Donovan Slack chat transcript

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June 2, 2008

Donovan_Slack Good morning. This is Globe reporter Donovan Slack. I look forward to answering questions about this story...

lower-ender i was raised in south boston's lower end. your story was tragic..why isn't Anna Reisopolous in jail? she totally defrauded the social services system, filed for illegal payments and lied to DSS investigators about her children's safety, not to mention the fact that she repeatedly put her children in danger. this liberal state government is too blame for the leniency shown her!

Donovan_Slack You raise some interesting points, lower-ender. I think one of the revelations we had while reporting this story is that there is no single person to blame here, but rather many different junctures with many different people and agencies that could have changed the outcome.

Donovan_Slack Perhaps it's worth noting that Acia's guardian, her paternal grandmother, Irene Gregory, signed the DSS form each year attesting to the fact that the children were living with her.

Mrs__C_ How difficult was it to talk to this mother about her children knowing that she was in large measure responsible for their deaths?

Donovan_Slack It was one of the most difficult interviews I've done in my journalism career. I spent several hours over several days with Anna and despite her past actions as a mother, she is still a woman who looked on as two of her children died in a fire.

trish why wasn't the Mother charged with leaving the kids alone

Donovan_Slack I'm not sure anyone knew how often she left them alone. When DSS visited the house, officials say, she was always present and cooperative.

trish why wasn't the mother charged with neglect

Donovan_Slack In a sense she was, several times. DSS did substantiate repeated neglect reports against her since 1995, and actually removed Acia and her twin brother from Anna's custody in 1999. But DSS says now that it didn't figure out the kids had returned to live with her until it was too late. After the fire.

Tia I read the story yesterday and I truly believe that DSS is not at fault. If anyone is at fault, it is the mother and the father. I hate drug addicts and people who drink, especially those who have kids.

Donovan_Slack I think this is one of those situations where everyone will have opinions about who is responsible. see answer above about no single person to blame...

trish But don't u think she was hiding something from them to deliver a baby at home

Donovan_Slack She absolutely wanted to hide her youngest child, Sophia, from authorities. Anna says she gave birth to her at home, and was scared to take her to a doctor for a year after she was born for fear DSS would take her away...

orville How is Southie handling this tragedy? All the neighbors seem really broken up whenever I see them interviewed on TV news.

Donovan_Slack Many neighbors I spoke with were incredibly sad about the deaths of the children. But I found it interesting that they didn't want to speak on the record about any of the mother's misdeeds. Instead, they closed ranks around Anna and tried to protect her. Privately, though, they told us some of the disturbing events found in the story.

Mrs__C_ Your story was "water-cooler" discussion this morning at my work..we are all astounded that there is not mention of Anna ever working for a living and especially undergoing gastric bypass on tax payers dollars. Totally outrageous!

Donovan_Slack I'm glad to hear the story provoked discussion. It was certainly a thought-provoking story to write, for me and my colleague Keith O'Brien. I know both of us spent many sleepless nights thinking about this one.

BGlobie How soon before the Clearwater Police begin extradition proceedings on the open warrants against the parents. Perhaps they are more willing to dispense some justice than this state is willing to do

Donovan_Slack That's an interesting question. There was no explanation in the story, but when Acia's parents left Florida and moved back to Massachusetts when Acia was a toddler, there was a child abuse case pending against the mother.

Donovan_Slack But Clearwater police did not enter the warrant into the national FBI-managed criminal database, where Massachusetts authorities would have found it. It wasn't their fault, though. The charge was a misdemeanor and only felonies are entered in the database. Child protection advocates say federal guidelines should be changes so that warrants for ALL crimes against children are entered.

trish Is her son with her now or has dss finally stepped up and taken him

Donovan_Slack Anna's son Ray Jr is living with his paternal grandmother, Irene Gregory, in the South End and DSS is still investigating whether he should stay there. In the meantime, he has been able to visit Anna regularly.

sunny Is the son still living with her?

