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Child's murder could have been prevented, say Jude Murray-Gomez's loved ones

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We've been reporting about the dreadful death of Jude Murray-Gomez, age five -- a crime for which his mother, Shannon Dodson, is in custody on suspicion of first degree murder.

On Friday, hours before Jude's funeral, we had an extended conversation with Juan Gomez, his uncle, and Jillian Gomez, his grandmother, who had custody of the boy when his life ended. In addition to being shattered by this tragedy, their pain is compounded by their certainty that it could have been prevented.

On Friday, November 8, as we've reported, police and fire department personnel in Colorado Springs responded to Dodson's apartment on a report of a blaze. Inside, they found the boy's body wrapped in a smoldering blanket and Dodson naked, wet and hiding in a closet. The bathtub was filled with water, and a coroner's report later determined that the child died from drowning, not the fire.

As for the child's father, Jude Thaddeus Gomez, Juan, his brother, says he suffered a traumatic brain injury, or TBI, in an auto accident eight years ago or so. He's 100 percent disabled due to his condition but wants to stay active -- and it was while he was volunteering for the Knights of Columbus to deliver food to the underprivileged that he met Dodson, one of the people benefiting from the service. Juan and Jillian say she has a history of homelessness and rootlessness, with eleven different addresses in the past five years.

Despite her situation, Dodson had custody of the child his loved ones called Little Jude until earlier this year, when those rights were granted to Jillian this past June. She adds that his father also had parental rights as long as he was living with her -- which he had been and continues to do.

Afterward the custody switch, Juan says, Little Jude began to flourish.

"This child was partly feral when he came to us, from living in those conditions," he allows. "He barely even knew any of his ABCs. His teachers all came to the viewing" last Thursday, "and they said when he got to school, he started out as a blank slate. But by the end, he was at the top of his class and doing fantastic. And he had a great group of people around him. My sister, Teresa, is great, and she has two daughters who just loved him. They went trick-or-treating with him; he was dressed up as his favorite superhero, Spider-Man. He was doing great. But when his mother came over, he got this look on his face, like, 'I don't want her to ruin this.'"

Such encounters were made possible by another hearing, on October 7 -- and Juan sees what happened as the first step on the road to tragedy.

Continue for more of our interview with Juan and Jillian Gomez about the death of Jude Murray-Gomez, including more photos and a video. "What went wrong was the judge went ahead and let this lady have [unsupervised] visitation," he maintains. "She had to have a mental evaluation within sixty days -- on the paperwork we have, it says six months, but they meant sixty days. And the judge went ahead and granted the lady visitation. The lady said, 'Can I see my son even though I have to have a mental evaluation?' And the judge said, 'Yes.'

"Prior to that, there were probably five or six hearings, and she only showed up twice," he goes on. "And the guardian ad litem was against visitation. She was on our side. She knew she needed a mental evaluation, and she showed signs of emaciation, like you do when you're using drugs. You can't really say someone uses drugs by how they look, but we all know the signs, and we watched a documentary about it, and she had all of them."

A first visit between Dodson and Little Jude went off without incident -- but afterward, Juan says she dropped out of contact for three weeks, only to resurface and request another get-together.

"It was the weekend of November 1," Jillian says. "And that's when it happened.

"She wanted to pick up the child early from school," she goes on. "The school called me, and I said, 'No,' he couldn't leave school early. But she was waiting when we got there at about 3:30 to pick him up. She'd been so erratic, telling him she'd be there and then not showing up, so we didn't know if she was going to come or not. But we transferred him over to her, under orders from the court, and she left."

The court-mandated return time was 3 p.m. on the afternoon of Sunday, November 3, but Jillian says when she went to Dodson's apartment, "no one was there. I went back a little later, thinking that it was because of the time change. But she wasn't answering the door, so I went down to the police station, and they told me, 'This is a civil matter. You have to file for a contempt-of-court hearing.' But I was still concerned, so they said they'd do a health-and-welfare check -- and when they went there, they talked to a neighbor who said they'd seen them earlier and everything seemed okay. That was their health-and-welfare check. That was satisfactory to them...."

