Mysteries blanket life, death of 20-month-old

A large number of tests over several months are done when a child dies, the coroner said.

WARREN — The obituary for Tiffany Sue Banks, 20 months old, said she died of natural causes, that she was the daughter of Thomas Cross and Felicia Banks and that she was survived by two siblings.

That information didn’t begin to tell the complex story of how a cute girl in ponytails came to be found fatally unconscious April 2 inside her foster parents’ home on Champion Street West.

Her death is still a mystery to all but a few people close to the investigation that followed.

Among the most baffled people are Thomas Cross and Felicia Banks, in part because they had not been allowed to see Tiffany for more than four months before her death because they had lost custody of her in November.

It was also baffling because they didn’t even know the girl was living with foster parents William and Bonnie Pattinson, and they didn’t understand why Tiffany was bruised and cut when they saw her body in the funeral home.

When they asked what caused her death, they were given a variety of theories but nothing concrete.

Then, in late July, they learned that Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk, Trumbull County coroner, had ruled Tiffany’s death a homicide, and some of the answers they sought finally began to come.

And on Thursday in front of the Trumbull County Jail, during the raising of the Trumbull County Victim’s Flag to commemorate Tiffany’s death, they explained some of the other mysteries.

For one, Cross and Banks never had a chance to be parents to Tiffany in any more than a biological way, family members said. The Trumbull County Children Services Board took Tiffany from St. Joseph Medical Center in Warren on June 28, 2007, less than one day after she was born, said Loretta Banks, Felicia’s mother.

The only time that Cross, Banks and other family members spent with Tiffany over the next 17 months was during supervised visits at the CSB offices.

As for the reason why Children Services took the baby, that is also a mystery, said Amber Finney of Warren, Felicia’s aunt.

The family didn’t know CSB was going to take Tiffany, Finney said.

The last time the family visited with Tiffany, the blue-eyed girl seemed happy, and they were happy, too, because Tiffany was about to be adopted by a nice foster couple.

“If [CSB workers] were not going to let [Tiffany] come home, the next best thing was for her to be adopted,” Finney said.

They later learned that the couple was getting divorced, and Tiffany had been placed with another foster couple, Finney said.

As for the two other siblings?

Felicia had a baby in March 2005, Loretta Banks said, but Felicia was only 15, so Loretta Banks and other relatives took care of that girl the first year.

CSB took custody of that baby in 2006, when Felicia was 16.

“They never gave her a chance to be a mother,” Loretta Banks said of Felicia.

Felicia Banks had her third child six months ago, and that child is living with the father’s family, Loretta Banks said.

At the flag-raising Thursday, Marcia Tiger, director of CSB, said the agency mourns the death of any child, but Tiffany’s death is especially painful.

“On the flag, there is no face, but today, we clearly see the face of Tiffany Sue Banks-Cross, a sweet little girl whose life was cut short at just 20 months, a little girl who loved to play and laugh.”

Tiger noted that the United States leads the world in homicides involving children under age 15, leading the Child Welfare League of America to create the Children’s Memorial Flag.

“We have flown this flag far too often,” Tiger said.

Dr. Germaniuk said his office did not rule on the cause and manner of death for Tiffany for nearly four months because the investigation of a child’s death frequently takes much longer than that of an adult because more tests are conducted.

And sometimes after the results come back, they lead to further investigation, Dr. Germaniuk said.

In late July, Dr. Germaniuk ruled Tiffany’s death was a homicide and said the cause was asphyxia (lack of oxygen) associated with multiple, blunt-force injuries.

A Champion police report said Bonnie Pattinson reported that Tiffany had taken a nap for about 10 to 20 minutes, and when Pattinson checked on her, Tiffany was not breathing.

A neighbor and a Champion police officer tried CPR, rescue breathing and used a mobile defibrillator from the cruiser to try to revive the girl, but their efforts were unsuccessful.

A nurse at the hospital and an EMS worker both said the girl had marks on her body that had not come from the medical attention she had received, Champion police said.

No charges have been filed in the case, which is in the hands of the Trumbull County prosecutor’s office.

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