CHICAGO (CBS) — A Kankakee couple was pulled over in Florida on Tuesday, five days after police issued an “endangered missing persons advisory” for their 1-year-old son, when they took him out of a hospital as authorities investigated how he ended up with multiple bruises.
Artie Fletcher and Kirsten Kelly-Fletcher were driving outside of Key West when state police spotted their car, which was the subject of an Amber Alert. After running the car’s license plate, police pulled the vehicle over, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
The three children were taken into protective custody, as they had been considered “at risk or endangered children,” but since there were no arrest warrants issued for the parents, they were released.
Artie Fletcher told CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov on Monday that he and his family fled the state last week with his 1-year-old son, Artistic, to protect the baby.
He took his son out of the hospital, against medical advice, after authorities launched an investigation into who or what caused the bruises on Artistic’s thighs, behind, and arm.
“I only did what a parent to protect their kid,” the father said in a telephone interview.
Last week, Fletcher says he and his wife, Kirsten, notified the state’s child-welfare agency when they noticed the bruises after picking up Artistic from the Jesus’ Lil Angels Daycare.
He says they took the toddler to the hospital. But when state child-welfare workers, who were already working with the family, told them they were taking all of their kids into protective custody, Artie says they left.
Kankakee police have said they want to talk to the parents to clear the matter up. As of Monday, police said the daycare center wasn’t being investigated, but likely will be – as will all parties involved.
Friends of the family said Artie and Kirsten didn’t hurt their son, and only took him out of the state for fear the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services would take their children away without properly investigating the matter.
Michelle Bernal said fear and wrongful accusations by DCFS sparked the ordeal. It began last week, when Artistic’s mother picked him up from daycare and noticed bruises on his upper thighs, bottom and arm.
Bernal says Kirsten Fletcher immediately took him to Provena St. Mary’s Hospital in Kankakee, and called her DCFS caseworker – they were in the system – and police were notified. Bernal said doctors even released Artistic, but then the family fled.
“They are two of the most loving, caring parents you would ever want to know,” Bernal said. “What would you do if it was your child? You did everything you were supposed to do – you went to the police, you went to the hospital, you called DCFS and then the answer you got was, ‘I’m about to take your children away from you.’”
Supporters of the parents said Artisitic received his bruises at his daycare – not at home – and want investigative efforts focused there. Jason Gilreath said the boy’s mother said she had talked with a lawyer and was hoping to clear the matter up.
That might take some doing, as DCFS has sought to take all three of the family’s children into protective custody.
DCFS spokesman Jimmie Whitelow would not answer any questions about this case earlier this week, citing legal restrictions.