Baby's starvation at shelter ruled homicide

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Travelers Aid Family Services of Philadelphia Family Residence in West Philadelphia is a 75-room emergency shelter. (taphilly.org)

A 2-month-old boy died of starvation and dehydration just before Christmas, police said, despite periodic visits from a social worker and while living in a West Philadelphia homeless shelter stocked with food.

The boy, Quasir Alexander, had five siblings, including a twin brother, all now in foster care, sources close to the investigation said.

Medics found Quasir when they were called to the Travelers Aid family shelter at 111 N. 49th St. about 6 a.m. Dec. 23, police said. It was not clear who called them.

The baby, who appeared undernourished, was taken to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where he was pronounced dead, police said. An autopsy found he died of starvation and dehydration, and his death was ruled a homicide, said Lt. Raymond Evers, a police spokesman.

Quasir had been living at the shelter with his mother and siblings, Evers said. The mother has not been identified, and police would not discuss her whereabouts. It was not known if the father was involved with the family.

No arrests have been made. The investigation is continuing.

The family did not have an open case with the city's Department of Human Services, sources close to the investigation said.

Rather, the mother was partaking in voluntary services, similar to parenting classes, "to help the family better serve the children," one source said.

Those services were provided by a DHS vendor, Lutheran Children and Family Service, sources said. No one at that organization could be reached Thursday evening, and it was not certain when a Lutheran Children social worker last saw Quasir's family.

The family's case was closed shortly before Quasir's death, sources said.

Alicia Taylor, a spokeswoman for DHS Commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose, said she could not comment because state privacy law forbids her from discussing or confirming DHS involvement with a family.

Ambrose and Deputy Mayor Donald F. Schwarz, who is also the city's health commissioner, briefed Mayor Nutter on Christmas Eve about the boy's death.

"It's clearly a tragedy, and there will be a full investigation," Nutter said Thursday.

The Travelers Aid shelter is housed on the campus of the Kirkbride Center, which was once the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane and which now focuses on the treatment of psychiatric and addictive disorders.

Travelers Aid, a 109-year-old nonprofit agency, rents 40,000 square feet from the Kirkbride Center to house homeless families, said Ted Weerts, the executive director.

He said that he could not comment on Quasir and his family because they have "very distinct privacy rights" but that he had been cooperating with the police investigation.

Weerts said the shelter houses 75 families of various sizes, for a total of about 275 people. Each family has its own room and shares a dining hall.

All the families are referred there by the city's Office of Supportive Housing, Weerts said, and the average stay is about five months.

It was unknown Thursday how long Quasir's family had lived there or how they came to be homeless.

Although the shelter has case managers on staff and a nurse is available, its main goals are to find stable housing for its residents and to be "a base of operations to get their lives together," Weerts said.

Cheryl Burke, 30, who has been staying at the shelter with her four children since September, said she had not had any problems.

"They serve three hot meals a day. It's clean," she said as she left the campus with her children to have dinner with a relative.

Burke said that she did not know Quasir's family and that she learned the details of the boy's death only after watching the evening news.

 


Contact staff writer Troy Graham at 215-854-2730 or tgraham@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writers Robert Moran and Allison Steele contributed to this article.