The preteen’s grandmother was petitioning for custody. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services said courts make the final decision about child placement.
BARROW COUNTY, Ga. — A grandmother is voicing her anger with the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services after her granddaughter was killed by her father in October 2022, according to the Barrow County Sheriff’s Office.
In 2016, Angel Ahearn’s mother died in a car crash in Monroe County. Since then, her grandmother, Monica Dunning, said that she was fighting for custody.
After Angel was placed in about eight foster homes—her father, Leonard Ahearn, was eventually awarded custody of her, according to Dunning.
Dunning said before Angel’s mother died, Leonard wasn’t allowed to see Angel. She said there were abuse allegations, and he was placed under a no-contact order.
The couple was in the process of getting a divorce, according to Dunning.
On Oct.17, Leonard shot Angel, a 34-year-old woman and himself in Barrow County, Georgia. Angel was found deceased at the scene, but Leonard was still alive, according to BCSO.
An investigation revealed that Leonard and the 34-year-old woman were in an argument when he retrieved a pistol and shot Angel. He then shot the 34-year-old woman and then himself, BCSO said.
The 34-year-old woman and Leonard were taken to a hospital. Leonard was later pronounced dead, according to BCSO.
“She watched her father walk up to her and put a gun to her head and shoot her. That’s just horrifying. No 12-year-old, especially that 12-year-old, should go through that,” Dunning said. “There was no way that you could be in a room with her, even two seconds, and not just absolutely love her. She was outgoing, she was expressive, she was happy.”
Dunning said that she previously filed for custody and went through the process for an Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children agreement, but she never received custody.
“I felt like they would place her with anybody else but me,” Dunning said.
The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services emphasized that courts make the final decision about child placement. Their full statement about child placement is below.
“When DCS is made aware of a Tennessee child living in unsafe conditions, the department follows the established protocol to petition the Court, and the Court makes the final decision about child placement. If DCS has concerns about the safety of a child in a different state, our department notifies that particular state’s children’s services agency.”
WBIR reached out to the Monroe County General Sessions Judge who made the court ruling, Judge Dwaine “Benjy” Thomas. He did not wish to make a comment on the situation.
Representative Gloria Johnson (D – Knoxville) said she believes the situation is indicative of just one of the issues within DCS.
“I mean, it’s just morally wrong,” Johnson said. “I think it’s time to find the money to address this situation now.”
Johnson said that the department is currently understaffed, underpaid and as a result is making more mistakes. Recently, reports surfaced about children having to sleep in hospital rooms because the department ran out of room for them. Before that, reports surfaced about children having to sleep in DCS offices and workers having to spend long hours with them.
Johnson said she is asking Governor Bill Lee to fund the department before another child is hurt. She also urged people to contact their representatives about the issue.
People can use the “Find My Legislator” tool online to find the name of their representative and their office’s contact information.