"DCF failed. They failed my niece," Lisa Eastman said.
Eastman told WCAX News Sunday the state is partially to blame for the death of her 2-year-old niece. Dezirae Sheldon was allegedly murdered by her stepfather, Dennis Duby. Eastman says the Vermont Department for Children and Families should have kept Dezarie away from her mother and stepfather at the first signs of trouble.
"Dezirae had a broken leg and previous fractures to her other leg," Lisa Eastman said.
As we first reported, Dezirae's mother, Sandy Eastman, was previously arrested for abusing her daughter. However, Dezirae was back in her mother's custody a few months later. Family members say they warned state officials the girl was in further danger.
Prosecutors say Dezirae died when Duby crushed her skull. He denies it. The death of the toddler shocked the entire state, including the governor.
"This situation just breaks my heart," said Shumlin, D-Vermont. "As the father of daughters and anyone in Vermont that looks at this and sees a two-year-old who had a bright future. We lost her to someone who has an empty heart, a brute... it breaks your heart."
Shumlin has called for an external investigation. He wants to know if DCF and others involved handled the case properly. The Vermont Agency of Human Services will look into what went wrong to see if more could have been done to prevent Dezirae's death.
"Ensure that we learn from this kind of tragedy and do everything in our power to make sure no little girl or boy in the state loses their life," Shumlin said.
But some state senators say the Legislature can't wait for an agency investigation before acting.
"What we are looking to do on the Senate side is to empower a committee or panel to take a look at our existing policies as it relates to the Department of Children and Families and try to figure out if there can be improvements made, if we can learn from any mistakes that may have occurred," said Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland County.
Dezirae's grieving family wants to be certain no other families endure the same pain.
"You have to think of what that little girl saw the last moments of her life was somebody with so much anger and hate toward her," said Michelle Brown, a friend of the family.
The Department for Children and Families will conduct its own internal investigation into the girl's death as well.