Kin consider donating boy’s organs

Murder inquiry begins in Father’s Day beating

Alicia Turner, mother of Nathaniel Turner, left, and her boyfriend speak with guardian ad litem Laurie S. Raphaelson before a Juvenile Court hearing in Worcester on Wednesday. Alicia Turner, mother of Nathaniel Turner, left, and her boyfriend speak with guardian ad litem Laurie S. Raphaelson before a Juvenile Court hearing in Worcester on Wednesday. (Christine Peterson/Worcester Telegram & Gazette via Associated Press)
By Patricia Wen and John Ellement
Globe Staff / June 26, 2009
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WORCESTER - The family of 7-year-old Nathaniel Turner remained in seclusion yesterday, asking for privacy as they consulted with hospital doctors about when to remove life support for the boy who has already been deemed brain dead after an alleged brutal beating by his father on Father’s Day.

A court-appointed advocate for Nathaniel has said the family planned to donate his organs, so the timing of the removal of life support may be affected by that decision. The Worcester district attorney’s office also said it has begun a murder investigation, though charges are not expected to be filed for at least a day or two.

The father - Leslie Schuler, 36, of Worcester, who had petitioned a court for visitation with his son to establish a paternal bond - is behind bars on $250,000 cash bail after being arrested on multiple child abuse charges.

It remained unclear how the child came to live with Schuler, whom he never knew and who had an extensive criminal record. Though the father had petitioned a judge this year for visitation, court records do not indicate the request was approved, officials said. Also, the state Department of Children and Families, the child protection agency, said yesterday that it had no involvement overseeing the child’s care in different homes during his life.

It appears the boy’s upbringing was largely determined by informal arrangements within his extended family. The boy’s maternal grandmother, Christine Taylor, raised him virtually since birth, court records show. She took on that role because her daughter suffered from mental problems and obtained temporary guardianship of Nathaniel that expired four years ago. A few years ago, the grandmother took Nathaniel with her when she moved from Worcester to her hometown of Eufaula, Ala.

This year, the father apparently told the grandmother he had won a court order allowing the boy to join him in Worcester, and the grandmother went along without any indication of his potential for violence, a relative said.

“She did not think the dad was dangerous,’’ said Gardeen Carter, the boy’s great-aunt who lives in Brewton, Ala.

Court records indicate that Schuler has an assault conviction in 2001 involving domestic violence and a pending assault charge in which he allegedly struck another person with a pipe.

If Nathaniel’s grandmother or mother had suspected the father was dangerous or wanted to prevent the boy from being with him, they could have petitioned a Massachusetts judge to investigate his background. A probate and family court judge could then have ordered a criminal background check, though such a check is not automatic in the family courts.

Nathaniel was brought to St. Vincent’s Hospital Monday by the boy’s father and his girlfriend, Tiffany Hyman, 28.

Police said the boy was the victim of emotional and physical abuse beginning on May 19, culminating in the fatal beating Sunday.

The state’s child-protection agency took over legal custody soon after the boy arrived at the hospital, though it returned legal custody to the biological mother after a court hearing Wednesday that paved the way for removal of life support.

Nathaniel’s first-grade teacher at Eufaula Primary School, Kelli Whitehead, said she is devastated the boy will never return to her school. “He was a straight-A student, great all across the board but particularly strong in math,’’ she said. “He would always give me hugs.’’

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.