Gov. Paul LePage, in his first public statement on the alleged murder of 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy by her mother and stepfather, blamed child protective workers, school officials, police and legislators for failing to prevent the child’s death.

“In this particular case it’s a comedy of errors, both at DHHS, CDS, the mandatory reporters from the schools, law enforcement. Everybody here messed it up,” LePage said in an interview Wednesday with News Center Maine (WCSH/WLBZ).

In his comments, LePage blamed the Legislature for failing to enact tougher laws to prevent domestic violence and child abuse, saying “mandatory reporting is not working.”

“The whole system is flawed,” LePage said. “We talk a good game but we don’t take action. We say we want to protect these kids but what we put in place isn’t adequate to protect these kids.” Yet the state’s Child Welfare Ombudsman, Christine Alberi, who is charged with reviewing whether the agency is following its policies, has consistently cited in each annual report since 2013 that caseworkers need to improve on how they perform assessments, the critical step at the beginning of a child welfare investigation that helps determine whether children are in danger.

“Multiple cases involved failure to follow assessment policy, failure to follow safety planning policy, or failure to recognize risk to children in their parents’ care,” Alberi wrote in her 2017 report.

Under Maine law, the ombudsman’s annual reports must be submitted to the governor, the Legislature and DHHS.

The governor, who himself was the victim of child abuse and witnessed domestic violence as a child, said current state laws are ambiguous and weak, preventing state workers from doing their jobs.

He added later: “I’m not saying DHHS is not culpable here. They certainly have got some issues that we’ve got to look at but I’m saying it starts all the way up with the legislature. Let’s tighten it up. Let’s make sure our kids are protected and if we have to remove children, let’s remove them before they’re dead.”

LePage pointed specifically to a 2013 bill submitted by the executive branch that would have required mandatory reporters to receive training on their duties and would have made failure to report suspicions of abuse or neglect a misdemeanor criminal offense. The Legislature stripped out the required training provision and the criminal penalty.

In its final form, the legislation added six categories of injuries that must trigger a report of suspected child abuse or neglect, and LePage signed it into law.

But it is still unclear whether there was a failure to report suspected abuse in Marissa’s case. The superintendent of the Bangor school department, where Marissa attended between 2016 and 2017, said publicly that her staff on multiple occasions reported suspected abuse or neglect to DHHS.

Chris Downing, the superintendent of RSU 20 in Searsport, where Marissa was enrolled last, said his department “followed our policy and procedure,” but refused to say whether staff submitted reports in Marissa’s case, whether she was frequently absent, or if she attended school regularly.

Police have said previously that Marissa attended school regularly until November. In an interview, Downing questioned the source of that information, but he also refused to clarify if the girl had been attending school before her death.

“Marissa was a student at our school,” Downing said this week during an interview. “That’s what I’m at liberty to tell you.”

Kennedy was found dead in the Stockton Springs condominium where she was living with her mother, Sharon Carrillo, 33, and her stepfather, Julio Carrillo, 51.

Police allege that both adults brutally beat Marissa at least every day since October until she was found unresponsive by the family Feb. 25. Police said the Carrillos hatched a plan to make her death appear like an accident, and staged the scene in a basement boiler room before calling 911.

But police said both Carrillos admitted to beating Kennedy. They are each charged with one count of depraved indifference murder, and if convicted, could face between 25 years and life in prison.

The death has shocked the community in Bangor where the family lived until last year, and where neighbors and others said they called police repeatedly to report suspected domestic abuse in the home.

But Julio Carrillo was never arrested. He has no criminal record in Maine.

Domestic violence and child abuse are issues close to LePage, who has said he and his mother were brutally beaten by his father when he was a child growing up in the French-Canadian section of Lewiston—formative experiences that he has described in public repeatedly over the years and that have shaped his outlook on policy.

Although LePage blasted state agencies for failing to protect children, his administration plans to reduce child abuse prevention services.

Just a few weeks before Marissa Kennedy’s death, the DHHS informed Opportunity Alliance, a nonprofit in South Portland, that as of September the state will no longer fund a $2.2 million program called Community Partnerships for Protecting Children.

In southern Maine, where the program has been established for about a decade, the program partners with about 60 groups, including schools, nonprofits, law enforcement, local governments, churches and others to identify and help families at risk of abuse and neglect. 

Just two years ago, the DHHS expanded the program to other communities.

But the agency recently told providers that the program was duplicative and not evidence-based.

“It is our duty to the Maine taxpayers to ensure that programs we fund are not duplicative of one another. Their money needs to be spent in the most effective and efficient ways possible,” said DHHS spokeswoman Emily Spencer.

The Carrillos are being held at Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset in lieu of $500,000 bail.

Much about the couple’s life is still unknown, but so far in interviews, Sharon Carrillo’s attorney, Christopher MacLean, has said his client was also the victim of Julio Carrillo, and at the time of her arrest, Sharon Carrillo had bruises that her husband allegedly inflicted, and denies she took part in the beating of Marissa.

Julio Carrillo, who was recently assaulted in jail, was convicted of domestic violence assault in Kentucky in 2000, according to a state prosecutor.

His first wife, Kathleen Carrillo, of Louisville, Kentucky, said she was regularly brutalized by Julio, who exhibited controlling behaviors only a few months after their marriage.

The couple split up in 2006, and Kathleen Carrillo said she is still unsure if they were ever officially divorced.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

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