Just another dead kid: The murder of Grace Packer
John William Tuohy
In 2016, a 14-year-old foster girl, who was probably mentally challenged on some level, was punched in the face by her adopted foster mother and her boyfriend, raped, bounded and ganged and left to die in a hot attic. When she didn’t die, she was strangled, had her body stored in cat litter for months, she was dismembered with a bone saw and tossed into the woods.
The child’s name was Grace, Grace Packer. She had been in the goddamned foster care system, the great disgrace of a great nation, since she was a year old. I want to write about her because I’m angry and disgusted over what happened to her and because I want you to know her name, I want you to look at her photo and see her face. I want you to know what your government, our government, allowed to happen through incompetence, and I want you to know that you have it within your power, if you speak up in defense of foster children, to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again in a few weeks. Because that’s how often this happens. Every couple of weeks there’s another nightmare story about a foster kid getting scalded to death with bath water or beaten to death by a foster parent and so on.
Grace’s life was as short as it was tragic. She was born on August 14, 2001, two months early and just 4 pounds, 5 ounces. She was so small her mother dressed her in dolls' clothing. Gracie’s natural mother was bipolar, and her father was intellectually challenged. Grace and two siblings were placed in foster care by age 3, due to allegations of abuse and neglect, so much so that a County judge terminated their parental rights in 2006, clearing the way for Sara and David Packer to adopt Grace in 2007.
Grace’s natural parents are still together, married for a rocky 17 years. Rose Hunsicker, Grace’s mother, has filed for protection from abuse from her husband four times since 2007, then withdrawing every petition. They have also been homeless to the point where they were living in a tent in the woods
Grace at two years old
Prior to the adoption, Gracie and her siblings were moved in and out of the county child welfare systems of eastern Pennsylvania. For a few months in 2015, Grace spent time in North Carolina, overseen by a county social services agency there.
The states report on Grace indicates that she was sexually abused in foster care over the years with incidents in 2005, June of 2010 and April of 2012 "The evaluation identified concerns that Grace may have been molested. However, it was unknown when this happened or who may have abused her"
The report also found that the teenager suffered mental, sexual and physical abuse in the years leading up to her murder and that caseworkers had opportunities to protect Grace but failed to do so.
"It's hard not to be totally shattered on behalf of Grace that this was her life," Cathleen Palm, founder of the Center for Children's Justice, a nonprofit advocacy group in Pennsylvania, said after reviewing the findings. "It is absolutely clear that there was point after point after point that her life could have changed. It could have changed."
Packer and Sullivan
Sarah Packer, Gracie’s adopted foster mother and her murderer, lost her job at Northampton County's children and youth department in 2010 after her husband at the time, David Warren Packer, was sent to prison for sexually assaulting Grace and another foster child who was 15 years old, between February 2007 and January 2008.
Prior to the arrest, in an unrelated case, the state Welfare Department’s regional Office of Children Youth and Families in Scranton investigated a report that David Packer physically abused Grace in 2008, three years before he pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting her, but no charges were filed.
The other abused foster daughter, now 25, said that David Packer began abusing her when she was 15, shortly after she moved into the home, and that the abuse went on for years. David packer moved the girl to a third-floor bedroom near the one he shared with Sara. He would tie her to the bedpost and leave her there all night or tie her to a chair and gag her. He dressed her in revealing outfits and made her go on a diet.
“After a while, I just gave up, mentally and physically. What was I supposed to do?” said the woman, adding she twice tried killing herself while living in the packer home and was hospitalized.
Crystal Rodack, a third former foster daughter, spent only a few months in the Packer home. But in January 2010, she said, she looked at David Packer’s phone and found photos and videos showing him sexually abusing the other foster daughter. She alerted relatives, who immediately called police.
He was arrested and charged with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, statutory sexual assault and corruption of minors. He was released on $25,000 unsecured bail. A few weeks later, he was charged with indecent assault on a then 9-year old girl in January 2006.
Sarah Packer was barred from taking in any more foster children. But she wasn’t charged with a crime related to her husband’s abuse, and Grace and her brother continued to live in the home. However, at that point, Packer acknowledged having sexual contact with a foster child in her care, but, despite that, child welfare authorities did not remove Grace from the home. Prosecutors say packer was aware of her husband’s sexual contact with the foster daughters and allowed it to continue anyway.
Packer’s former foster daughters said Sara Packer abused Grace and clearly favored Grace’s biological brother, whom she also adopted. Jade Tenezaca, one of the former foster children said “Her favorite child, and you could see it plain as day, had always been Gracie’s brother. She was more demanding on Gracie to be normal. But Gracie is not normal. Gracie had a learning disability. Some parts of (Grace’s) brain didn’t work like ours, and you’d have to tell her more than a few times to do things. And Sara didn’t like that. She yelled, she screamed. She hit her. She was just a big bully to her. They were really mean to Gracie in the home. She was always in trouble. They would hit her, they would ground her and take stuff from her and keep her in her room. I felt bad for her. Gracie was never in a bad mood. Gracie was always happy and fun, and she always wanted to be with the girls. She was warm. She would open her heart to anyone and everyone. If you gave her the chance, she would be your best friend.”
