Foster care death of 10-year-old boy ruled homicide


PORTER COUNTY, Ind. — An Indiana boy, who died while in foster care, was killed in a homicide, investigators ruled.

Dakota Levi Stevens, 10, died on April 27. The Porter County Sheriff’s Office was dispatched to a residence in Liberty Township, where Stevens was in foster care, for a medical emergency. He was taken to the hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.

Details surrounding his death have not been released, but on Wednesday his death was ruled a homicide by mechanical asphyxia. Mechanical asphyxia occurs when an object or physical force stops someone from breathing, according to Cleveland Clinic.

He was described as being “full of life” despite going through a lot of trauma as a young child. In 2018, he was removed from his parents custody due to their struggles with drug addiction.

Family members said his father later died from a blood infection related to drug addiction, and his mother has continued to struggle with addiction.

The boy’s aunt, Ana Parrish-Parker, told Nexstar’s WGN that he was known as Levi by those who loved him. Parrish-Parker received custody of Levi and his younger sister in May 2018 after the children spent two weeks in the care of the state’s Department of Child Services (DCS).

Ana and Levi’s grandmother the day he was born

Parrish-Parker had them in custody for nearly a year. She described Levi as a child who “brought a lot of joy” to everyone around him.

“His eyes popped open in the morning and he was ‘go, go, go,’” Parrish-Parker said. “His passions were digging for bugs and playing outside with his sister.”

Levi and his sister were attending therapy sessions twice a week as ordered by DCS, according to Parrish-Parker. She mentioned to DCS that Levi was going through some behavioral issues at school and was told to increase the number of therapy sessions per week.

Ana and Levi on Halloween

She told WGN she didn’t think it was a good idea due to two additional days a week for visitation to their parents, plus school.

“They didn’t have time to be children. The judge ruled a removal from care (on behalf of DCS) and I never had the chance to speak to the judge to tell them I didn’t want (the kids) to have more therapy,” she said.

Levi when he was older

The children were entered into the foster care system by DCS and Levi’s sister was adopted into a family.

WGN previously spoke with Hayden Hetzel, the boy’s foster dad from 2019-2021. Hetzel said he was lucky to have shared great years with Levi.

“He never didn’t call me dad,” he said. “He was always like, ‘Dad this, Dad that. Let’s go on a walk.’”

Levi when he was older

The Hetzel family is also seeking justice.

“Now that we have the actual cause of death — the birth family as well as us, his previous foster family and families, would like to see justice be served, not just for Dakota, but for all wrongful deaths that have happened as a result of abuse while in the system,” Hetzel told the Chicago Tribune Wednesday.

The Porter County Sheriff’s Office said the investigation into the boy’s death is ongoing and detectives are working “relentlessly and have been since day one.”

Anyone with information is asked to call the department at 219-477-3000.

The Indiana Department of Child Services had not returned a request for comment at publication time. They told the Chicago Tribune last month that Levi’s foster parent at the time of his death “has been licensed since 2017 and was in good standing, having completed the required training and education required to achieve and maintain licensure.”

Last month, DCS released the following statement:

“Our entire staff is heartbroken by this news. DCS works with stakeholders and partners across the state to investigate the death of a child any time there is suspected abuse or neglect and will take the appropriate action. DCS foster parents must complete intensive training and education to achieve licensure. Licensure is reexamined each year to ensure the foster family continues to meet DCS requirements, including additional training each year to maintain this license. DCS policy also addresses termination of licensure, which includes circumstances where a foster parent or member of the household has been substantiated for abuse or neglect. Please see Chapter 12-Foster Family Home Licensing, Foster Parent Training, and Indiana Foster Care.”

Andy Koval
Andy Koval
Digital Reporter.

Latest stories


Related Articles

Leave a reply

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here
Captcha verification failed!
CAPTCHA user score failed. Please contact us!
Continue on app