Answers elusive in child's death while in state foster care

Answers elusive in child's death while in state foster care
Hunter Payton
Hunter Payton

GRAYSON COUNTY, KY (WAVE) - "I don't know what to believe," Ryan Payton said.

"I was hoping it was a bad dream, really," his wife April added.

Three months ago, the state took their three children - Thomas, age 11; Summer, age 2; and Hunter, age 4.

"He just looked at me and said, 'Please don't let them take me,'" said Donna Riggs, Hunter's aunt, as she recalled the moment when Child Protective Services drove away with them.

Ron Hines, the Paytons' attorney, said CPS showed up on an anonymous tip, searched the house, found nothing, ordered a drug test, and the Paytons tested positive for amphetamine.

"And they just took the kids to a foster home, next county, Hardin County," Hines said.

Questions about their care began when Hunter showed up for a supervised visitation with a large bruise around his eye.

"He had a big bruise on his face, all the way up his eye," Riggs recalled. "They said his sister pushed him down the stairs. That's basically all we know about that. They seen us looking at it. Of course, I'm gonna look at it. She said, 'Oh, didn't they call you?' I said, 'No.' 'Well, his sister pushed him down the stairs.'"

Two weeks later, the Paytons did get a call from the state.

"She said he fell off a bar stool," Payton said. "And then it was a bench he fell off. She said two different things. He supposedly fell off, hit his head. They told us it was an unlikely injury. It doesn't happen. Something hit him hard."

Hunter never regained consciousness and died May 10 of a fractured skull.

"I don't want to think it, but I kind of think maybe he suffered a little," Riggs said.

The Paytons got an attorney, who had to get a court order so the other children could attend the funeral.

"While at the funeral, they noticed the 2-year-old, Summer, had a bad bruise on her jaw line, again where she'd been hit or slapped," Hines said.

The Paytons still don't know where their children are right now. They continue getting one visitation with them, every two weeks, supervised by CPS. And they can't talk to their kids about any of this.

"They're told, 'Don't discuss anything about the case,'" Hines said. "'Don't discuss anything about the dead child. If you do, we're gonna cut off your visitation."

"We can't even call them, and they can't call us, nothing," Ryan Payton said.

The spokesperson for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services responded to WAVE 3 News' questions about this case with a statement via email:

Confidentiality laws prohibit us from commenting on individual situations. We extend our prayers and sympathies to all those impacted by this tragedy.

That's not enough for a family now grieving a boy taken away twice -- this time permanently.

"I miss his voice," Ryan Payton said through tears. "I miss playing with him, everything about him."

"He was a good boy," April Payton said. "Everybody loved him."

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services would not share any details on the foster home. We were able to determine it's in Radcliff, because police there tell us they are investigating, and the case is still open.

Hines is still awaiting the autopsy results. WAVE 3 News has requested them as well.

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