By Mary Beth Sallee
The following story centers around the tragic loss of a child, the information as provided from his mother, and her search for answers.
Tara Shaw described her son, Raylen Ja’Kari Malik-EL Green, as a funny and vibrant little boy full of love.
“He was real sweet,” Tara said. “…We would be in Walmart and people would come up to him like, ‘Oh, you’re so cute!’ And he always had a smile from ear to ear. And, if you talked to him, then obviously you needed a hug from him. He didn’t know a stranger. It didn’t matter if he’d never seen you in his life. He had love for everybody.”
“He liked books, music,” Tara added. “He loved music. He loved to dance. It didn’t matter what it was. It could be the Mickey Mouse song, and he would have some kind of moves for it.”
As with most mothers and sons, Tara and Kar Kar, as she affectionately called him, shared a close bond.
“He wanted his momma,” Tara said. “If we were at home, he’d want to sit in my lap. He wanted to be close.”
But on July 5, tragedy struck. It was on this day that Tara learned her 15-month-old son had died.
Over two months later, the young mother is still seeking answers. Tara wants to know why – and how – this happened to her son.
The last time Tara saw Kar Kar in person was on June 26.
“His dad (Raymon Green) had asked to keep him for the weekend,” Tara said. “So, later on that day, we got ready and then we met his daddy at the end of the apartment complex. His dad picked him up.”
Tara stated that Kar Kar was only to stay with his dad for the weekend. She was unaware that her son would be anywhere else other than Bowling Green.
“After his dad picked him up, I was on my way to work,” Tara said. “When I was at work, my phone rang and it was the aunt, Shameika (Williams), calling me. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Me and her, we talked occasionally here and there about the baby…So, her calling me didn’t signify that something was wrong.”
During the phone conversation, Shameika asked Tara if she could keep Kar Kar through the 4th of July since he was on his way to her home.
Shameika lives in Alabama. Tara had no idea that her son was being taken out of Bowling Green, let alone out of Kentucky.
Tara immediately contacted Kar Kar’s father. While Tara was upset for not knowing where her son was being taken, she agreed to allow him to spend time with his father’s family.
The plan was that Raymon would head back to Kentucky on June 28, but Kar Kar would stay with Shameika (Raymon’s sister) through the July 4th holiday.
“After he (Raymon) dropped Kar Kar off to her (Shameika), emotionally I was just sick. I laid in the bed. I cried,” Tara said. “I was telling my boyfriend, ‘I miss my baby. I miss him. I’m ready for him to come home.’ And I still to this day don’t know why I just didn’t go get him. At any point I could have gotten up and said, ‘I’m coming to get my baby.’ But he was with family. I wanted him to have fun, and I wanted him to have a family.”
“Both of my parents are gone,” Tara added. “I don’t have that type of holiday where we’re all gonna get together and spend time. I don’t have that. I wanted him to have that. So, even though I wanted him to come home and I missed him and I was worried about him, I let him stay.”
That weekend and into the following week, Tara and Shameika continued to correspond about Kar Kar via video chat, photos, and messages.
By July 2, however, Tara said the communication started to become less frequent.
“I didn’t really think anything of it,” Tara explained. “I just thought maybe they were busy, they were doing stuff. I’d ask about him, and she had said they had been shopping. She would send me pictures of the clothes and shoes they had bought for him, and send me pictures of him.”
On Saturday, July 4, Tara sent a message in the early afternoon asking how her son was doing. Shameika did not reply until around 7 p.m. that night with a short, “He’s good.”
An hour later, Tara sent another message asking if Kar Kar enjoyed the fireworks. There was no response.
“I attributed it to it being the 4th of July. Maybe they’re setting off fireworks or maybe they’re busy,” Tara said.
The next day, Tara still had not received any correspondence from Shameika. At 12:50 p.m. on July 5, Tara asked if her son was okay. At 1:12 p.m., Tara received a call from Shameika saying that she needed to come to Alabama.
No other information was given. Shameika hung up. Tara continued to call and message her, but received no answer.
“I immediately knew something was wrong,” Tara said.
Another aunt of Raymon’s who lives in Bowling Green soon contacted Tara asking who had hurt Kar Kar. Tara had no idea what was going on. The aunt then said that there had been an accident and that Kar Kar had died.
“I hung up the phone because I just couldn’t believe that,” Tara said. “I kept trying to call Shameika again. She wouldn’t answer. I sent a message for the address and asked if my baby was okay. All she sent me was the address.”
Tara and her boyfriend took off to Alabama. She contacted Raymon who said he didn’t know anything either and was on his way to Alabama as well.
By 2:35 p.m., the only response Tara then received from Shameika was an address to a hospital. Tara Googled the address, found the hospital information, and made a phone call. She was able to speak with a doctor.
