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NJ- State report says DYFS could have done more to protect victims of 2006 murder-suicide

Posted in Related Deaths
10-24-2007 New Jersey:

The state Division of Youth and Family Services could have done more to protect Melanie and Scott McCarter, a report released by the New Jersey Office of the Child Advocate said Wednesday.

Wendy Bennett McCarter, 35, was shot and killed on the morning of May 25, 2006, by her husband, Scott McCarter, who also killed their two children, Scotty, 12, and Melanie, 6, before shooting himself in their Nabb Avenue home in Millville.

Scott McCarter had been barred from living with Wendy and his children because of a court order stemming from charges he allegedly molested two teenage girls from 2001 to 2004.

One of the girls was Wendy McCarter's daughter, Amanda Bennett, who has filed a lawsuit against DYFS over the deaths of her mother and two siblings. Bennett had moved out, and was not at the Nabb Avenue home at the time of the murder/suicide.

In the report, it is stated that the opinion of the Office of the Child Advocate that:

-- Scott and Melanie's deaths were possibly preventable.

-- During the time that there was an active DYFS case with this family (between July 2004 and May 2006), there were numerous missed opportunities for DYFS and the courts to offer this family protection, services and intervention.

-- DYFS was deficient in its case handling, evidenced by a failure to thoroughly assess the family, failure to recognize key inherent safety and risk factors, failure to conduct required visits with the family members and failure to adhere to agency policies for best practices to ensure child safety and well-being.

Recommendations were made by the OCA to help correct these issues should they come up in the future.

In a one-sentence statement from the Department of Children and Families, spokeswoman Mary Helen Cervantes said, "Whenever a child dies, we grieve that loss deeply, and we are committed to doing everything humanly possible to strengthen this system for the tens of thousands of children who rely on us everyday." ..more.. by JAIME MARINE

Book delves into NJ sex abuse, murder-suicide case

11-29-2009 New Jersey:

MILLVILLE — In an instant, veteran reporter Eileen Bennett's life went from byline to headline.

On May 25, 2006, her son-in-law, Scott McCarter, was set to take the stand to answer charges that he had sexually molested his stepdaughter, Amanda Bennett.

He never made it to court. Instead, investigators say he fatally shot his wife, Wendy, and their two children, Scotty, 12, and Melanie, 6, before turning the gun on himself.

"I felt like a broken reporter, after being through this, I didn't know if I could ever be fully objective again," said Bennett, a retired Press of Atlantic City reporter and editor.

It was Amanda Bennett who coaxed her "Mom-Mom" back to writing. Bennett was inspired by her granddaughter's ability to cope with her loss, focus on the positive and move forward with her life.

She recalled a candid moment when Amanda Bennett was talking about her lost family members and feeling so many things had been left unsaid.

"I feel like I should write a letter... but I don't know who I would send it to," Bennett recalled her granddaughter saying. That sparked a three-year labor of love that resulted in the book, "Amanda's Voice." Fireside Publications of Lady Lake, Fla., released the 210-page publication earlier this month.

The book details Amanda Bennett's decision to publicly name her stepfather, McCarter, as a sexual abuser and how she coped with the devastating ramifications.

"She's an extremely private person, but I think she came to the realization that speaking out would help others," Bennett said. "She threw herself in the public arena, I know other girls are going through this -- it has to be revealed, it can't be cloaked in secrecy."

Before coming forward to confront her stepfather, Amanda Bennett lived in fear.

"The thing that may have pushed her over edge was she was extremely worried about Melanie and that (Scott) may have done something to her," Eileen Bennett said.

Amanda Bennett was aware there would be consequences in speaking out.

"She was afraid her world would implode -- and it did," Bennett said, first with an estranged relationship with her mother and the eventual slaying of her family.

With the determination she gathered to face her stepfather in court, Amanda Bennett also took on the N.J. Division of Youth and Family Services. She filed a civil lawsuit against the agency charged with improperly handling the case, winning a $750,000 settlement.

"I want to help some other girls out there," Amanda Bennett said.

The 21-year-old is in her final semester at Cumberland County College, where she is studying to be a paralegal.

Compiling the book took about three years of listening to more than 200 hours of court transcripts, interviewing police, the prosecutors and all the others whose lives were intertwined with the case.

Amanda Bennett was spare with her words, but she wanted them to matter.

During the process, Eileen Bennett recovered her reporter instincts.

"I wanted to make sure everything was quoted correctly," she said, noting she also extended an invitation to the McCarter family to be included in the book. They declined.

"When I read some of the passages, I cringe but it is what it is," Bennett said. "Amanda is a very strong-willed person, if she thinks something is right, she will do it."

"I don't think of it as the story of her abuse, it is the story about the beautiful person she has become," she said. "I see the beautiful young lady picking herself up and getting on with life -- there are not many people that can do it." ..Source.. by DEBORAH M. MARKO • Staff Writer

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