pino faces charges of second-degree murder and aggravated child abuse. Sipko faces charges of manslaughter and child neglect.

Court officials confirm the pair are scheduled to have their first appearance Friday afternoon.

According to the arrest warrant, Pino had printed out an internet search for "intracranial hemorrhaging." The warrant also says Reese was not in daycare that day because he had not received his vaccinations and was therefore at home. 

According to multiple law enforcement and child welfare sources, 4-year-old James Reese was brought to Wolfson Children’s Hospital on April 15 with injuries that included multiple broken bones and a badly fractured skull. He remained on life support for nearly a week before he was pronounced dead in what police quickly determined was a murder.

Officers consulted a neuropathologist during the investigation who stated that based on his observation and examination this was "undoubtedly a homicide," the arrest report says. The doctor also stated that there is no disease or naturally occurring illness or condition that could be confused with the child's injuries.

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Credit: Jacksonville Sheriff's Office
Alexander Pino and Michelle Sipko were arrested in relation to a 4-year-old foster child's death. Pino is charged with murder and Sipko faces manslaughter charges.

The boy was one of four siblings living in what is known as a "kinship placement" when he was injured. Similar to foster homes, kinship placements put children who are removed from their biological parents with relatives. All four siblings were sent to the Westside home earlier this year.

First Coast News reached out to Sipko last month, but she declined comment. We were unable to reach Pino.

The children were placed in the home by the National Youth Advocate Program, a contractor for Family Support Services (FSS), one of the lead child welfare agencies working for the state Department of Children and Families (DCF).

Under Florida’s “community-based care” model, DCF contracts with 18 nonprofit agencies statewide to administer child welfare and family support services. FSS in turn outsources direct services, like foster care and kinship placements, to other agencies.

Following James Reese’s injuries, the other three children were removed from the home.  

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