“He said, ‘I want to start by telling you that your son was absolutely beautiful and that my nurses and I did everything that we could. But your son drowned in the pool, and I pronounced him dead at 1 p.m,’” Tara said. “It was like 2:42, and I’m just now finding out that my son died almost two hours before.”
Tara was informed that although adults were at the hospital when her son was brought into the ER, no one stayed at the hospital after he passed. The nurses took turns sitting with the young child so that he was not by himself.
“They left him at the hospital alone,” Tara said.
By the time Tara made it to Alabama, her son’s body had been taken to a local funeral home.
“…When I got to the funeral home, I saw my baby,” Tara said. “They let me stay for a little while.”
After several more messages were sent, Shameika finally called Tara about what had happened. The aunt said that the kids were outside playing. After one little girl had came back inside asking for food, Shameika said she went outside to see where Kar Kar was. The other children did not know where he was. The aunt said that she then went running through the house looking for him. The uncle ran back around to the pool, said that he had found the little boy floating in the 4-foot above ground pool, and that he performed CPR until help arrived.
However, the story did not remain consistent. Tara said that the story of what supposedly occurred on that tragic day changed several times.
The uncle addressed Tara at the funeral home with a different version of how the tragedy unfolded.
According to Tara, the uncle said that Shameika had told him that the little girl had come to front door. Shameika had told the uncle that she saw Kar Kar in the front yard, knowing there was a slip-n-slide and a pool in the front yard. She then supposedly locked the front door.
“My question was, why did you shut and lock the front door on my baby?” Tara said. “…He (the uncle) said, ‘I think something else happened, Tara. But I don’t know what.’ That’s what he told me.”
Shameik’a story changed yet again. She told police the kids were outside playing and all of them – not just one little girl – came in to get something to eat. She said that she asked where Kar Kar was, but no one knew.
Tara said that state law in Alabama cites that when a child under the age of 18 dies, an autopsy must be performed.
“The autopsy said that he had water in his lungs,” Tara said. “So, drowning is the cause of death, and it is considered accidental because he didn’t’ have any bruises. There was nothing to indicate anything other than he had drown…”
About a week after Kar Kar’s death, a first responder who arrived at the scene during the incident messaged Tara on Facebook.
“When she (the first responder) got there, she said she took the baby from the man who had dreads,” Tara said. “It was only supposed to be the aunt and the uncle at the house. The uncle that is there does not have long hair. She said this man had long hair. So, I don’t know who this man is. I don’t know who this guy is that supposedly had my baby.”
To date, the man with long hair has never been identified.
“They (the aunt and uncle) swear that they were the only ones there, but even the first responder said that when she got there, there were multiple adults there,” Tara said. “It wasn’t just the aunt and the uncle…At 12:04 they called 911, and the ambulance was dispatched. At 12:08 the call also went out to emergency responders radio, anybody in the area that is a volunteer emergency responder.”
The first responder that reached out to Tara heard the call and was at the home at 12:16 p.m.
“At 12:16, when she gets there, my baby is in the house, face down on the couch with a man with dreads patting on his back trying to get the water out of him,” Tara said. “It looked like he’s trying to help the baby. There’s multiple people there, which is different from what the aunt and the uncle were saying that it was just them.”
Another important detail, Tara said, is that her son’s hair was dry. This was mentioned by the first responder and the ER nurse.
“The baby’s hair is dry,” Tara said. “It’s not like he just got pulled out of the pool. So, in 12 minutes from the time the 911 call went out to when someone got there, his hair is dry. That doesn’t make any sense. Nobody’s hair dries in 12 minutes, even the thinnest hair.”
Other inconsistencies remain as well. According to Tara, the cops did not photograph anything at the scene, nor did they question, take statements, or even make a list of names of people who were on scene. Therefore, there is no documentation of who was at the home during Kar Kar’s death.
No statements were taken from anyone at the hospital either. Tara has spoken with the Sheriff of Marengo County in Alabama where the incident occurred.
“He (Kar Kar) was 30 inches tall and weighed 33 pounds,” Tara said. “The story was that he climbed the ladder of the pool, and that’s how he got in the pool. The ladder has three steps, and each step is 12 inches apart, the first one being 12 inches from the ground.”
“I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that my one-year-old, who is short and chunky, was able to climb these stairs with nobody knowing or seeing,” Tara continued. “That’s a hard thing to believe, that he did that and nobody saw it. None of the kids saw him.”
Tara said that, in her heart, she doesn’t believe her son could physically get in the pool.
“But even if someway he found a way to do it, I know that it would have taken him a long time to do it, several minutes,” Tara said. “He didn’t just jump up the stairs and jump in the pool. It would have taken him a while to get his way up those stairs.”
