Relatives, law enforcement and the community at large were stunned Monday after a 5-year-old Alabama boy was found dead in a driveway and a worker at his daycare was subsequently charged with abuse of a corpse.
Charges against Valarie Rena Patterson, 46, of Mobile, have been upgraded to include one of manslaughter in the death of Kamden Dewan Johnson, according to Fox 10 in Mobile. The lead detective in the case signed warrants for the additional charges on Wednesday.
An 11-year-old girl walking home from her bus stop with friends Monday afternoon discovered Kamden’s lifeless body lying near some bushes in front of a home in a west Mobile neighborhood. The girl, Alexanderia Garmon, spoke to Fox 10 with her parents’ permission.
“My quick thinking was, ‘Oh my gosh, this little boy is not breathing! I need to run to my nanny’s house and get my grandma and call the police,’” Alexanderia told the news station.
Mobile Police Chief Lawrence Battiste on Tuesday held a news conference to give additional, but scant, information on the ongoing investigation. Battiste said the discovery of Kamden’s body led to Patterson’s arrest, but declined to give specific details of what pointed detectives in her direction.
Patterson was an employee of Community Nursery & Preschool Academy, which is located about two and a half miles from where Kamden’s body was found. Kamden was a student there, the preschool’s director confirmed to AL.com on Tuesday.
The police chief said the school was the link between Kamden and Patterson.
“There were some things that led us to believe that she had some involvement with the child, and that most likely would have come through the daycare,” Battiste said.
Battiste said that Patterson went to the police station Monday night “of her own accord” to talk to investigators. When asked about her demeanor during questioning, he answered that she was “somewhat” cooperative.
She was formally arrested early Tuesday morning. Patterson was initially charged solely with abuse of a corpse, which in Alabama is a Class E felony.
Battiste said Tuesday that additional charges could be added, but that his office was awaiting further investigation, as well as the boy’s autopsy results.
His death had not yet been classified as a homicide, the chief said.
Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich said Wednesday morning, however, that paperwork has been filed to add a charge of manslaughter against Patterson.
“It’s just a formality at this point,” Rich told AL.com following a court hearing.
Patterson was in court for a bond hearing that was pushed back until Thursday morning due to the new charges.
The hearing turned chaotic when Patterson’s grown son stood and strode toward the podium where his mother stood, apparently in an attempt to give her a hug. In video captured by WPMI in Mobile, Patterson is seen being removed from the courtroom as her son is restrained by courtroom security.
Witnesses in the gallery, some screaming in fear, could be seen leaving to avoid the physical confrontation.
Patterson’s son, identified in Mobile County jail records as Demarcus LeAndrew Lymon, was booked on a charge of interfering with judicial proceedings.
Patterson’s bond hearing was reset for Thursday morning.
Prosecutors and law enforcement both addressed the deep undercurrent of emotion in the case.
“I don't think there was any intent to harm anyone by that man. I think he was just emotionally distraught,” Rich told AL.com of Patterson’s son. “He did not follow the rules and we have to maintain order in the courtroom and everybody has to follow the rules, regardless of being distraught or not.”
Battiste, who said Tuesday that investigators were still trying to determine exactly how Kamden died, said the case was traumatic for the officers working it.
“As a law enforcement officer of 26-plus years, death is something that you see regularly, but you can never be prepared for the death of a 5-year-old,” Battiste said during the news conference. “It’s traumatic. It’s not just traumatic to me, but to my investigators that have small children right now.”
The chief said he looked at a photo he keeps of his own sons when they were in elementary school, during the early part of his career as a policeman.
“I looked at that picture, and I immediately thought of Kamden,” Battiste said.
Along with a cause of death, investigators are trying to determine a motive behind Kamden’s death.
Kenya Anderson, director of the preschool where Patterson worked, told AL.com that she was stunned by what happened. She said that Kamden’s mother dropped him off Monday morning and he boarded a van driven by Patterson for a ride to another daycare run by the company.
Anderson detailed for AL.com Patterson’s schedule, in which she worked split shifts, doing morning drop-offs and another van run in the evenings. Morning drop-offs typically ended around 1 p.m., when Patterson would return the van and pick up her personal vehicle.
Anderson said that after Patterson’s evening run on Monday, she claimed that Kamden was not on that ride.
“I told her normally, his mom would text and let me know, but I would call her to find out,” Anderson told AL.com.
Before Anderson could make that call, police investigators arrived to question Patterson about Kamden’s death.
Patterson, who jail records show had an extensive arrest history, mostly on theft charges, had worked at the daycare and preschool for just a few months, Anderson said.
Kamden had been enrolled at the school for two weeks, AL.com reported.
The boy’s family released a photo of him through an attorney, Gregory Harris, as well as a statement regarding his death.
“As you can imagine, our family is simply devastated,” the statement read, according to Fox 10. “There are really no words that can describe or express the loss that we have suffered. In this difficult time, we want to thank everyone for the outpouring of love that you have shown us and ask that you keep us firmly in your prayers, as you allow us our time to grieve in private.”
Alexanderia Garmon, who found Kamden’s body, told the news station that she feels like she has a new friend in the form of an angel.
“I keep thinking about it,” Alexanderia said. “When I woke up, I thought I saw him. He had wings and a halo in my dream.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.