Boy killed by dogs struggled to shine in bleak world



ST. LOUIS - Rodney McAllister Jr., attacked and killed by a pack of stray dogs earlier this week, was by most accounts two different children in one.

He was the bubbly, always grinning 10-year-old whom students and teachers encountered in school. Handsome and well-liked by his classmates and teachers, he couldn't stop talking, they say. Loved to talk, about anything: Malden, the town in southeast Missouri he'd left a few months ago with his mother and brother to come to St. Louis, a movie, even the T-shirt he'd worn that day.

Then there was the other Rodney, the one the neighborhood kids knew. That Rodney rarely smiled, they say, and he almost never mentioned his family.

That Rodney lived in a darker place.

He lived with his 35-year-old mother, Gladys Loman, who, according to relatives and police, had a history of drug use, and who was a fugitive in St. Louis fleeing a weapons charge in Dunklin County, Mo.

Rodney and his brother had been taken from her twice by the Missouri Department of Family Services and placed in foster homes, according to family members, but later returned to her.

That Rodney went for days wearing the same clothes, showing up at school on cold winter days without a coat or gloves and wearing shoes two sizes too big.

He lived in a homeless shelter for nearly two months when he first came to St. Louis before he moved into an old brick apartment across from Ivory Perry Park. Neighborhood children said Rodney was afraid of the dogs in the park.

After school at Clark Accelerated Academy, Rodney and his mentally retarded brother, Terry Loman, 13, often came home to find the apartment locked and their mother nowhere around, said Lance and Clint Harrison, two boys in the neighborhood who knew Rodney.

Rodney, Clint said, was rapidly becoming his best friend. They played sports together in the park and traded Pokemon cards. But Rodney was quiet and never smiled, Clint said.

When police arrived at Gladys Loman's apartment Tuesday morning to ask her about her son, she said she thought he had spent the night with Clint, as though it were a regular occurrence, police say.

But Clint, 12, Lance, 11, and their mother, Joyce Ore, said Rodney had never spent the night at their house, and Ore said she had met Rodney only once and had never met his mother.

Police Lt. Ron Henderson, commander of the homicide unit, sat in his office Wednesday still trying to come to grips with Rodney's death. He couldn't get over how the mother didn't know where her son was. "I didn't understand it," he said softly. "He's a 10-year-old child."

Even worse, he was reliving the child's gruesome death. Rodney didn't die from just being mauled, he said. He was eaten to death.

"They were feeding off this kid," Henderson said. "I've seen over 1,500 bodies but I've never, never seen anything like this. Nobody has. He suffered big time. I'll never forget it, I'll tell you that."

Henderson added: "The pathologist said the kid was alive throughout the ordeal."

Nearby neighbors told police they heard Rodney's screams but thought it was dogs fighting, Henderson said. "They closed their blinds and went on about their business," he said.

When the boy's body was found, police began to go through their missing person reports, then the public school system for absent students.

A basketball found at the scene had the name "Rodney" written on it, and there was a Rodney McAllister Jr. on the schools' absentee list. Detectives went to his apartment at about 9 a.m. Tuesday and knocked on his mother's door.

Henderson paused when he recalled that the mother didn't know the whereabouts of her son or the phone number where she thought he might have spent the night.

The last time she saw him was about 5 p.m. Monday.

Henderson said he was so infuriated that he almost lost control.

Loman was charged Tuesday with endangering the welfare of a child. She is being held on \$5,000 bail. The Division of Family Services took Rodney's brother into custody Wednesday.

Loman left Malden, a farming community, in December and landed in a homeless shelter in St. Louis. Some family members say she was running from the weapons charge, but others say she came to St. Louis seeking drug rehab.

Rodney showed up at Hamilton Elementary in St. Louis, his former school, the week in December that the area was hit with a big snowstorm. He didn't have a coat.

Lori Ward, his teacher there, got him one. Another day during recess, Rodney looked at his hands and asked Ward how much gloves cost. When Ward brought him a pair the next day, he pulled them on. "These match," he told her, sounding surprised.

"He was just a sweetheart who wanted to be loved," Ward said. "And you couldn't help but love him."

He even gave Ward a hug every day at the end of school, no matter how many times she'd had to ask him to be quiet that day.

"He came in, and he needed somebody bad," Ward said.

This is a horrible story - a tragedy that should have never happened. But it did.

A precious gift - a child - who lived 10 short, hard years met a horrible end to life here in this place. This is not how I wanted to remember this little boy I learned about through reading this tragic story on an informative list by a wonderful man who has struggled so hard, has seen and felt and tasted poverty, homelessness and despair and yet rose above it all to become one of the most staunch supporters of what some people term America's "underclass."

Creator bless you Ruben.

This should have never happened, we might say. And quickly, all blame is placed upon Rodney's mother. But she is not entirely to blame. Where were the people who lived near this family and saw Rodney regularly? Why didn't the teacher or school do something? A child comes into school in the cold of winter and has no coat and gloves and nothing is done? It was a wonderful thing for his teacher to gift him a winter coat, but his survival - his very life needed so much more than the warmth of a winter coat.

His family needed help. Where were the high-paid public servants - the social workers from the Missouri Department of Human Services? Where were they? Once again, the excuse is too many caseloads - overcrowded - and one of "those kids who fell through the cracks."

For Rodney, a precious child - a child filled with promise - who entered this world - who had his entire life stretched before him - only made it to his 10th year and died a horrible death that is so difficult to even speak of, let alone imagine.

But I don't want to remember Rodney that way. I want to remember him as a valuable human being - a gift - a child with the delight and wonder of a child - a child who had he lived, could have gifted the world with things we shall never know about.

Let's NOT allow this precious child's death to be in vain - in the paper one day, forgotten the next.

THESE ARE OUR CHILDREN! We owe them something.

We owe them love, protection, comfort, guidance and appreciation for the beautiful gift of life - new life they give to this earth - the 7th Generation as we Indians believe. As all people say, the children are our future. Well, it's about TIME, we started nurturing that future, protecting and cherishing each and every precious child that is upon this earth.



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