“Also, when you drown, you sink to the bottom and then you float back to the top,” Tara added. “Well, the uncle said he found him floating in the pool. So, there was some time in there missing. I never got any clarification to that.”
Also at the aunt and uncle’s home was a slip-n-slide that had a pool.
“I asked (the sheriff) if maybe he drowned in the slip-n-slide because that seems a little bit more logical to me that maybe he ran over to the slip-n-slide and had flipped over it,” Tara said. “It was shorter. It was inflatable. That seems more plausible than him climbing those stairs and nobody seeing him do it.”
The sheriff said that it was not possible for Kar Kar to have drowned in the slip-n-slide because there was no water found in that smaller pool.
“The aunt has also changed her story to say that she did see Ja’Kari in the front yard,” Tara said. “She brought the little girl in, got her some chips, then she took her and sat her on the washer and dryer and was doing some laundry and wasn’t in any kind of rush to go back out there to check on the (other) kids, which is new because that’s not what she said in the beginning.”
Tara has obtained the medical records from the hospital.
“The emergency room nurse wrote that witnesses stated the baby was playing in the slip-n-slide,” Tara said. “They walked around the trailer for a minute, and when they came back he was floating face down in the pool that is connected to the slip-n-slide.
“I hadn’t said that anywhere because I was waiting on confirmation of who told that,” Tara continued. “Did the family tell the hospital that’s what happened? But they’re over here trying to tell me that he drowned in the (big) pool.”
Marengo County Department of Human Resources (DHR) is child protective services. According to a representative at the hospital where Kar Kar was taken, DHR was supposed to contact Tara. They never did.
Two weeks after her son’s death, Tara called DHR herself.
“I was told by the supervisor, Tawanna Jones, that it wasn’t Alabama’s responsibility to investigate it,” Tara said. “She gave me a number to a woman in Bowling Green. I called that woman, and she said that info was incorrect, and it had to be investigated in the state that it happened.”
Once Tara again contacted the Marengo County DHR, she was then told the incident was being looked into with a 45 day assessment before turning it over to the District Attorney’s office.
“Eventually, I found out that the aunt, Shameika, has a family member that works in the Marengo County DHR office,” Tara said. “And when that is found out, it’s obviously a conflict of interest. If you have a family member that’s working there, they can’t investigate you because it’s biased.”
On August 28, Tara received a phone call from a woman in Bibb County, Alabama who said that the case had been turned over to her.
“She opened an investigation into it because, at that point, it had not been investigated,” Tara said. “Nobody had looked into what happened to my son, and they weren’t going to. If I had not found out that there was a family member in that office, they were going to wait until the time was up and then say it was an accident.”
Tara has since met with the woman in Bibb County who said she already has enough information to say that it is, without a doubt, child neglect in the worse form.
“My baby would not be dead if somebody would have been watching him, and that’s child neglect.”
The incident is also still under investigation by the Marengo County Sheriff’s Department.
Tara said she just wants answers.
“I honestly, like, I don’t wanna believe that anybody would want to hurt him, you know, on purpose,” Tara said. “My heart does not want to believe they would do that…But for one, they weren’t watching him. That’s a given. Two, if he ended up in that big pool, I feel like he had help of some kind, whether it be him and the kids playing. I don’t wanna bring the kids in it. I don’t know what happened. I really don’t.”
With Tara demanding to know what happened to her son, Kar Kar’s story has been shared many times on social media.
“It’s nice to know that other people see the confusion and the information is odd and can confirm for me that I’m not just grieving and looking for something to be wrong,” Tara said. “I’m not just making it up in my head that something other than what I know might have happened.”
“It’s nice that people get to know about him (Kar Kar),” Tara continued. “I’m very proud of my baby. He was perfect to me, and for other people to be interested in seeing him and hearing about him and looking at his pictures and wanting to know just like I do what happened, is kind of a reassuring feeling. Because, like I said, I don’t have the family that I need for support.”
Losing her youngest son, Tara said, seems like a horrible dream or movie.
“I’m having a hard time dealing with the permanency of it and the reality of it, not just because I lost my child, but everything around it, too,” Tara said. “I don’t know what happened. Nobody seems to want to help me figure out what happened even though the information clearly shows there’s parts missing that I don’t know, that I need to know.”
For the young mother, this isn’t about accusing others but rather finding justice for Kar Kar.
“I’ve always just wanted to know what happened,” Tara said. “…It’s been about finding the truth and finding the answers that I need to be able to grieve for my baby properly. I can’t grieve for my son and the fact that he’s gone and not coming back. I don’t even know how. The biggest thing for me has always just been I need answers. I need an understanding, and I can’t get that…”
To find more information shared by Tara of Kar Kar and the search for answers, the hash tag #justiceforkarkar can be searched on Facebook.