One year ago this week, a Greenbrier County woman killed five young boys, set the family’s house on fire and then killed herself.
The tragedy shook the community. Today, West Virginia lawmakers explored what steps could have been taken to prevent it.
“It’s really, really important to find out what we can do to protect kids,” said Senator Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, co-chairwoman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Children and Families.
In the end, there were no satisfying answers. There was more information about the awful events of a year ago — but also lingering questions.
The committee discussed what could have been done to save the lives of 7-year-old Shaun Dawson Bumgarner; 6-year-old Riley James Bumgarner; 4-year-old Kian Myers, 3-year-old Arikyle Nova Myers, and 1-year-old Haiken Jirachi Myers.
“Dec. 8 of last year, that county was rocked to its core,” said resident Mike Spradlin, a retired West Virginia State Police trooper who choked up as he spoke.
That day, 25-year-old Oreanna Myers killed all five children with shotgun blasts. She then set the two-story house on fire, went outside and shot herself. Her body was found near a picnic table. The shotgun was beside her.
In several notes left behind, Myers said she was suffering from mental illness. “This is no one’s fault but my own. My demons won over me. Sorry, I wasn’t strong enough,” she wrote, according to investigators.
She also wrote, “I had shot all of the boys in the head. I had set house on fire. I had shot myself in the head. I’m sorry. Mental health is serious. I hope one day someone will help others like me.”
Three of the children were hers. Two were from her husband’s first marriage.
The situation must have been building long before Myers snapped, Spradlin suggested.
“I knew that woman didn’t wake up that day thinking she was going to kill those kids,” said Spradlin, who took an interest in trying to understand what happened.
He described rumors that began circulating that a referral about the children’s living conditions had been made to Child Protective Services. “We had some pretty good information it was true,” Spradlin told lawmakers today.
That referral had been made by Sarah Peters, a dental hygienist with Greenbrier Valley Pediatric Dentistry. She, too, spoke to lawmakers today.
She described treating a patient, later identified as 4-year-old Kian, when she noticed a large bruise on his arm. Peters called a CPS hotline to report it: “She asked me a few questions about why I was calling. The child seemed super scared of his dad.”
At the same time, another employee of the dental practice described the father in the parking lot being verbally abusive with an even younger child.
But Peters said the call ended on a note that left her with little confidence.
“She never asked for the photograph. She just said I think I have all the information I need, and the call ended. Tragically, a few months later, there were five children that passed away, including the one I made the referral for.”
Peters said she was not interviewed after the call by law enforcement or social workers.
Should that referral have been enough to prompt a deeper look at the children’s living conditions? Could better followup have prevented their deaths?
Spradlin urged a deeper look.
I’m not here throwing rocks at CPS. But we’ve got to know what probable cause is. What is probable cause?” he said. “We just want answers.”
Rebecah Carson, the director of DHHR’s central intake unit, didn’t describe specifics involving that call. But she did describe what happens when calls come in.
Those who answer, she said, are licensed social workers. They follow a script but might have to diverge from that, depending on the circumstances. The social workers may notify a supervisor during the call if they assess an emergency. They enter a referral even as they take down the relevant information and then submit that to supervisor inboxes for review and approval.
Carson described safeguards meant to assure appropriate actions are taken.
Lt. Col. Dave Nelson, a deputy superintendent with the State Police, urged a continued examination of whether those steps are adequate.
“We have started conversations about ways to navigate to a better place for the betterment of the kids in need.” Nelson told lawmakers. “The main purpose and goal is to keep any kids from getting hurt.”