BOSTON (CBS) - Fourteen-year-old David Almond's death at the hands of his father and girlfriend was preventable, according to a state report.
"There were missed warning signals by staff at the Department of Children and Families," said Maria Mossaides, director of the Massachusetts Office of the Child Advocate.
The investigation by the Office of the Child Advocate says the systemic failure of the Department of Children and Families, the State Education Department and the Fall River School District was complicated by the pandemic.
"I failed in my responsibility, because this happened under my watch," said Fall River School Superintendent Matthew Malone. "Without eyes on we had no idea of the depravity of what was going on in the home. It was a house of horrors."
In October, police found David emaciated in a Green Street home, covered in bruises and feces. His triplet brother was also being starved to death. The boys, born with autism and developmental disabilities, were living at a boarding school when DCF made the decision, just as schools shut down, to return them to their father John Almond and his girlfriend, Jaclyn Coleman.
Maria Mossaides said if anyone had seen the boys in person, they would have noticed they were in a state of starvation. "Very evident that they were being starved to death," Mossaides said.
She went on to say the father and his girlfriend staged video visits with DCF with bad cell phone views and the pair answered for the children who were not in clear view.
From March until David died, no one from DCF or the school ever saw the children in person and DCF could not explain why it decided to reunite the boys with a father who had a history of abuse and neglect.
Linda Spears, the head of DCF, says the decision to reunite the family is inexplicable and that proper procedures and policies were not followed. "In person visits were rebuffed by the family and we did not catch it," Spears said. "We did not catch that there was purposeful efforts to avoid visits and avoid in person contacts."
The state report says all safety nets failed to protect the children and recommended sweeping changes including in person visits for high-risk families, and better training for staff to detect abuse and neglect.
DCF says two management level employees have been terminated. The school department and Fall River schools along with DCF said they accepted the recommendations of the Child Advocate and in many cases had already implemented many of them.
Governor Charlie Baker called the report, "incredibly damning."
"I expect and anticipate that everything in there will get implemented as fast as it possibly can be," Baker said. "The report speaks for itself."
Prosecutors indicted the children's father and girlfriend on second degree murder charges. The DCF said two other children who were in the home, David's triplet brother, and a half sibling, are now doing well. The third triplet was not living with the family.
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