It wasn't sufficient for Jillian, however. "We were still frantically trying to find out where she could be, who she was with. I called the guardian ad litem, and she got a writ to pick up the child because he was in imminent danger. That was enacted on Wednesday afternoon," November 6, "and they went to the apartment to try to get them. I couldn't go to the actual address -- I had to wait at a 7-Eleven. And when they came back, they said they'd moved out on Monday."

On top of that, "someone let them into the apartment, and there were only a few pieces of furniture and all the clothes were gone. But when the firemen and police came to the building" two days later, "they said she'd barricaded the door with clothes and a piece of furniture. So who let them into the apartment is a mystery, and where all of those things were is a mystery, too."

Continue for more of our interview with Juan and Jillian Gomez about the death of Jude Murray-Gomez, including more photos and a video. The failure to find Little Jude after the writ was issued only increased the Gomez's concern, and they were still trying to find an address for him that Friday when Dodson's adult daughter posted on Facebook that the boy was eating at a McDonald's. But before the lead could be followed, "these detectives came to the door and asked us a whole bunch of questions," Jillian says. "We were thinking they'd found Jude, but they asked, 'Where is his dad?'"

Big Jude wasn't there, Jillian notes: "He'd gone downtown to all these nasty places where he thought they might be, and on the way back, he had a seizure and the firemen had to be called."

Meanwhile, the police personnel broke the news. As Jillian recalls, "They said, 'We have some bad news about Little Jude. They said he was in a fire in an apartment and he died -- and they said there was going to be an autopsy on Saturday morning and they'd call me. But they didn't call me, and when I called them on Saturday afternoon, they said they still didn't have information, but Shannon was going to be released."

This last assertion turned out to be a mix-up in communication: Dodson was being released from the hospital into police custody, not set free, as Juan learned during a followup call. But it wasn't until that evening's newscast that they discovered Little Jude had died from drowning rather than the fire; Juan and Jillian say no one from the police informed them in advance.

"That really crushed our whole family," Juan says. "It went from something we thought was one thing, which was terrible, to something that was even worse."

The police report later quoted one of Dodson's daughters as saying her mother had claimed she'd kill Little Jude and herself rather than returning him, then denied she was serious.

For his part, Juan thinks Dodson was more concerned about child support and Social Security money she received for Little Jude than the boy himself. "She's been using him as a prop ever since he's been around," he says, "and the revenue would be gone once she lost complete custody."

Yet from Juan's perspective, too much attention is being placed on Dodson following Little Jude's death. "She's going to be in jail," he says. Now, he's more interested in preventing something like this from happening again. Does he think the system was at fault?

"Blaming the system is too broad," he replies. "I think the system's in place; I don't think it's broken. But I blame the judge and I blame the police. They're getting a paycheck for supposedly doing a job, but they're not doing it. We were the ones who had to do the detective work, and there was never an Amber Alert. You've got a kid missing in a park for an hour and they throw on an Amber Alert, but this child was missing for five days, and there was nothing. They did put out a BOLO" -- the initials stand for "be on the lookout" -- "for her, but never an Amber Alert on the child."

The condition of Little Jude's body was heartbreaking, he points out. "The funeral director told us his back was so bruised up, and I could see an obvious bruise on his forehead," he says. "It appears that she hit it on the bottom of the bathtub when she was drowning him. His whole body was black and blue. We were going to put him in a short sleeved Oxford shirt like they wear in school, but they said we couldn't do that because of how he looked. We had to get a long-sleeved sweater.

"It was just unbelievably brutal and evil -- and the even more horrible thing is, this all could have been prevented."

Here's a 9News interview with Juan and Jillian.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Shannon Dodson found naked in smoking apartment, allegedly admitted to drowning child."

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