Jessica Rotellini Law, who was 16 when she lived with the Packers in 2006, said she told her caseworker that 6-year-old Grace was being forced to clean up dog feces, but no actions were taken to stop it.
Sullivan and Packer actually planned the rape-murder fantasy for weeks before taking Grace to a rented, vacant house in Abington, Pennsylvania, about 50 miles north of Philadelphia, where they attacked her in July 2016.
They dragged her into a stifling attic where they couldn’t be seen or heard. Before the rape began, Packer and Sullivan gave Grace what they thought was a lethal overdose of medicine, and then Sullivan raped her while Packer watched. When it was over, they bound Grace with zip ties, stuffed a ball gag in her mouth and left her for dead. When they returned after 12 hours and found that she was still alive, Sullivan strangled Grace while Packer held her hand. Then they stored the body in cat litter for several months before dismembering her remains and discarding them in a wooded area.
Packer said that murdering Gracie wasn’t part of the plan “I got wrapped up in Jake’s fantasy. I didn’t think I could tell him 'no' without losing him” and that as Sullivan choked the girl to death Packer told her it was “OK to go.”
The full plan, she said was to imprison the teen in their home so Sullivan could “rape her whenever he wanted" and that it would happen if, in her opinion, Sullivan had not panicked. “The reality of what he had done set in, and there was no going back. So, he decided that it was time for her to die,” she said.
“Grace had become” Packer later told the court “for lack of a better word, a non-entity She just didn’t exist anymore. I wanted her to go away.” She added that when Sullivan began to rape her, Gracie called out for Packer to help her and Packer answered “I can’t help you anymore. This is your life now.”
In July, Sara Packer reported Grace missing from their home in Montgomery County. She told the police that Grace had stolen $300 and run away. Police added Grace’s information to a missing persons database but when they wanted more information, standard information, Sara Packer was not only uncooperative, she was unusually uncooperative, refusing to return multiple calls from investigators. The cops also learned that Sara was a prolific Facebook user, “so frequent that she will sometimes post about insignificant or minor incidents in her life, such as having a migraine headache,” a charging document reads. But Sara “never posted anything about her daughter being missing.”
Grace’s corpse was actually still up in the attic in the house Packer and Sullivan lived in. All the while, Sara Packer and Sullivan continued to collect thousands of dollars in disability benefits that she received as part of caring for Grace.
In October, paranoid and certain that the police knew what they had done (They didn’t) Packer and Sullivan dismembered Grace’s body in a downstairs bathtub and drove the parts to rural northeastern Pennsylvania where hunters discovered her remains on Halloween. The police honed in on Packer and Sullivan. The end was near, and they knew it.
In a failed suicide attempt, Sullivan overdosed himself on December 20, 2016, and was rushed to the hospital. The nurse who attended him later told the court that “He said he didn’t know why they were coming down so hard on Sara, because he was the one who killed Grace. They couldn’t handle her anymore, but they couldn’t just return her because they needed the money. He felt like he was in a dark place and always wanted to kill.” He admitted that Packer had been 'sexually aroused' by the rape of her daughter. A second nurse on duty also heard Sullivan’s confession.
Sara Packer was sentenced to life in prison without parole, for first-degree murder, kidnapping, abuse of a corpse and 16 other charges. Jacob Sullivan has been sentenced to death.
The Pennsylvania state Department of Human Services issued a report that every report about the state of foster care would say in any one of the fifty states; that Pennsylvania's child welfare system is overwhelmed and in need of more accountability.
In the end, no one in the foster care system, on any level, will lose their job over what they allowed to happen to Grace. It’s the usual story. Nobody in charge of anything is ever held accountable for what happens to these children, these creations of God who expect us, who need us, to protect and defend them.
This isn’t the end of the madness. This is just one story of life in foster care, squandered away. More foster children will be raped, and more foster children will be murdered and unless there is drastic and severe action from the federal level, it will never end.
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*** THEATER DISTRICT ***
New York City's Theater District (sometimes spelled Theatre District, and officially zoned as the "Theater Subdistrict") is an area in Midtown Manhattan where most Broadway theaters are located, as well as many other theaters, movie theaters, restaurants, hotels, and other places of entertainment. It is bounded by West 40th Street on the south, West 54th Street on the north, Sixth Avenue on the east and Eighth Avenue on the west, and includes Times Square. The Great White Way is the name given to the section of Broadway which runs through the Theater District.
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