12-07-2016  10:20 am      •     

Yashanee Vaughn

Since March 30, 2011, Parrish Bennette Jr. has been held in Multnomah County's Donald E. Long Juvenile Detention Center. He is accused of killing 14-year-old Yashanee Vaughn and burying her body on the slopes of Rocky Butte, less than two months after his 16th birthday.

The charges he faces, murder and manslaughter, fall under Oregon's Measure 11, which treats accused teens as adults and sets out mandatory minimum punishments. If Parrish is found guilty of murder, he will serve a minimum of 25 years in prison, but could be sentenced to longer. If he is found guilty of manslaughter in the first degree, his sentence will be at least 10 years. If he is found innocent, he will have served two years in jail.

The trial date has been set over until Feb. 1, 2013.

 

Unanswered Questions

Whatever the outcome, grief will endure for the family that lost a beloved daughter, granddaughter, sister and niece. Hearts were broken when Yashanee disappeared.

"She was an incredibly charming and friendly young lady," says Elizabeth Jensen principal of Open Meadow Middle School.  "She was a big, magnetic personality."

Parrish told his father that he shot Yashanee accidentally. But it was four months before the teen led investigators to Yashanee's body. She was found buried three-feet underground on the wild hillside.

Yashanee's grandmother Reynelda Hayes says the family is tormented by a host of unanswered questions. Without the facts, they're left to join the dots in any way that seems to make sense. 

What happened on the night of March 19, 2011? What were the circumstances of Yashanee's death? Who carried her body to its lonely grave? Why did nobody see or hear anything? Did a witness really identify Parrish near The Grotto carrying something heavy in a garbage bag?  Why did investigators fail to contact the witness? What about the anonymous caller who painted a chilling scenario involving four people and rape? Were those messages a cruel hoax? Or does she really know something? Why didn't investigators follow up on those tapes?

Each of these questions deserves an answer, but until more information is made public the family can only wait.

Other questions may never be easily answered. Could this tragedy have been prevented? What should justice look like? 

 

What Happened to That Sweet Boy?

People who knew Parrish before he ever picked up a gun, are asking different questions. They just can't square the boy they know with the crime he's accused of.

Take Kara Geraty.  A medical assistant, whose son played basketball with Parrish when both boys were attending Mt. Tabor Middle School in 2006-8, her reaction to news that he'd been arrested was disbelief.


"Whatever happened to that sweet boy?" she asked.

Geraty says he was a likeable kid. Sure, he could be aggressive at times, but not more so than plenty of other 12-year-old boys.

Rob Ingram, former director of the Office of Youth Violence Prevention, also knew Parrish. Before his death last year, he said he was fond of the boy and was shocked by his arrest.

Two other women have told The Skanner News a disturbing story. Yet, because of concerns for their families, neither of those moms is willing to speak out publicly. We agreed to shield their identities because other sources have confirmed key elements in their accounts.  

According to both women, Parrish was a kind and loving boy who was abused and abandoned by the adults in his life. Time after time he sought refuge with their families. Time after time he was sent back to abuse.

"DHS has known for years, but they won't do anything about it," said the woman we're naming Pat Curtis. "I've seen a busted cheek and bruises around his neck," she said. "He was crying and he had a busted lip, a black eye, and his cheek was the size of a softball. His hands were sweating because he was so nervous. He's scared to death of (his father)."

The other woman, who we're calling Madeline Stone, said when Parrish arrived at her home with choke marks on his neck she emailed a cell phone photo of the bruising to his case worker.  If any action was taken, she didn't see it, she says.

"He told on his dad. He asked for help. He asked the system to help him like we tell our children to do, and it didn't help him."

The Skanner News has been unable, so far, to reach Parrish Bennette Sr.  for comment on the allegations. Gene Evans, a spokesperson for Oregon Department of Human Services, said state and federal law forbids the release of abuse reports and children's case records.

 

A Troubled History 
That Parrish was a troubled child was common knowledge. Years before his arrest, he was bouncing from school to school – and home to home.  When he was 8, his parents split up. His mother moved away from Oregon taking at least one other child, but leaving Parrish with his father.  That loss hurt him, Stone says.

