Well before 10-year-old Barway Collins was reported missing, then found dead, Hennepin County child protection services had found his father responsible for mistreating four of his other children.
Yet Barway remained in Pierre Collins’ care.
Two years ago, the father of six children had been ordered to stay away from four of them after they claimed he’d touched them in a sexual way and beat them, Hennepin County child protection reports show.
The documents offer little to no information about Barway, who was living with his father during and after the abuse.
Hennepin County now is in the process of terminating Collins’ parental rights to his youngest child, a 1-year-old boy he had with Yamah Collins, his current wife. Barway was living with Pierre, Yamah, the 1-year-old and another child Yamah had before meeting Pierre when he disappeared March 18 after being dropped off after school in front of their Crystal apartment. His body was found April 11 in the Mississippi River. Pierre Collins, 33, has been charged with killing Barway.
Rex Holzemer, assistant Hennepin County administrator of human services, said Wednesday that the county is legally obligated to file a petition to terminate parental rights “in any case where there’s egregious harm.”
“Bottom line is the reason we are filing [the petition] is because ultimately of the alleged murder of Barway,” Holzemer said. “So we got a requirement to go in and file that on the other kids, frankly, regardless of whether there had been abuse or not in the past.”
Collins’ ex-wife, Jennifer Beaver, told the Star Tribune in April that their “wonderful” relationship turned into a messy divorce after Collins physically or sexually abused her and their four children.
Collins had twins with Beaver and adopted her two oldest children. The six had been living together for some time before Barway, then 5, traveled from his native Liberia in 2011 to join his father, who had arrived around 2003.
In early 2013, one of Beaver’s children alleged that Collins had touched and kissed her in a sexual way, and another said Collins had beaten him, Hennepin County records show. A child protection investigation was opened.
Beaver applied for and was granted a restraining order, and Hennepin County found Collins responsible for “maltreatment” of the two children, records show. Beaver also reported the abuse to police. The county attorney’s office investigated, but found insufficient evidence for a criminal charge.
During that time, Beaver said Collins physically abused her and was rough with all the children, most of all with Barway, whom he spanked with a belt, she said. “He would literally whip him. … We fought so much about it. He told me to stay in my place, [that Barway] wasn’t my kid,” she said in April.
In August 2013, Hennepin County also investigated allegations that Collins had sexually abused a third child of Beaver’s, and he was ordered to “remain out of the home,” records show
The judge handling Collins’ case appointed a guardian ad litem charged with representing the best interests of the children, then, citing the guardian’s report, granted Beaver sole legal and physical custody of the four children. Beaver said she inquired about getting custody of Barway, but was told she had no legal rights to the boy, whose birth mother lived in Liberia.
The judge also ordered Collins to complete a “sexual boundaries education program” before seeking supervised parenting time and to pay $650 a month in child support for the four children.
By June 2013, the couple had filed for divorce. In November, the county closed its case with “services in place,” documents show.
“Our staff felt that the kids were safe, and we closed the case because Pierre was out of the picture,” Holzemer said. “Well, he comes back into the picture without us knowing, and that’s what makes it so difficult in these cases.
“If a family member agrees to protect their children and keep a perpetrator out of the picture and they have met their case plans, we close because children at that point seem to be safe. And you bring the perpetrator back in the picture and we don’t find out about it, significantly bad things can happen to kids during that period of time.
“As we all know, that domestic abuse cycle sometimes perpetuates itself, and unfortunately kids sometimes get caught in the middle of that. That’s a significant piece of the story here.”
In June 2014, Beaver returned “the abused children to [Collins] and left the state,” records say. Hennepin County referred the case to Chisago County, where Beaver had been living with the children, according to the case summary. Eventually the children went back to Beaver.
By that time, Collins was living with Yamah, Barway and the two younger children. He asked to modify his child support, and the court agreed to suspend the payments. When the case returned to Hennepin County court — early on the very day Barway went missing — the judge ordered Collins to find a job and to start paying more than $600 a month in child support.
The day Collins was arrested, a finding of maltreatment was made against him regarding his youngest child. Records say Collins “threatened physical and sexual abuse” of the 1-year-old son. The subsequent investigation found that Yamah’s two children, including the 1-year-old, “appeared to be healthy, clean and well-groomed,” and that there were “no safety concerns with the children” remaining with their mother.
In April, Collins declined to participate in an interview with child protection investigators but said, “I had nothing to do with [Barway’s disappearance]. I love my children. I would never hurt my children.”
His next court appearance is set for July 7.