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Advocates Say System Failed 4-Year-Old Tate Thurman, Whose Abuse, Death Chillingly Reminds Advocates Of AJ Freund Case

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Demolition began Wednesday on the Crystal Lake home where 5-year-old AJ Freund suffered intense abuse that eventually led to his death.

While the AJ Freund story made national headlines, some child advocates say another case – that of 4-year-old Tate Thurman – has eerie similarities as it unfolds in Central Illinois.

CBS 2's Chris Tye on Wednesday night examined the just-released documents in the Tate Thurman case, and the questions they're generating.

The demolition of the Freund house was an emotional source of relief for many neighbors – even if they didn't know AJ personally. But peel it all back and the reality is that a horrific abuse case like the AJ Freund case could happen again – and in fact, it may already have.

"DCFS let Tate down," said Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert. "And now, he's dead."

On Feb. 18 of this year, 10 months to the day after the call claiming that AJ was missing, a slip-and-fall call came from a home in East Peoria, Illinois.

When it was over, Tate Thurman would be dead.

Tate was a western sheriff at Halloween, and wore a shirt reading "Little Dude" in a photo where he's seen drifting off to sleep. Toy racecars decorated a cake for Tate's second birthday.

Two years later, Tate's fourth birthday party would be his last.

The Peoria County Coroner's office said Tate had suffered blunt force trauma. He had suffered tears to his intestines and bruises from head to toe.

When he arrived at the hospital, he was brain dead.

Tate's father's live-in girlfriend, Lesli Jett, was charged with murder.

And the warning signs at the house were around longer than Tate was.

"It spans back seven investigations over nine years, including a dead child, a dead mother, a drug overdose," Golbert said.

But as to the records on Tate's family, Golbert held up a single sheet of paper and said, "This is all that they gave us."

On Wednesday night for the first time, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services broke down its history with the family.

In 2011, before Tate was even born, a newborn died at the home. The DCFS said it was an unsafe sleep environment.

Seven DCFS investigations would start and stop over the next six years. Tate's mother would lose guardianship several times before she died of a drug overdose in 2017.

After that, Tate and a sibling were returned to their father's care on a judge's order.

The DCFS was never required to check back in after that, and indeed the agency never did.

That was until two weeks ago, when Tate's lifeless body was brought to the hospital for what the family called a "slip and fall."

The only slip was his life falling through the cracks, child advocates say. They say a system chock full of cracks failed both AJ and Tate.

"If we have transparency and compare what went wrong in Tate's case to what went wrong in AJ's case, we can hopefully move forward to that reform," Golbert said.

The DCFS provided a very broad-brush timeline of its encounters with Tate's family. We will be pushing for answers as to why they were called in seven times, what they discovered, and what action they took.

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