A toddler ends up dead while visiting with his father in Manassas. Now that case has prompted questions about two more deaths in the past decade.
Prince McLeod Rams was just 15 months old. In October, his mother Hera McLeod, dropped him off at his father's house in Manassas. It was only his fourth unsupervised visit.
"I remember kissing him on the forehead, telling him I'll see him later, and I never saw him alive again," recalled McLeod.
Within hours, Prince was dead, pulled off life support at Inova Fairfax Hospital.
"All they told me is that he had been down too long and that he was brain dead," McLeod said of what the doctors informed her.
The cause of death remains under investigation by Manassas City Police nearly two months later. But McLeod says she believes her ex-fiance Joaquin Rams had something to do with it.
"What I do know is people around this man die and it keeps happening," she said.
As part of the investigation into the toddler's death, it prompted Manassas police to look more closely at the deaths of two people close to the father: his mother, Alma Collins, who Prince William County police ruled committed suicide in 2008, and his ex-girlfriend, 22-year-old Shawn Mason.
In 2003, she was found murdered in her Manassas condo. The two also had a son who is now 13 years old. At the time, police told FOX 5 they didn't have the evidence they needed or a suspect.
"Well, it is frustrating not having the murder weapon, not being able to come to a closure," said Detective Christine Perry, the lead investigator on the case during a 2004 interview. "I know that's painful for the family."
But somewhere over the past nine years, Rams became a "person of interest" in his ex-girlfriend's murder. In March, during a heated custody battle over Prince, court documents provided by McLeod, Detective Perry testified Rams was a "person of interest" in Mason's homicide and "there are circumstances that point to him as being a suspect in that murder." The document goes on to say the detective testified that "Mr. Rams could be charged at any time."
Rams has never been charged in any of the three deaths.
He did not answer calls to a cell phone number given to FOX 5 and his attorneys did not return our calls.
What McLeod can't understand is how someone who is a person of interest in a murder could get unsupervised visits with a child.
"I know for certainty, my son was a healthy little boy," said McLeod. "I was chasing him around the grocery store that morning. And then he turned up dead?"
McLeod can't help but ask.
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Michael Algeo dismissed McLeod's pleas to prevent unsupervised visits given the suspicious circumstances in the murder of Rams' ex-girlfriend.
According to transcripts provided by McLeod, Judge Algeo said, "I don't know anything about the homicide investigation ... I know one thing, if there's evidence, you charge it and you prosecute it. And if there's not, then you don't and that's how it stands before me."
McLeod believes that judge was wrong.
"There were just so many points of failure in this situation," Prince's mother said. "I think that when it comes down to it, there will be a lot of finger pointing."
When contacted by FOX 5 about his decision to grant unsupervised visits to Rams, Judge Algeo was unable to comment. A representative said he is barred by the judicial code of conduct from speaking about active cases in which he may need to rule in the future.
Right now, Manassas police say the investigation into Prince's death remains open, but there are no new significant developments.
"We anticipate more information once the results of the medical examiner's report is complete," Sgt. Lowell Nevill told FOX 5. "This case is actively being investigated in coordination with the commonwealth's attorney."
Prince William County Police say they have not reopened the investigation into the suicide of Rams' mother. It remains as suicide unless new information comes forward.
However, Officer Jonathan Perok, a police spokesperson, did tell FOX 5, "We are aware of the case in Manassas City and our detectives were contacted in regards to that case."
All three deaths: the murder, the suicide and now Prince are too much for McLeod to ignore.
"I won't believe that it was anything but foul play," McLeod said about the death of her son while in Rams' care.
All this mother can do now is to keep the promise she made to Prince the day she buried him.
"I read him his book for the last time and I said, 'Prince, I promise, I promise I'm going to get justice. I promise I'm not going to stop fighting for you,"' McLeod told him over his open casket.
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