washingtonpost.com
Father Says Toddler Was In Son's Care
Forgotten Va. Girl Died in Family Van

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 3, 2002 8:54 AM

The Manassas father of 13 who left his 21-month-old daughter in the family's van in May told police that his eldest son was supposed to be watching the toddler and acknowledged that he didn't once ask about her as she overheated and died, according to documents filed yesterday in Prince William County Circuit Court.

The documents portray a family in which the oldest children were taking increasing responsibility for the care of their siblings. Early last year, that led the family's eldest daughter to a mental breakdown and hospitalization, during which she told doctors that she "thought she had too much responsibility and complained about it," the documents say.

The documents, filed late yesterday afternoon, provide a contrast with the stable image of the family of Kevin and Mary Kelly that fellow parishioners at All Saints Catholic Church and friends have put forward. Instead, there's evidence that Kevin Kelly had trouble controlling the household.

Mary Kelly told doctors shortly after the birth of her 13th child that she was "stressed about family size" and that her husband was "not as concerned," the court papers say. Less than a year later, she said that she wanted to use natural family planning to space her children and that her "husband refuses to consider it."

Kevin Kelly was charged last month with involuntary manslaughter and child neglect for Frances' death, which came on the heels of at least three incidents in which the family lost sight of the youngest child.

In written and oral statements to police, Kevin C. Kelly, 46, said he ran numerous errands, tried to fix a backyard fence, did laundry, made lunch and ferried children from school over the seven hours during which Frances Kelly sat in a van parked in front of the family's Zimbro Avenue home. Frances died May 29 as temperatures probably reached 140 degrees in the locked van, authorities said.

Carroll A. Weimer, Kevin Kelly's attorney, did not return calls. Robert R. Gregory, who has been hired to represent the six oldest children, ages 11 to 19, declined to comment yesterday.

In statements to police since February, when he left his 4-year-old son, Martin, in a video store for several hours, Kevin Kelly said he usually does not take care of his 13 children. He had been left in charge of 12 of them for a week before Frances died, while his wife and eldest daughter were in Ireland.

"It has been very hectic, but we thought we were managing fine," Kevin Kelly wrote in a statement to police hours after Frances was found dead. In the report, he consistently misspells his toddler's name as he lists the errands. "We were headed back to get the pizzas when I got a call from Kevin Jr. telling me to come home right away that Francis was left in the car and wasn't breathing. We rushed home and are devastated."

According to prosecutors, Kevin Kelly said he told his son Anthony, 17, to watch Frances and two other young children as he went about his day. The documents show that on at least one other occasion -- when Frances was found by a police officer running down the middle of the street at dusk in April -- Anthony also was blamed.

"The defendant advised that Anthony was supposed to be watching the children," Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Sandra Sylvester wrote about that incident. "Both parents acknowledged to the officer they understood their responsibilities for the care and safety of their children and advised that the children would be better supervised in the future."

Kevin Kelly also enlisted Anthony's help in fixing a fence the day Frances died. According to the documents, the family built the fence on Memorial Day to keep the preschoolers from running around, but they learned how to escape through a gap.

In Anthony Kelly's statements to police, he wrote plainly that the last time he saw Frances alive was in the van when their father dropped them off at home shortly after noon. He made no mention of being asked to take care of the children.

"When we were getting picked up I had a peripheral view of her but as this was ordinary, I took no notice of her," Anthony Kelly wrote. "The next time I saw her she was dead. . . . The only thing I can say is that I and all of us loved her and because she was baptized, we know she is in heaven."

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2002 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive