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'When life is disrupted.. It does get worse' | 8-year-old's death coincides with child abuse spike amid pandemic

The Children's Assessment Center in Houston says it's even more important to report suspected abuse.

HOUSTON — The Children’s Assessment Center in Houston is a safe haven for victims of alleged abuse.

It's something experts told us is impacting even more kids amid COVID-19.

"Unfortunately, when life is disrupted by things like hurricanes and pandemics, it does get worse,” said executive director Kerry McCracken.

She said, in many cases, schools are the first line of defense giving children a place to report issues at home.

But many students have stayed home this year.

"Children consider guidance counselors, teachers to be trusted adults," said McCracken. "And many of our clients make their initial outcries to these trusted adults.”

KHOU 11 News learned the 8-year-old boy found dead this week in a motel room had not been in school for at least the last year.


Concerned witness Nahji Jackson spotted him outside a grocery store nearly a month ago.

HPD responded and consulted with Child Protective Services which had previous contact with the family.

But no arrests were made until after the boy’s death.

“I asked him 'Are you OK? Do you need to come with me so you can talk with somebody?'” recalled Jackson. "And he wouldn’t say anything. And I knew right then and there something was seriously wrong.”

The boy’s mother, 24-year-old Kayla Holzendorf, briefly appeared in court Friday for a preliminary hearing.

She and her common law husband, 28-year-old Dominque Lewis, are charged with injury to a child and tampering with evidence, which could be upgraded.

Both are being held on bonds of at least $150,000.

The DA’s office said the child was found at the motel with injuries consistent with torture.

It's something Holzendorf and Lewis denied.

"If you think something’s going on, please report it to law enforcement and let professionals decide what has happened,” said McCracken.

McCracken said it's very possible you could help save a life.

"The key is getting to them,” said McCracken.

More information on the CAC:

The Children's Assessment Center (The CAC) provides a safe haven to sexually abused children and their families - a place where they can receive the kind of care and treatment they so richly deserve. We employ an extraordinarily effective multidisciplinary team approach in the prevention, assessment, investigation, referral for prosecution, and treatment of child sexual abuse.

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