For more than two years, Amanda and Corey Harrington have sought an answer for what happened to their now 8-year-old son. Police and social workers investigated. Livermore Joint Valley Unified School District officials looked into the matter.
Although the Harringtons held meetings with school officials and police, none of the investigations have yielded any answers. Nobody has been found to blame. And, if they have, the Harringtons say none of the authorities have released that information to them.
Recently, they chose to take their questions public.
"It is very unnerving and always in the back of my mind that this mystery to what happened to my son is still unresolved," the boy's mother, Amanda Harrington, said during a recent interview. "There is no closure, and there is nothing I can do to protect him. It still haunts me. It really does."
On March 1, 2019, 6-year-old Radley Harrington came home from his Livermore school with what looked like cigarette burns on his back. A doctor said they looked like they formed a cross.
Radley, whose autism makes communication difficult, could not explain what happened to him. Could it have occurred at home? What about his classroom or a neighboring “sensory” room, where he spent 15 minutes with an aide? Why did no one hear screams from what doctors said would have been agonizing, even for a child with a strong threshold for pain?
And what caused those marks?
Although multiple people investigated, the case of what happened to Radley remains open. Police have not released a report to his parents, despite months ago telling The Independent they planned to do so.
If someone needs to be held accountable, his parents say they don’t know who that should be.
During the two years, Amanda Harrington and her husband, Corey, have stood aside at the request of investigators, not pressing their son with questions to allow the professionals to seek the answers and not taint the responses. The Harringtons met several times with top Livermore Joint Valley Unified School District (LVJUSD) officials and a police detective. Alameda County Department of Social Services investigators examined their home life, asking questions about how they discipline their children, whether they hit them, and whether they smoked. (His father did occasionally, but said he kept his smoking materials away from his family.)
In a recent interview, LVJUSD Deputy Superintendent Chris Van Schaack said the district’s own probe found no evidence that anything happened to the boy at school. Van Schaack said he investigated but found nothing to put suspicion on an employee.
“If one of our employees did that they should go to jail,” Van Schaack said. “We would never ever defend an employee who did that to a child.”
No one, Van Schaack said, could ever determine what caused the wounds on Radley’s back.
“We couldn’t find anything that could have created that,” he said. “For a child to have been burned in a classroom — burned with a cigarette lighter — how could that happen in a classroom setting? How could that happen and nobody know?"
Amanda Harrington said she did not see any marks on her son's back March 1, 2019, when she dressed him for school. Radley attended a class for special needs students at Lawrence Elementary School.
That afternoon, his teacher, Adrianna Schultz, texted the mother that "we noticed some odd marks on (the boy's) back today."
"They looked almost like rug burns?" Schultz wrote in texts shared with The Independent. "I'm not sure how/when. We didn't see anything strange happen at school, and then when he was at his desk this afternoon he said his back hurt."
Schultz continued that she examined his back and saw the marks.
"Do you have any clue what happened?" Schultz asked Radley’s mother in a text. "I can't think of anything on the playground that would've done that. I know he can be clumsy, but we just couldn't figure out anything that would have caused it."
Harrington’s husband, Corey, said he and his wife examined the six red marks on his back at home. The first layer of skin, he said, was scraped and began to scab the next day.
“My first thought was someone burnt him with a cigarette,” the father said. “It almost looks like someone took a handheld torch and was lighting a cigarette.”
School district officials, including special education director Frank Selvaggio, met with the Harringtons a few days later. Amanda Harrington called the meeting “pretty intense.”
“We wanted them to do an investigation and figure out what happened,” she said. “We were so confused. He left my house uninjured. He comes back home with these marks on his back.”
Asked if they wanted police involved, the Harringtons said yes.
A Livermore police detective was assigned to the case. CPS also opened an investigation.
“It was clear in my mind this was not a schoolyard accident,” Corey Harrington said.
According to the Harringtons, the authorities told them not to question their son, so as not to influence or taint their investigations. As the marks continued to become scabs, Amanda Harrington took her son to see a doctor at East Bay Pediatric Primary Care in Pleasanton.
In a report given to the parents and shown to The Independent, Dr. Elmer Jumig described the wounds on Radley’s back as four raised red lesions on the spine area and two on his shoulder blades.