Donovan_Slack see answer above

trish Is anna's son in state custody now to be protected from her ?

Donovan_Slack see answer above.

trish it seems like anna was using the system section 8...welfare...for gastric bypass surgery

Donovan_Slack She did have gastric bypass surgery in 2006 with the help of public assistance. And she definitely received other assistance -- housing subsidies, food stamps and cash payments. What was interesting was that on all of these applications, she listed Acia and her brother as living with her. But DSS had supposedly removed them from her custody, and never checked with these other agencies to see what was really going on.

Rob I have a question about Ray Johnson. I am a Boston Public School teacher, and in the early to mid eighties I was teaching at the Edwards Middle School In Charlestown and had a student there named Ray Johnson. To me, there is a resemblance to what I see photographed on p. A12 in the Globe. Do you know if Ray Johnson attended the Edwards Middles School at around that time?

Donovan_Slack I'm afraid I can't help you there. I don't know if it is the same Ray.

trish I don't live in southie anymore I moved out a yr ago thank god. to many drugs and violence for my daughter to grow up in but she did know acia from the gavin and she was devastated

Donovan_Slack Yes, I found many of the young people Acia's age were really devastated by her death.

sunny How does he feel about his mother?

Donovan_Slack You are talking about Ray Jr, the surviving son, I presume. When I saw him and spoke with him, I was incredibly moved by his deep love for his mother, no matter what had happened. When I look on his MySpace page, it's clear he feels responsible for his sisters deaths. He writes things like, I'm sorry I let you down, to his sisters on the page.

Liz Thanks for the story. I'm wondering about the fate of Anna and Ray's two other children. Has the third child spent any time with the family?

Donovan_Slack There are four children -- Acia and her twin brother, Ray Jr, Sophia, and another child that we didn't name in the story but whom DSS took away in 2000 and placed with an aunt because he was born addicted to cocaine due to Anna's drug use during pregnancy.

Donovan_Slack And that child, a little boy, has been barred from spending time with his biological mother, unlike Acia and her twin, who went back to live with their mother.

bean does anybody know about the other son, that lives with the grandmother? she had said that the boy didn't know what happened

Donovan_Slack See answer above. I don't know if he knows what happened. We've heard from some people that he does and others that he doesn't.

Mrs__C_ Do you think that Anna will find some sort of salvation/redemption from this experience or will she continue as is? I know you can't predict her future, but I am interested as to whether or not she is looking to make some positive changes fro herself and her two surviving children.

Donovan_Slack This is a very good question. I know there are a lot of people -- friends, relatives and others -- who are pulling for her to make a change. That decision, as you point out, remains up to her. I can tell you at this point that she is living with friends on and off, spends time with Ray Jr and is trying to get another apartment. She told me a few weeks ago that she still has a Section 8 voucher for her and her surviving son, even though she is not supposed to have custody of him.

galway]] how can ray, jr. be living with irene gregory? isn't she the one that lied about the two girls living with her?

Donovan_Slack That's another good one. According to Anna, the situation appears poised to return to what it was before the fire, with Gregory as guardian in name only and with Anna caring for Ray Jr in reality. (see most recent answer about Sec 8)

Siobhan Great article Donovan. It's very hard not to be furious with Anna as a reader. Did you have trouble remaining objective to get the story?

Donovan_Slack Thank you. I'm not sure I would say it was difficult to remain objective. But I will say it was more challenging that what I normally cover, which is Boston City Hall. Reporting on officials' actions is obviously far less emotional than reporting on the deaths of two children.

Tony Will DSS make any changes to policies after this tragedy?

Donovan_Slack We don't know yet what DSS will do, or for the matter, whether they will do anything. DSS Commissioner Angelo McClain told me that he believes the agency made an extraordinary effort with this family.

trish has anyone interviewed Nicole's family to find out why she would do something so cruel like this...What was she thinking of now she'll spend the rest of her life in jail and she should after what she did to those kids

Donovan_Slack Nicole Chuminski is charged in the deaths, but not convicted yet, so we shouldn't jump the gun on this one. She has denied even being at the house that night.

trish Why didn't Anna ever go for help for her addiction to be a better parent instead of using the system

Donovan_Slack She says that when people have tried to convince her to get help, she has resisted. She admits she has always been stubborn and reluctant to do what anyone else tells her to do. She says that when Ray Sr, the children's father, asked her to get help, she told him "You take care of you and Anna will take care of Anna."

