DES MOINES, Iowa – The state of Iowa’s Ombudsman has released the results of a lengthy investigation into the Iowa Department of Human Services following the 2017 death of 16-year-old Sabrina Ray, who was starved and physically abused by her adoptive parents and other adoptive family members.
The teen weighed just 56-pounds at the time of her death and an autopsy showed signs of “severe malnutrition.”
The investigation, which was released Tuesday morning, cites several missed opportunities and poor communication between multiple DHS workers after several reports of abuse were reported in the home of Marc and Misty Ray, Sabrina’s adoptive parents.
The Rays also ran an in-home daycare and had been an approved and licensed foster care home – but the DHS stopped placing foster children with them in April of 2014. The investigation says a DHS supervisor told the Ombudsman’s office later, “There’s something happening there, we don’t know what it is – we can’t prove it… don’t have enough for a suspension or revocation – but we’re not going to place any more kids there.”
The investigation says 11 child abuse reports involving foster care children, Sabrina and her siblings had been made against the Rays though some were rejected and others unconfirmed after investigating.
In 2010 the family lived in Carroll. After receiving reports of alleged abuse the DHS Western Service Area had, “concerns about the family and determined that a corrective action plan was needed to address issues.”
The family then moved to Perry in January of 2011 and the responsibility of implementing that corrective plan fell to the Des Moines Service Area, which did not follow through.
Following Sabrina’s death, Kristie Hirshman, the State Ombudsman, investigated the DHS and identified several recommendations she says the DHS has already implemented. One of those recommendations is to increase the retention period for child abuse intakes and assessments in order to help DHS identify patterns of abuse.
In a forward to the report, Hirshman wrote, “Suspicions of abuse were certainly present among those who interacted with children at the Ray household. Unfortunately and sadly, a lack of communication among those workers weakened the oversight that could have discovered that abuse.”
Hirshman went on to ask Iowa lawmakers for help moving forward, “We also found it unfathomable that DHS conducted no internal review of its own actions and decisions leading up to Sabrina’s death. We have renewed our plea to the Iowa Legislature to re-evaluate its expectations for the Child Fatality Review Committee and other existing oversight bodies responsible for reviewing child deaths.”
The court cases following Sabrina’s death resulted in her adoptive mother Misty Ray pleading guilty to one count of kidnapping in the first degree and two counts of kidnapping in the third degree. She was sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years.
Marc Ray, Sabrina’s adoptive father, pleaded guilty to three counts of third degree kidnaping and one count of child endangerment resulting in death. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison.
Adoptive grandmother Carla Bousman pleaded guilty to one count of neglect of a dependent person, two counts of false imprisonment, one count of accessory after the fact, one count of obstruction of prosecution, and two counts of child endangerment. She received a 20 year prison sentence.
Josie Bousman, an adoptive cousin, pleaded guilty to one count of neglect or abandonment of a dependent person and two counts of child endangerment and was sentence to 14 years.
Sabrina’s adoptive brother Justin Ray was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of willful injury causing bodily injury.