One step more

August 03, 2006

Everyone who knew that a child molester had befriended 11-year-old Irvin J. Harris must be thinking today, "If only I had ... " The boy, who had been missing from his Northeast Baltimore home, was found stabbed to death early Monday in a wooded area behind a church.

Melvin L. Jones Jr., a convicted sex offender who was barred by a court order from having unsupervised contact with kids, had been a baby sitter for the Harris children and has been charged with Irvin's murder.

Compounding the tragedy of the child's death is that several people did take steps to try to keep him from his accused killer - but each could have taken one step more.

Reporting by The Sun's Julie Bykowicz and Gus G. Sentementes explains how several people tried to protect Irvin, and where that help fell short:

Drug counselors who warned Irvin's mother, Shanda Harris, that a child sex offender had befriended her son could have alerted child welfare authorities.

Ms. Harris knew of Mr. Jones' criminal past but never reported him to authorities and never filed criminal charges against Mr. Jones after Irvin accused the 52-year-old of choking him July 4.

A police detective reviewing Irvin's assault complaint wasn't able to confirm that Mr. Jones was the same person as the one in the state's registry of sex offenders. He needed the child or his mother to identify Mr. Jones as the same person, but he couldn't find them.

Bertha Reid, Irvin's grandmother, was suspicious of Mr. Jones. But she never acted on her suspicions, except to raise concerns with the boy's mother.

The principal of Irvin's school banned Mr. Jones from Collington Square School a year ago, but he never alerted authorities that a convicted child molester had been to the school as a friend of the Harris family.

Several people did what they could to police Mr. Jones and protect Irvin, and no one individually is to blame for the boy's death except his killer. And yet, the circumstances leading up to Irvin's death read like a series of unfortunate events that conspired to leave an 11-year-old boy vulnerable to a convicted sex offender.

Maryland officials agree on what's needed to better police sex predators - smaller caseloads, the ability to polygraph offenders, track them with GPS chips and search their computers. Now, they have to make it happen.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.