Stone also says that over a two-year period from 2006, Parrish spent weeks on end living with her.    "He was in my house for two months before I got a call to make sure he was with me," she says. "His dad didn't want the responsibility."

Parrish spent holidays with her family, she says.  She even attended teacher parent conferences for him at Mt. Tabor.   Stone says Parrish was, "a skinny little kid, maybe 65 lbs soaking wet."  He suffered from night terrors that were so severe he begged to sleep on the floor in her room.

 "I have a lot of love in my heart for that child. No matter where life has taken him at this point, I remember that child who cuddled up and watched a movie, and wanted good things in his life.

"I'm not saying he was a completely innocent child. He was a product of his environment, and the sad thing is, he was taken out that environment and he was thriving."

It was at Stone's home in 2006, that Parrish met two friends of the family:  Danielle Curtis and her boyfriend, LD. 

"LD was like an uncle to Madeline's kids, and Parrish was over there all the time," Curtis said. "And actually, Parrish called him his uncle."

LD had grown up on the streets and had been in trouble in his youth, Curtis says, but he had left that behind and built a stable life as a construction worker.  LD was drawn to Parrish.  He took him fishing and brought him to family gatherings.  

Parrish's sojourn at the Stone home came to an abrupt end after his father reported him as a runaway. A caseworker told Stone she couldn't let him stay at her home any more. 

"He said, 'You've got to let him go. We have to take him.' We stuck him back with his dad and it lasted one day. He ran away again and showed up at my house.

"That's the way his dad covered his butt. He'd beat the crap out of him then, when he ran away, he would call him in as a runaway to cover his butt."

Stone says she had family foster children in her home and felt she couldn't fight DHS. So she told Parrish he couldn't stay any more. She still feels bad about that decision.

"He had to have been mad," she says.  "If the one person who believed in you the most walked away?  I think in his heart he knew I loved him. I'd take him again today."

Sometime during 2008, LD called Parrish's mother in Chicago and asked her to take her son to live with her.  But she refused.  Curtis says she knows because she was present when he made the call. LD also reported abuse in 2008, she says, but Parrish was not removed from the home.

"They had proof this person was beating this child –and they put him back there saying, this is what's best for this child – they need to work it out."

"Hurt Kids Hurt Kids"
In early 2009, Parrish was expelled from Mt. Tabor Middle School.  Schools can't release students' confidential records so the reason is unclear. During his time at Mt. Tabor, Parrish got into a minor scuffle with the son of this reporter. And he once got into trouble, along with others, for setting lighter fuel on fire in the parking lot of a nearby convenience store. But a friend from Mt. Tabor says the expulsion came after he skipped school to go to the mall and buy socks for his basketball game.

Now 14, Parrish enrolled in Open Meadow Middle School. Principal Elizabeth Jensen says he was a good student who excelled in reading and met grade standards in math.

"He's definitely a smart kiddo," she says. "He is really very, very sharp. I was shocked when I found out he was being of accused of this because that's not the Parrish I knew," she says.

But Jensen also recognized Parrish had problems. She saw Parrish as a boy who, "was obviously seeking to be connected.

"We have a saying here at Open Meadow, that 'hurt kids hurt kids,'" she says. "And he was definitely hurting. I'm not a psychologist, but I'd say, 'What happens to a child who is abandoned by his mother?' We talk a lot about absent fathers, but the trend I see is that we have mamas who are missing, and that has much more impact on a child."

A former staff member at the school said the father and son had similar ways of dealing with stress, which led them to clash. Yet Jensen says staff at Open Meadow never saw any signs of physical abuse during Parrish's five months at Open Meadow.  In fact, she says, Parrish Bennette Sr. was committed to getting his son to school and working with the school to help him succeed. 

At the same time, Parrish made no secret of his difficulties at home.

"I definitely saw him multiple times, coming into the building with a duffel bag and saying, 'I'm not going back to my dad.'"

"He had lots of friends, and he was behaving," Jensen said, "But we'd see anger outbursts, coming in and being distraught over where he was going to stay, because he knew that going back to dad's wasn't going to be an option for a while."

Jensen is one of the few people who knew Parrish and also Yashanee. Both went to Open Meadow. But their paths never crossed at the school because they attended at different times. 

During spring 2009, Danielle Curtis and LD took Parrish fishing. During the day, Curtis says, Parrish had called his father periodically, but getting back they were half an hour late.

