DES MOINES -- Gov. Tom Vilsack said Tuesday he will review whether the Iowa Department of Human Services responded properly to warnings that 5-year-old Evelyn Miller of Floyd was in danger, warnings received before her disappearance and death.
"I want to look at the file and I will look at the file. But I think it is really inappropriate to jump to any conclusions about anybody's activities until you know all the facts," he said.
Evelyn's body was found last Wednesday in the Cedar River, nearly a week after she was reported missing by her mother. Nobody has been arrested and law enforcement officials have said little about the investigation or the circumstances of the death, other than it appears to be foul play.
The Department of Human Services has confirmed that its employees had contact with Evenlyn's family prior to her disappearance, but the agency has declined to give further details.
"The entire state is terribly affected and impacted by the death of a 5-year-old child," Vilsack said. "This is a sweet, innocent child, who through no fault of hers found herself in a circumstance or situation that is unacceptable. The person responsible for this ought to be found, ought to be prosecuted, ought to be punished to the fullest extent of the law, and then God's justice should be meted in the afterlife."
Evelyn's paternal grandparents, who live in the Des Moines area, have accused DHS of negligence. They told the Des Moines Register that DHS had received about a dozen reports of suspected abuse and neglect. Evelyn lived with her mother, her mother's boyfriend and two younger siblings.
Kevin Concannon, director of DHS, said he is reviewing his agency's conduct in the case. He defended his ability to be objective in this self-review. "Nobody has an interest in any way disguising or supporting less than what is good practice," he said.
A spokesman for the agency, Roger Munns, said roughly 36,000 reports of alleged abuse or neglect were received last year; about 27,000 of those reports had enough information for a DHS worker to investigate and about 10,000 ended with a finding that abuse or neglect was occurring.
He said the 25 percent of initial calls that don't get investigated are generally alleging behavior that, if found to be true, isn't abuse or neglect.
Vilsack has personally reviewed several high-profile cases of children found be hurt or killed after DHS had been involved in some way. Most recently, he reviewed the case of a 10-year-old Winterset girl who had been repeatedly locked in a dark bedroom.
Dan Gearino can be reached at 515-243-0138 and email@example.com