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Vilsack clears DHS in case of slain girl

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DES MOINES -- Gov. Tom Vilsack said Thursday there was no way the Iowa Department of Human Services could have predicted or prevented the murder of 5-year-old Evelyn Miller of Floyd, a conclusion he reached after reviewing the file of the department's response to warnings about the girl's safety.

"I did not find anything in the file that suggested or indicated to me that this child was at risk to be abducted or harmed in any way," Vilsack said at a news conference.

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 there are few details available about the investigation or the circumstances of her death.

The Department of Human Services came under scrutiny this week when Evelyn's paternal grandparents said the agency had been warned about her safety a dozen times. They said DHS was negligent for not taking greater action.

DHS director Kevin Concannon launched an investigation Monday into his office's contact with the girl and her family. Vilsack said Tuesday he would conduct his own review.

Vilsack said calls to the agency about Evelyn stretch back four years,though he declined to say how many calls were made or who made them, other than to say some were made anonymously. He said all but one of the calls did not appear serious enough for a DHS employee to conduct an investigation.

And in that one investigation, the agency found no evidence of abuse or neglect. While Vilsack declined to give specifics about the calls, he outlined a hypothetical situation of how a call might not lead to a thorough investigation.

He said the agency may receive a report that a child has marks on their body from abuse, but if no marks are found when a DHS employee meets with the child, and no other evidence of abuse is found, the investigation would probably go no further.

"It's very easy for someone to pick up the phone and call a DHS office. That could happen to anybody in this room right now," he said. According to a DHS spokesman, the agency receives about 36,000 reports of abuse per year, only 10,000 of which have enough evidence to conclude abuse or neglect has occurred.

Vilsack said he wishes there was a way to know which cases of alleged abuse will end in greater tragedy, but there is often no way to know.

"Unfortunately, it is often difficult to predict evil," he said.

Dan Gearino can be reached at 515-243-0138 and dan.gearino@lee.net

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