News 12 First at Five / Monday, Dec. 19, 2011
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Pam Holder says while she is still grieving her son's death in the six weeks that have passed since the fatal beating of her son at the Augusta Youth Development Campus, she does find blame.
"Actually, I don't hold the youths that killed my child responsible," explained Pam as she sat down for an exclusive interview with News 12. "I hold the adults up the ladder ... the commanders, the people that are over the adults that are watching these children. I hold them responsible."
Her son, Jade Holder, died Nov. 8. He was 19 years old.
So far, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has charged one youth, Michael Everidge, with the murder. The Department of Juvenile Justice has fired five employees at the facility including Augusta YDC Director John Brady. Marlon McCreary, the guard on duty that night in Jade's unit, was also fired. The DJJ says McCreary failed to lock the cell doors, which allowed the beating to happen.
Last Friday, two other guards and a counselor were also fired. The DJJ has identified them as Natasha Neeley, Christopher Cann and Sharon Taylor. Two assistant directors, Paul Cloutier and Kendra Snowbridge, were both demoted and offered jobs at other facilities.
But Pam says that's not enough and she vows son's death will not be in vain.
Pam says her son shared her dream. The single mother served in the Air Force and Jade was planning to join the military once released. But Jade never made it out alive.
"When I walked up in there ... I can't even tell you, I was devastated," said Pam to News 12 about the moment she first saw Jade in the hospital. "It's like my heart was shattered. I staggered. I came back ... I said, ' What have you done?' They said, 'Ms. Holder, it's going to be all right.' I said, 'No. What have you done?'"
Pam knew her son Jade's life was ending in the early morning hours of Nov. 8.
"He was dead when I got there," she said. "They say he was in a coma ... he was dead when I got there."
To understand the crushing blow this mother felt, we must first take you back to Nov. 7 -- the night the GBI says the fatal blows hit her son. Jade was in his cell, alone, inside unit 43. The DJJ now admits that McCreary failed to lock the cell doors, allowing youths to go in and out of rooms and ultimately, fatally attack Jade.
The GBI says that attack was at 9 p.m. that night, but Pam didn't find out until 2 a.m. the next morning.
The DJJ says they had trouble tracking her down due to recent moves. Pam disputes that, saying the family's permanent address never changed.
"They came to my house," she said. "They told me there had been an accident. I said, 'An accident? What happened?' They said there was a fight at the facility and I needed to go with them to the hospital because he had been admitted."
Like any mother, the questions kept coming.
"Is he seriously injured? They said, 'No ma'am, this is like a procedure. Whenever something happens and a child is injured, they take him to a children's hospital.'"
Pam trusted what the local DJJ case workers told her. She knew them from their work with Jade's case. The DJJ tells News 12 those case workers did not know the specifics of Jade's injuries at the time. The three then made the long drive through the night from Sylvster, Ga., to Augusta.
"I assumed once I got there, I would probably see a couple of stitches and an arm or a leg in a cast," explained Pam as she fought back tears, "And when I got there, it was strange ... when I got to the fourth floor, I turned around and said, 'Well this is ICU. This is the intensive care unit.'"
Pam was walked toward Jade's room where Brady stood watch, along with two YDC guards and the GBI.
Brady approached her first.
"First thing I said, 'Where's my son?' He said, 'Hold on, let me speak with you.' They said there was a fight. A very bad fight at the facilities and we're not sure if Jade left his door open so the boys could come in or if one of the guards forgot and left the door open. I said, 'This conversation is over. Where is my son?'"
And when she finally got to him, the swelling on his brain was so bad his head was swollen on one side to twice its size.
"The left side was fine, the right side was swollen ... with a laceration to the back of his frontal lobe and there was a dent in his skull," Pam said.
Jade was Pam's firstborn. The single mother was working to raise two boys without a father figure. She thought the system may provide the male leadership he needed and return him a better man. That structure inside, she felt, had led Jade in choosing to join the military. But now, she says the choice of leaving him on life support to live or die wasn't even her own.
"They told me that in their opinion, he was clinically dead. But he was a ward of the state so they were waiting on an official to tell them they could unplug my child. Said no, you can't. How are you going to tell me my child went from a little physical damage to death? I'm confused."
The DJJ says they made no decisions on care for Jade -- that was left up to the mother and doctors.
Pam says that is not true, claiming the decision was out of her hands.
"Were you able to talk with Jade? Say anything to him?" asked News 12's Lynnsey Gardner.
"No, I wasn't," Pam replied.
"Let him know you were there?" Gardner asked.
"No, I wasn't," she replied.
Pam claims she was lied to from the start.
"From the time I got out of my bed 2 o'clock in the morning until three in the afternoon Tuesday, you lied to me," she said. "Nothing that anybody told me was the truth."
Jade died around 3 p.m. that afternoon.
"You was going to unplug my child," Pam said. "I said, 'You what? No, no, no ... you told me that my baby was coming home, you did not tell me you were going to bring him home in a pine box.'"
Amid the overwhelming grief, she had one more question for Brady: "Let me ask you a question, if you got two guards watching my child lay here and die, why didn't you have two guards to watch him while he was alive?"
The DJJ released a statement that their thoughts and prayers remain with the Holder family and that their employees were so upset they raised $2,000 toward Jade's funeral cost. Pam says as far as she knows, nothing has been received.
She's hired an attorney and says Jade's death has given her a purpose: To make sure this doesn't happen to another child or parent.
DJJ Commissioner Gale Buckner says she's implementing a task force and making sweeping changes to make sure the Augusta YDC and all other state juvenile facilities are safe for the youths and the guards.
Below are the DJJ's responses to the incident sent via email:
"In regard to Pam Holder:
a) DJJ sought to notify Ms. Holder as soon as possible. Ms. Holder had moved several times and the facility made many attempts to locate her at a variety of addresses and/or what turned out to be non-working phone numbers. A DJJ employee went to the Sylvester Police Department and obtained an address.
b) After notifying Ms. Holder that her son had been injured and hospitalized and she was wanted/needed in Augusta, DJJ employees drove Ms. Holder three and a half hours to the hospital. DJJ staff who drove Ms. Holder did not know the extent of her son's injuries. DJJ repeatedly offered to transport other family members to be with Ms. Holder.
c) DJJ made no decisions regarding Jade's medical care, particularly concerning life support. All decisions were made by his mother in consultation with doctors or other medical personnel. DJJ did not participate in those discussions.
d) Can't confirm or speculate on what doctors told Ms. Holder regarding her son's prognosis throughout the day.
e) DJJ's thoughts and prayers remain with the Holder family DJJ employees were so upset over what happened that -- at their own initiative -- a considerable amount of money, more than $2,000, was raised to help defray funeral costs."