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Parents call for justice after son’s death at Chesterfield daycare fire

Posted at 6:51 PM, Dec 03, 2014

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- The parents of a one-year-old child who died in an October fire at his babysitter's home released a statement in which they shared their concerns about things they learned after their son's death.

Jacqueline and Matt Allen said they hoped the misdemeanor charges filed against babysitter Laurie Underwood were just the beginning of more charges to come.

Matt, Jacqueline and Joseph Allen

Matt, Jacqueline and Joseph Allen

Underwood was charged with running a child welfare agency without obtaining a license. This after a bag of hot ashes caused Underwood’s Midlothian home to go up in flames on October 21. One-year-old Joseph Allen was left inside the home and died.

In a statement titled "Justice for Joseph," the Allens lashed out at the woman who took care of their son.

"We thought we found a safe place, but we were misled from day one," their statement read.  "Ms. Underwood assured us she only watched five children. This was not true. We now know she kept up to 10 children at her home."

The Allens went on to say, "The number of violations made by Ms. Underwood is staggering: she did not have working smoke detectors or fire extinguishers in her home; she did not maintain a list of children in her care and she did not get all of the children out of her home safely."

Joseph Allen

Joseph Allen

Joseph Allen was discovered by firefighters during a second sweep after they had been told everyone was out. The little boy, all of 24 pounds, was found still strapped in a car seat that had been flipped over on the floor.

"The thought of our little boy breathing in flames and toxic fumes for almost an hour while buckled into an overturned infant car seat is too horrific to even contemplate," their statement continued.

They added they only learned of the fire from news report  and when Joseph’s father arrived on the scene no one could tell him where Joseph was or if he was okay. He detailed showing up at the hospital to discover those helping the boy did not know his identity. The father had to describe Joseph to doctors before he was allowed to see his dying boy.

The Allens’ attorney, by phone Wednesday night, said they will have more in the coming days, but right now the Allens are still processing these developments and grieving the tremendous and tragic loss of their baby boy.

The daycare provider, has been charged with a class one misdemeanor, operating or engaging in the conduct of a child welfare agency without first obtaining a license.

She surrendered to police and will be in court on Jan. 6, 2015, at 8:30 a.m., in Chesterfield County General District Court.

josephe

CBS 6 reached out to David Clements, the lawyer representing Laurie Underwood, but has not heard back at time of publication. This story will be updated if a statement is issued. He has previously declined to speak with other reporters.

STATEMENT

We are Matthew and Jacquelyn Allen. Joseph Matthew Allen was our only child. We are devastated by his tragic death and want to share what we know about the fire that occurred on October 21, 2014 and changed our lives forever.

Joseph was a healthy, active and vibrant one year old boy who was always on the move. For the past ten months Joseph attended daycare eight hours per day, five days per week, with Laurie Underwood at her home in Midlothian. Like all new working parents, we wanted to find good daycare for Joseph. We thought that we found a safe place, but we were misled from day one. Ms. Underwood assured us that she only watched five children. This was not true. We now know that she kept up to ten children at her home.

On October 21, 2014, Joseph arrived at Ms. Underwood’s home around 7:30 a.m. He was always one of the first children to arrive. On this day we later learned Ms. Underwood had eight children in her sole care, six of whom were under the age of two.

Some time that same morning, and for some unknown reason, Ms. Underwood put ashes from a backyard fire pit into a bag and placed it in her garage. These smoldering ashes then started the fire that cost our son his life.

The number of violations made by Ms. Underwood is staggering. She failed to obtain a license to operate a daycare in her home. She grossly misrepresented the number of children in her care, and went out of her way to keep this secret hidden from us. She did not have working smoke detectors or fire extinguishers in her home. She did not maintain a list of the children in her care. She did not get all of the children out of her house safely. She did not provide accurate information to emergency responders. Instead, she told firefighters en route to the fire that all children were out of the house and safe. Upon arrival at the scene, she again told firefighters that all children were out of the house and safe. This was not true.

Most troubling of all is that Joseph, a 24 pound one-year old boy who had been walking for months, inexplicably had been strapped into another child’s infant carrier and left alone in the master bedroom on the second floor of the burning home. It was only after a second sweep of the home that firefighters found the infant carrier upside down with Joseph still buckled in. We can’t even imagine why Joseph was strapped into another child’s infant car seat at noon. Joseph did not nap at noon and certainly not in an infant car seat. The thought of our little boy breathing in flames and toxic fumes for almost an hour while buckled into an overturned infant car seat is too horrific to even contemplate.

At no time did Ms. Underwood ever call us or Joseph’s emergency contact to report the fire. We learned about the fire from news reports. When Joseph’s dad arrived at the scene no one could tell him where Joseph was or if he was okay. Joseph’s grandfather, the emergency contact, lived just minutes away from Ms. Underwood’s home. If Ms. Underwood had called Joseph’s grandfather, he could have arrived at the scene promptly and told firefighters that Joseph was not out of the house.

Because Ms. Underwood did not maintain a list of children in her care and was nowhere to be found after the fire, no one at the scene could identify Joseph. He was admitted to St. Francis Hospital and VCU Medical Center as “Mr. XC”. We had to first describe our little boy before being allowed to see him because he was not admitted under his own name.

Joseph died on October 22, 2014 because of Ms. Underwood’s criminal actions. Ms. Underwood has not called us to offer her condolences on the death of our only child. We are so grateful for the work of the Chesterfield emergency responders, and thankful that the Chesterfield Commonwealth Attorney’s Office has decided to criminally charge Ms. Underwood for operating a daycare without a license, a Class 1 misdemeanor, but we are hopeful that more serious charges may follow based on her recklessness and gross violations of the laws put in place to protect young children.

Joseph no longer has a voice of his own, so we are seeking Justice for Joseph so this does not happen to yet another child and family.

December 3, 2014

Matthew and Jacquelyn Allen