Siobhan I disagree with the DSS Commissioner. You reported that both Irene Gregory and Anna Reisopolous were drawing from the system for these kids at the same time. Wouldn't a simple check have revealed that discrepancy?

Donovan_Slack Yes, a simple check would have revealed it. State officials say the simple check is difficult because of privacy issues -- laws restrict the information that can be shared between agencies. But they admit a simple permission form, signed by the applicants, would allow them to share more information.

trish True, But didn't they find evidence on her clothes ?

Donovan_Slack The district attorney says the investigation linked a flammable liquid from the fire scene to residue on Nicole Chuminski's clothes. So yes. But as always, innocent until proven guilty, right?

enida Ray Jr. has been through a lot, is there any professional help being provided to him?

Donovan_Slack I don't know. That would probably be private medical information. I do hope so, though.

jen_2 Any idea if the mother will eventually face charges?

Donovan_Slack No idea at this point.

trish he's only a little boy he shouldn't feel responsible for there deaths th system let them down not him

Donovan_Slack Yes, it's unfortunate that Ray Jr feels responsible for the deaths.

omar What is the deal with the lesbian tryst that was going on? Were they really lovers? Or fighting over men?

Donovan_Slack They were lovers. They fell in love around New Years and Nicole moved in with Anna and the kids at that point.

bean Does the guardian also receive section 8 for the son? as bad as this is, it seems all too easy for people to continue to live this lifestyle without any repercussions, why didn't she have a one bedroom section 8 if she didn't have custody of her kids is just beyond me

Donovan_Slack You know, that's a good question about the grandmother, one I'll definitely check out. Officials at the housing organization that provided Anna with the voucher, the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership, declined to comment specifically on Anna's case, but said that in general, they rely on tenants to notify them when they have lost custody.

monica This is such a hard story and it is easy to blame the mother in this... I'll admit I haven't finished your article but in this discussion board and in the overall media coverage there has been a glaring lack of attention paid to the domestic violence present all through out this story. Both with the children's father and with Nicole. I'm wondering how different the coverage would be in Nicole had been a man.

Donovan_Slack You bring up an excellent point. Domestic violence occurred throughout these children's lives, between Anna and their father, Anna and the kids, and between Anna and Nicole. The coverage, though, would not have been any different if Nicole were a man. We treated her actions the same as those of the children's father.

dan What charges will the mother face?

Donovan_Slack No idea right now.

Tia the mother should be charge with murder.

Donovan_Slack see above

lower-ender what about criminal charges for Anna...any news?

Donovan_Slack see above

trish she was in fear that they would take the baby away, Because she was still doing drugs ?

Donovan_Slack Anna had Sophia at home because she was scared DSS would take it away, but it's unclear if that fear was fueled by her drug use or simply because DSS had already removed her other three children.

trish why would she stay with Nicole when her kids didn't like her...

Donovan_Slack Anna says she was in love with Nicole, and she now says she should have listened to her children when they complained Nicole was "no good." But throughout her life, Anna admits, she was reluctant to do what anyone told her. (see answer about drug treatment above.)

ct How tragic that DSS did not pull these kids out of this house. Who can be held accountable for DSS inaction?

Donovan_Slack Well, they did, actually. DSS removed the kids from Anna's custody in 1999, but they kids went back to live with her. I think there is not just one person or agency responsible in this case. There are many junctures with people and society that Acia's life had that, if they had gone a different way, could have changed the outcome.

Donovan_Slack Thank you all so much for reading and for your incisive questions. I look forward to following up in future stories about what happens as a result of Acia's tragic struggle.

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