“Six raised hyperpigmented lesions that look like healing cigarette burns in a cross pattern suspicious for child abuse,” Jumig wrote.
At the request of police, Amanda Harrington took her son for a second examination at Children’s Hospital & Research Center in Oakland. Nurse practitioner Kelsey Merl wrote in her report that “these traumatic skin injuries are consistent with healing burn injuries.”
“Of note,” Merl wrote in the report shared with The Independent, “the pattern of these injuries is in the form of a cross and appear to be consistent with some type of branding.”
Merl wrote that each mark would have caused significant pain, and the child would have had to be restrained to receive them.
“There is no medical condition that has been identified for this patient that could have contributed to these injuries,” Merl wrote.
Merl wrote that she would send her findings to update police and Social Services officials, who began an investigation of Radley’s homelife.
“I never got the feeling that we were considered a suspect even though I imagine when they start a report, everyone's a suspect,” Corey Harrington said. “I was so focused on doing whatever we can to assist the police and assist the school to give us the best chance of doing something, I never stopped to think we were a suspect.”
On March 7, six days after the injuries were discovered, social worker Karla Gonzalez visited Lawrence Elementary to speak with Radley and his older brother.
According to her report, also shown to The Independent, Radley rolled around on the floor and played as she tried to talk with him. His teacher, Schultz, assisted to clarify the boy’s speech. Asked about the marks on his back, Radley said “I don’t know.” He told Gonzalez he was not afraid at home and no one smoked around him.
Gonzalez returned to the school a few days later to try again, but the boy ran in and out of the interview room, climbed on its couches and would not sit for an interview.
According to the report, social workers focused on the parents, questioning them about whether they hit their children or engaged in domestic violence with each other. Radley’s grandfather was asked how he imposed discipline on his son, Corey, when he was a child.
“The mother and the father deny having hurt the minor,” the investigators wrote. “It is unclear who caused these injuries to the minor, and the minor is unable to make a clear statement.”
In a note about a month after the injuries, a social worker wrote that Radley had stated that his mother had hit him five times on the back with an open hand, apparently in another incident..
“Mommy mad at me, mommy hit me at home, my home,” the social worker wrote in the report.
Amanda Harrington said she and her husband did not injure their child and would not have told their story to a reporter if they had.
“We wouldn't be fighting tooth and nail if we had something to do with this,” she said. “There's no way I would have harmed my kids or any child for that matter.”
The social workers ruled out Radley’s older brother as causing the injuries.
Although Livermore police officials have not made information about their investigation public, the Social Services report indicates a detective asked the boy’s therapist to question him. During that attempt, the boy told her “it was a girl; she is older; she is a teacher, and she has pink hair.”
Van Schaack told The Independent that Radley had provided school officials a name during its probe, but it was not a school employee. Besides Radley’s teacher, the classroom had at least one aide, who later moved to another class.
“The case was investigated by three different organizations,” Van Schaack said. “All came to the same conclusion: That there was no evidence to suggest that a school employee was responsible for the injuries…(The parents’) claim that something happened in the classroom is no more credible than something happened in the household.”
Van Schaack said “it’s completely untrue that the parents were not told the results” of the investigations.
“They were convinced the child was injured by an employee,” Van Schaack said, adding that no evidence was found to support that. “That was not the answer the Harringtons wanted.”
Livermore Police Department Sgt. Tim Lendman said the detective assigned to the case investigated but was not able to develop enough evidence to make an arrest. The case was in a “documentation phase” when The Independent first questioned police about the case. Lendman said the detective planned to finish her report and provide a copy to the Harringtons. The Harringtons said they have not heard from anyone.
“The detective was never able to find enough evidence for who was the actual suspect,” Lendman said at the time.
Unable to keep waiting, the Harringtons recently asked their son’s behavior therapist to help. Several weeks ago, as a reporter watched via Zoom, the therapist asked Radley “how did those booboos get on your back?”
Radley, now 8, lifted his arms above his head and laid down on his back. Simulating that his hands were held down, he identified a female school employee.
“I don’t know what to do as a parent,” Radley’s father said. “I don't want to turn around and coerce him into saying ‘it’s this person.’ We’ve done everything we could possibly do that was recommended to us in the district and the police department.”
One day, perhaps when Radley is in his teens, his parents believe he will be able to communicate what happened.