‘A house of terror’: What officials are saying about CPS after 5-year-old was killed in Detroit

Ethan Belcher’s parents charged in his murder

DETROIT – A 5-year-old was killed in Detroit on Sunday and the case has prompted questions about Child Protective Services’ previous involvement.

The death of 5-year-old Ethan Belcher, and what led to it, continues to reverberate across Metro Detroit. Many are wondering how the child ended up back in the care of his parents, who are now charged with his murder, even after police and state involvement.

The case prompted questions about Michigan Child Protective Services (CPS) and its role in not only this crime, but child abuse in general.

A 2018 report shows the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services was a mess, with investigations not getting done along with improper reporting. A 2021 Office of Children’s Ombudsman report didn’t mention many problems even though it was supposed to.

Read: Lincoln Park police investigated child abuse before 5-year-old killed, 3-year-old injured

The 5-year-old suffered a lot of pain in his life, as did his siblings. Pictures show a swollen and bruised hand as well as a black eye nearly closed shut with bruises.

His aunt, Ashley Belcher, reported the abuse to Lincoln Park police back in 2021. “It was a house of terror, a house of terror,” Belcher said.

Lincoln Park police Chief Ray Watters said four officers arrested Ethan’s stepfather, 27-year-old Shane Robert Shelton. Ethan and his siblings were removed from their home and police conducted interviews with everyone involved, including the children.

The case was sent to Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s office for charges.

On Friday, Watters sent Local 4 a denial letter from Worthy’s office, and the phrase “denied for further investigation,” was used. The prosecutor’s office said this statement goes with directions on what’s needed to make a case. Watters says no directions came along.

Ethan’s death and the accompanying bureaucratic issues left his aunt in tears. “We could have saved his life, he would have been here today, had they just listened,” Belcher said. “There was more than one case through CPS about the abuse.”

Local 4 went to Child Protective Services looking to send a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request to learn more, but CPS falls under the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

In an email, the agency wrote: “By law we cannot discuss any Children’s Protective Services cases and information is not available by FOIA as it is exempt from FOIA.”

Local 4 took that information to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and asked her what we can do to shed more light on these problems and get more pressure. “I didn’t know that they were exempt from FOIA so that, you’re educating me right now,” Whitmer said. “I think that perhaps there is an opportunity for us to take a real hard look at it and see what more we can do.”

Republican Michigan Senator Jim Runestad is furious at the cloak of secrecy Child Protective Services stands behind. “This five-year-old who was basically murdered in Detroit, obviously a lot of contact with CPS, and we can’t get information,” Runestad said. “The law has to change. We’ve got to get this fixed, we need transparency in finding out what was going on.”

Whitmer said she needed to look more closely at the law to find out what might be possible.

Also: Detroit mom, stepdad charged with abuse that killed 5-year-old son, injured 3-year-old

About the Authors:

Rod Meloni is an Emmy Award-winning Business Editor on Local 4 News and a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional.

Morgan is a Digital Editor and has been with WDIV since May of 2022. She is also studying political science and communications at Wayne State University.