On March 9, 2001, news of the death of Rodney McAllister was reported by media across the nation. Rodney was a 10-year-old African American boy in St. Louis, Missouri who died on March 6, 2001, after being attacked by a pack of dogs.
While he screamed and cried in pain across the street from the apartment house where he had recently moved with his mother and 13-year-old mentally challenged brother, the dogs tore at Rodney’s body and ate him alive.
Neighbors heard the boy’s cries. When later questioned by the police, they answered that they heard "something suffering out there,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
But, in densely populated, low-income areas, people live close together—so close that they hear suffering frequently. So even though they heard "suffering,” no one answered Rodney’s cries.
Rodney was mauled to death on the concrete basketball court at Ivory Perry Park. A passerby found his body under a tree the next morning, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. An autopsy showed that there were bites all over his body, and he was still alive when the dogs devoured his flesh.
Nearby residents said they had repeatedly called animal control to complain about the pack of strays that hung out at a vacant building next to the park.
St. Louis police said later that children in the neighborhood told them Rodney was afraid of the dogs in the park. But Rodney loved basketball and the last time he was seen alive, he was headed to the court with his basketball under his arm. His mother, Gladys Loman, told officers she last saw him at 5 p.m. on March 5. The next morning, his body was found under a tree in the park by the concrete basketball court.
Police Lt. Ron Henderson, commander of the homicide unit, told reporters: "I've seen over 1,500 bodies but I've never, never seen anything like this. Nobody has. He suffered big time. I'll never forget it, I'll tell you that."
While trying to identify Rodney’s body, St. Louis police said they first went through their missing person reports, then checked the public school records for the names of absent students.
A basketball found at the scene had the name "Rodney" written on it, and they found a Rodney McAllister Jr. on the schools' absentee list.
‘A SWEETHEART OF A KID’
Ten year-old Rodney McAllister, was referred to fondly by his fourth-grade teacher at Hamilton Elementary School as a chatterbox who loved to smile and talk about anything. He was popular with his classmates and eager to be helpful, often staying after school to help sweep floors and water plants, she said.
"If he was helping, he was happy," his former teacher, Lori Ward, said, "You couldn't not like Rodney."
But the hardships and neglect of his life were also apparent. The teacher said that Rodney sometimes wore the same clothes for days. He also came to school on cold winter days without a coat or gloves and wearing shoes two sizes too big.
After picking up his brother, Rodney often came home to find the apartment locked and his mother nowhere around, said Lance and Clint Harrison, two boys in the neighborhood who knew Rodney.
BOY’S LIFE HAD A DARK SIDE
But there was also a dark side to Rodney. Although bubbly and outgoing at school, the boys in his neighborhood said once Rodney left school he rarely smiled and was very quiet around his family.
Gladys Loman, 35, mother of Rodney and Terry Loman, 13, had a history of drug use and was a fugitive in St. Louis, fleeing a weapons charge in Dunklin County, Missoui, relatives and police said.
Rodney and his brother had also reportedly been taken away from Gladys Loman twice by the Missouri Department of Family Services and placed in foster homes, but both boys were later returned to her.
Rodney lived in a homeless shelter for nearly two months when he first came to St. Louis, before he moved into the old brick apartment house across from Ivory Perry Park.
Following Rodney's death, Gladys Loman was charged with endangering the welfare of a child. She was held on $5,000 bail. The Division of Family Services took Rodney's brother into custody, according to the L.A. Times.
Officials granted permission for her to attend her son’s funeral in Cairo, Illinois, Highbeam reported.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on June 27, 2001, that Gladys Loman had reached a plea deal and no longer faced a misdemeanor charge of child endangerment in relation to her son's death.
The deal required that Loman enter a parenting program at the Center for Women in Transition.
Assistant Circuit Attorney Pippa Barrett told the Post-Dispatch that jailing Loman on the misdemeanor charge “would have made little sense.”
"This is a woman with no parenting skills," Barrett said. She added that, “Of paramount concern now is the safety of Rodney's older brother, who is in foster care.”
COMPASSION FOR RODNEY MCALLISTER IS STILL ALIVE
Almost every year since 2001, someone writes about Rodney McAllister. We wonder what he would be doing with his life now at 24 years of age. Some blame the welfare system that did not intercede when this child went to school in the Midwest winter without a coat. Some blame the teacher for not calling for help for Rodney and his brother.
We all wish we could have helped this “sweetheart of a kid.” And we all believe that this shows the failure of America to the children we profess to protect and cherish--children we promised not to leave behind.
After months of sadness in 2001, I contacted Lt. Ron Henderson at St. Louis Police Department to ask how he was dealing with this horrific incident. He said he was still struggling with it and could not get Rodney out of his mind. Neither could I, and I still can’t — 14 years later.
Teri Power of St. Louis wrote a letter to the editor of the St. Louis American on January 31, 2013, stating: “When one of our own, a child, neglected by his drug-addicted mother, is killed in such a savage manner, we all need to remember his name and take action to prevent another gruesome untimely death of a child. We erected a statue in honor of Rodney McAllister in Ivory Perry Park where Rodney died.”
Let’s hope that Rodney McAllister lives in our hearts to remind us that there are still an inexcusable number of dogs attacking adults and children in the streets of every major city in America; and, in this land of plenty, there are still children without a coat in the winter and wear shoes that don’t fit.
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