‘We, the family, forgive you:’ A healing journey begins over boy killed by his mother

'We, the family, forgive you'

The family of a six-year-old boy killed by his mother and ­stepfather six years ago is still searching for answers in the boy’s horrific death.

But Dontay Patrick Lucas’s family members began their healing journey in court ­Thursday, as they gathered around the boy’s mother, Rykel Charleson, and stepfather ­Mitchell Frank, in a gesture of forgiveness at the end of an ­emotional sentencing hearing.

Dontay died on March 13, 2018 of blunt force trauma to the brain after being transitioned back into the care of his mother by USMA Nuu-chah-nulth family and child services.

Charleson, who has legally changed her name to Hannah Frank, and Mitchell Frank were originally charged with first-degree ­murder of the little boy.

In November, when the couple pleaded guilty to ­manslaughter, the court heard how the two deprived Dontay of water, food and sleep, and brutalized him, hitting and biting him and ­forcing him to hang from his knees from the top of a door until he fell.

Dontay’s mother, wearing glasses and with long wavy dark hair, stood in the prisoner’s box, ankles shackled, looking at ­family members gathered before her.

Frank, a slim man in red prison-issue sweats, stood to the left of the prisoner’s box. ­Justice Michael Tammen had just ­sentenced both to 15 years in a federal penitentiary.

“We, the family, forgive you,” said Dontay’s grandmother Judith Campbell, as people in the courtroom wept.

“In order to let our little man rest, we need to forgive you on your actions and what ­happened to Dontay. It’s a huge step ­forward to carry on with our lives, to let our little man rest. We have to learn to forgive.”

Tears pouring down her face, Dontay’s aunt Brenda Lucas added: “I want to let you guys know you are loved. You are missed in the community.”

Dontay’s father, Patrick Lucas, spoke last, after taking a deep breath. “It’s been very ­difficult. I forgive you guys both,” he said.

Before Thursday’s hearing, a peaceful rally was held on the steps of the Port Alberni courthouse.

Family spokesman Graham Hughes said the community still misses and grieves for Dontay.

“His death impacted his schools, his peers, the people who worked with him, his foster families, but most importantly, his biological family who are still every day fighting for justice for their child,” said Hughes. “We are witnessing their grief so we can support and fight for changes to happen.”

Many questions remain unanswered, said Hughes. The family wants to know why it took two years to complete Dontay’s autopsy report and four years for the RCMP to arrest and charge the Franks.

“A lot of injustices happened along the way in his life and in his death and we’re wondering how it could have happened, how many times he could be failed,” said Hughes.

The family’s biggest questions are for USMA, the child-welfare agency, he said. The family has never been told why Dontay was returned to his mother’s home and why no one investigated numerous reports of neglect and abuse made to the RCMP and the child-protection agency.

“What were the systemic issues that contributed to Dontay’s death and what are the things we can change so it doesn’t continue?” said Hughes. “Justice for Dontay means justice for all children. We have to make things better.”

In an email Thursday, Jennifer Charlesworth, B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth, said she is revisiting Dontay’s death as she investigates the death of an 11-year-old boy in the Fraser Valley.

Both cases contain similar themes of inadequate responses to violence, lack of support for vulnerable caregivers and families, and lack of funding for family and community healing to address the effects of colonization, she said.

“As we said back in January, if we continue to have outstanding questions related to Dontay’s story once this work is released publicly in July, we will consider next steps,” said Charlesworth.

The Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth, an independent all-party committee of the legislature, may also have a role in determining what questions are still outstanding and how they are best answered, she said.

Asked about Eby’s promise that the people of B.C. would be given answers about Dontay’s horrific death, Charlesworth said she was “curious as to what other mechanisms the Premier may call on to find these answers considering that my office is precluded from investigating, given the court proceedings.”

Charlesworth said she has written to Eby twice to determine what avenues he is pursuing and has not received a response.

She said she has met with the RCMP, members of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council and the director of USMA and has consulted with the First Nations Leadership Council about Dontay’s death.

She said she looked into the key question of why multiple reports of Dontay being abused in his mother’s home were not addressed, and shared her findings with the Ministry for Children and Family Development and USMA.

“I can confirm that changes were made as a result of both our independent review and MCFD’s internal review. The Agency’s practice in 2024 is very different than it was in 2018,” Charlesworth said.

Grace Lore, who replaced Mitzi Dean as minister of Children and Family Development in January, said since 2018, the ministry has made significant changes to oversight and accountability, including for its Indigenous partner agencies.

“Since I became minister six months ago, we’ve also implemented real time visitation technology, new quarterly compliance reviews, additional training for updated policy requirements, and the creation of a new Indigenous Child Welfare Director position — all with the singular focus of making sure our kids are safe,” said Lore.

The minister said she is determined to do everything she can to ensure cases like Dontay’s don’t happen again and she continues to look for opportunities — such as the coroner’s investigation, which is still open — to get answers.

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