Reporter's Notebook: What happened to Brandon?

Published: Apr. 29, 2015 at 10:30 PM EDT
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ALBANY, GA (WALB) - A big black and yellow butterfly fluttered by my face as I stood in an overgrown, old, country cemetery staring at a little boy's unmarked grave. Not 30 minutes earlier, after months of trying, I finally received an email that included a picture of the boy buried here.

Brandon Price looked much like any little boy, but sadder. He was standing in a classroom. He was staring at the floor. He looked lonely. It all reminded me of how fleeting life can be and was for Brandon.

Brandon's story is the most difficult I've ever worked on, partly because of the subject matter, partly because of the challenges of putting it together. Brandon's story is not an uplifting one. It is discouraging and disheartening. Not many people want to talk about it, which made getting interviews for the story tough. Just tracking down that picture required weeks of emails and phone calls and Facebook messages exchanged with a teacher, a lawyer, a funeral director, and Brandon's mother (who did not have custody of him and lived in Florida when he died). Getting a picture was vital because it was one of the few ways to personalize Brandon and show him as a real child instead of just a subject of a story.

Brandon died on Saturday May 3, 2014. Police told us the family told them Brandon suddenly got ill, so they rushed him to the hospital where he died. It was unclear if there was a crime or a crime scene. There were no news conferences by police or prosecutors. His death didn't get much attention at the time, even in our newscasts.

A few weeks later, I got a tip from someone who knew a little about the case who suggested we might need to push investigators for answers. A few weeks after that, I got an email from a friend of Brandon's who was concerned about how Brandon had been treated while he was alive and who wanted to know more about how he died.

Because of those two viewers, I began asking questions. Every month or so when I would check in with District Attorney Greg Edwards, he would say the case couldn't really proceed because he was waiting for the final autopsy report or more detailed forensics tests from the GBI.

In January, I conducted an interview with GBI Director Vernon Keenan for a story about the GBI Crime Lab backlog and how it was affecting this case. I learned the backlog wasn't impacting the investigation into Brandon's death because local investigators never requested those additional forensics tests they were supposedly waiting for. The D.A.'s office did request additional DNA testing in February and has since gotten those results back and is now working to gather DNA tests from "persons of interest" in the case to see if there are any matches.

Greg Edwards told me some facts about the case, but most details are not public because the case is still open. I was able to obtain the initial incident report from the Albany Police Department. We have included the main narrative portion of that report online.

The Division of Family and Children Services opened a death investigation following Brandon's passing. Most DFCS records are not open to the public, but privacy rights that a child has in life no longer apply after death. It was a lengthy process, but I was able to get a copy of the summary report. We have included part of that report in the online version of this story. We made an editorial decision not to publish all of it because parts are simply too graphic, and we did not feel comfortable sharing that information with the public.

There is a lot of information in the DFCS report that we did not include in our story. For instance, DFCS launched a previous investigation regarding Brandon in 2009. Brandon's grandparents told DFCS investigators another boy in the neighborhood beat Brandon badly with a stick, though they did not seek medical treatment for him or notify police. That investigation found allegations of maltreatment were unsubstantiated, but DFCS did work with the family for several months.

The report includes some disturbing revelations about Brandon's life and death. His brothers did not even know he was their brother, even though they lived in the same home. His father claims he had not seen Brandon for months before his death, even though he visited the home often and may have lived there at times. A family pastor believed Brandon was possessed by a demon.

In many ways it seems Brandon was forgotten and overlooked in life and in death. Nothing indicates that more than the fact that his grave in that country cemetery with the butterflies still doesn't have a headstone a year after his death. We can only hope prosecutors are serious when they say they haven't forgotten Brandon and they are committed to finding out what really happened and finding justice for Brandon.

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