 "It was all fine on the phone, but then when we got there to drop Parrish off, his dad was very hostile. He was very mad. He grabbed Parrish and pulled him into the apartment. He wouldn't listen... He shut the door and we could hear scuffling. So we hung around, and 20 minutes later Parrish came out of the house. His dad had kicked him out."

It was around that time, Curtis says, that Parrish began staying with another school friend's family in North Portland. But, according to Curtis that relationship turned ugly. She says Parrish told her the mother accused him of threatening her during an argument, after she found a box cutter inside his backpack. He told Curtis he needed the box cutter for protection.

"I'm not saying Parrish didn't have issues," Curtis said. "He did. He didn't trust anyone. And he was never taught respect, although he did respect LD."

The couple told Parrish they would try to get custody.

"The whole time he was asking us, begging, can we have him," Curtis says. "And we knew his case worker because we had custody of LD's nephew for a while. LD told him, 'Hold on Buddy. We've got to do this the right way. I can't just take you.'"

 

Death Ends a Dream

That dream ended on June 9, 2009, when LD had a massive stroke. He sank into a coma and finally died July 1. Parrish attended the funeral, but then Curtis lost sight of him. LD's death crushed Parrish's hopes for a better life, she says.

"I know his death was really hard on Parrish, because he was the only one sticking up for him. And he promised him; he promised, 'we're going to work this out.'"

A friend of Parrish's also pinpoints this moment as a turning point. He is not identified because he is under 18. 

Parrish "went crazy" when LD died, he said. Before LDs death he was loving, caring and scared of gangs. After, his attitude changed. Parrish started drinking, talking tough and hanging out with gang members.

Even though she was now a single mother with a toddler, Curtis still wanted to take care of Parrish.

"I tried to get custody of Parrish many times," she says.

In fall 2009 Curtis learned he had, "pushed a kid off a bicycle" and stolen the bicycle. 

"His attorney called me and said 'would you be willing to take Parrish?" she says. She said she would, and she talked to case worker Raymond Goss. Curtis says Goss told her she needed approval from Parrish's juvenile counselor, Sylvia Martinez. She says she called about eight times, but got no response.

"She would never return my calls, and she would never talk to me, so it never happened."

Curtis once got a call from somebody at juvenile detention center, she says. But she was out of cell phone range at the time. When she did connect with the worker, she learned Parrish was back at home. After that she only heard from him sporadically.

"He would call me every once in a while from a friend's cell phone just to let me know he was ok. I think he felt defeated. I felt defeated."

Six Juvenile Detentions

Henry Stern, a spokesperson for Multnomah County juvenile services division, confirmed that Parrish was arrested in fall 2009, shortly after LD's death.  He issued this statement.


"This young man started his probation with the county in November 2009 on charges of theft II and harassment. Between that initial probation contact in November 2009 and March 28, 2011, he was held in juvenile detention six times, five of which were for probation violations. The sixth time--from March 31, 2010 to April 6, 2010—he was detained in the Donald E. Long Juvenile Detention Home for possession of a firearm in a public place. 

While we can confirm that the Juvenile Services Division was actively working with the family, state law does not allow us to comment about specific interventions and contacts in any juvenile's record.  We can say that any time a juvenile comes before the court in detention, the Juvenile Services Division works with all parties to find the most suitable placement option for that young man or woman, and keeps the court informed."

Curtis and Stone say if Parrish had got the help he needed early on, he wouldn't have been running the streets. And he would never have picked up a gun in the first place.

 "He had no stability," Curtis said. "He's had one emotional upheaval after another. DHS made one mistake after another.
"In my heart of hearts I don't feel Parrish has the capability in his soul of doing this. If he did, it was an accident."

 

 Reporter Disclosure: The first time I heard of Parrish Bennette was in 2007, when he and my son were both students at Mt. Tabor Middle School. Parrish and my son got into an argument.  But although I knew his name, I never met Parrish or his father. I first met Madeline Stone and Danielle Curtis after Parrish's arrest in April 2011. In June 2011, I spoke to Parrish's attorney Thaddeus Betz and his assistant. They said they could not share any information with me. At their request, I passed on contact information for Stone and Curtis.

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