Watchdog: CPS didn’t check on kids later murdered

Corey LaValley Sr. killed his son, ex-girlfriend and ex-girlfriend's daughter last year

Left: Corey LaValley Jr. Right: Emma McComber. Undated courtesy photos.

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — A watchdog agency says Allegan County Child Protective Services failed to follow policy in a case involving two children who were later murdered by their mom’s ex-boyfriend.

Corey LaValley, Sr. was sentenced to 55 years in prison in February for killing his son, 10-year-old Corey LaValley Jr., his ex-girlfriend, Deb Sheppard, and Sheppard’s daughter, 12-year-old Emma McComber.

Left to right: Debra Sheppard and her kids Emma McComber and Corey LaValley Jr.
Left to right: Debra Sheppard and her kids Emma McComber and Corey LaValley Jr.

LaValley Sr. shot and killed all three victims on March 10, 2015 and later set their Dorr-area mobile home on fire in an attempt to cover up the murders.

Michigan’s Office of Children’s Ombudsman investigates how child protective services handled complaints in cases where children are later injured or killed. Such cases only qualify for review by the ombudsman’s office if CPS had received a complaint related to the children in the two years prior to their injury or death.

In the LaValley case, the OCO reported in a letter dated March 2, 2016, that Allegan County Department of Health and Human Services (which includes CPS) “did not fully comply with policies, state law and or procedures” when handling complaints related to Corey LaValley Jr., Emma McComber and a third child.

The ombudsman’s office recommended that Allegan County CPS provide training to CPS workers and supervisors on two policies that deal with “contacting or verifying the well-being of all children during CPS investigations, interviewing all parents (or documenting reasons for not doing so) during CPS investigations, and completing safety assessments in connection with extensions to the standard of promptness for CPS investigations.”

In its response, Allegan County reported that it reviewed the policies with all CPS workers during staff meetings held in April and May 2015 and with CPS supervisors on March 5, 2015.

The ombudsman cannot reveal details of complaints made related to the three children, instead referring only to the policies it determined CPS failed to follow.

The first of the two policies OCO referenced, PSM 713-03, says “face to face contact with the parents… the alleged perpetrator and each alleged victim(s) is required for all complaints that are assigned for field investigation.”

Depending on the nature of the allegation, caseworkers may have up to 72 hours from the receipt of the complaint to make that face-to-face contact, though making the contact within 24 hours is “best practice.”

The second policy the OCO cited CPS for failing to follow, PSM 713-09, says that “the standard of promptness (SOP) for completing an investigation is 30 days from the department’s receipt of the complaint. This includes completion of the safety assessment; risk assessment; family and child assessments of needs and strengths.”

One day after the bodies of LaValley’s victims were found, Emma McComber’s father told reporters that he had warned authorities that his daughter was in danger.

William McComber and his ex-wife, Deb Sheppard, battled for custody of Emma following their divorce.

Corey LaValley in Allegan County District Court for a preliminary hearing. (July 30, 2015)
Corey LaValley in Allegan County District Court for a preliminary hearing. (July 30, 2015)

In a 2009 custody motion, McComber wrote that his ex-wife’s new boyfriend, LaValley Sr., was “abusive” to Emma.

“(My ex-wife) and her boyfriend have been evicted from homes due to his temper, violent behavior, and his threatening to kill the children, including Emma,” McComber wrote in the documents filed Oct. 9, 2009.

In February 2010, McComber tried again, writing in another motion that his ex-wife had “continued in a relationship with an abusive boyfriend.”

“I am afraid for my Emma’s safety,” he continued.

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