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Published: Saturday, 2/18/2006

Body of 7-year-old boy had scars

BY TAD VEZNER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Ju'Nathan Shoulders Ju'Nathan Shoulders
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A Toledo boy who died last Saturday had multiple scars on his body and reportedly was disciplined by his father and stepmother the night before and the day of his death, though there were no signs of injury that could have led to his death, according to court documents and officials close to the case.

Ju'Nathan Shoulders, 7, died in Toledo Hospital after he was taken there from his home at 3535 Hilltop Blvd.

Initial reports indicated fire crews were sent to the home about 11 a.m. for a boy who was not breathing. Police were told that Ju'Nathan walked into the living room and passed out.

The Lucas County coroner's office is trying to determine the cause of his death.

"He wasn't beaten to death, I can tell you that. That would be easy to determine," said Dr. Cynthia Beisser, a Lucas County deputy coroner who is awaiting the results of toxicology tests which could pinpoint the cause of death.

The documents were submitted Tuesday to Lucas County Juvenile Court for a custody hearing for two other children in the care of the boy's father, Willie Shoulders, Jr.

Ju'Nathan's 5-year-old brother and 2-year-old sister were taken from the home and placed in the care of Lucas County Children Services.

According to the documents filed by children services, Mr. Shoulders "reported that on the evening of Feb. 10, 2006, he whipped Ju'Nathan and [his brother] because they wet themselves. [The brother] reported his stepmother, Tanisha Shoulders, whipped Ju'Nathan and him on Feb. 11, 2006."

They also state an examination of Ju'Nathan's body "revealed in excess of thirty linear and loop-shaped welts and scars."

The 5-year-old brother and 2-year-old sister also had multiple linear and loop-shaped welts and scars on their bodies of varying ages when examined in a Children Services clinic, according to the documents.

The report also cited a coroner's verbal preliminary report indicating "an impact bruise on the top of his head that is consistent with the report that he had been jumping on a bed and struck his head. There were no internal injuries that would look like a beating."

Dr. Beisser said the welts and scars on Ju'Nathan's body appeared old, and a head bruise, which included some blood under the scalp, was not a fatal wound.

"There was no evidence of a fatal beating," she said.

Mr. Shoulders could not be reached for comment last night.

Toledo police Detective Vince Mauro, who said he has heard conflicting reports of what happened before the boy's death, said he will decide how to proceed with his investigation once he receives the coroner's report.

"There is a possibility that there was child abuse that had gone on prior to Saturday, but now the focus is on determining the cause of death," he said.

Dean Sparks, executive director of children services, said his agency had no indication of prior abuse with regard to the children, and said every service provider involved with the case was supportive of Mr. Shoulders as a parent.

He said while he personally objects to it, corporal punishment is allowed under state law.

"Just because the child has an injury, even if it was an injury caused by the father, doesn't necessarily mean cause for removal," he said. "There are so many 'what ifs.'‚óŹ"

"We remove a child if they are in imminent risk of harm," he said.

Mr. Sparks acknowledged an incident in January at Kaiser Elementary School in which Ju'Nathan had marks on his body and his agency was called. He said it was his understanding the boy and his sibling both blamed the marks on another student.

"Now that we know what we know, would I leave a kid with 30 loop marks with the father? No, I wouldn't," he added.

Contact Tad Vezner at:

tvezner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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