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Dead foster child’s Oklahoma family will hold separate service

BY JOHNNNY JOHNSON Published: November 29, 2008
The biological family of a 5-year-old boy who was hit by a car and killed while in state Department of Human Services custody will not be allowed to attend his funeral and burial, but the state is granting them a private memorial service.

John Brian Gifford, who was in the care of a foster family, died Tuesday when he was hit by a car that a 13-year-old girl had started to warm the engine. Investigators said the girl accidentally allowed the vehicle to roll back when she started it, and when she pulled it forward again, she ran over the boy.

The families are not allowed to know the day and time of the funeral and burial. Parents Samantha Jo Cleary of Oklahoma City and Melvern Gifford of Midwest City were divorced before they lost custody of John, but both sides of the family said they are thankful they can say their goodbyes at 2 p.m. Sunday at Sunny Lane Funeral Home.

Grandmother ‘just about came unwound’
Nita Havlik, John’s paternal grandmother, said she was reminded how much she needed closure when she went shopping for Christmas gifts Friday.

"I was picking up things for the grandchildren, and I had subconsciously tried to buy the baby a Christmas present before I realized I couldn’t do that and just about came unwound in the store,” she said. "I just had to leave after that.”

The grandmother said she is not allowed to see or buy gifts for John’s three brothers who are still in foster care, and she does not expect to get to see them at the service.

"I don’t even know if the other children even know their little brother is gone, and no one is going to tell us if they know,” she said.

Samantha Cleary said she and her mother, Dewanna Cleary, also are thankful DHS is allowing them to hold a service with their own minister and song choices, but Samantha Cleary said she would really like to see her other four children who are still in DHS custody.

"I still need to know that they are OK,” she said.

Havlik said she is glad DHS allowed the biological family to put together a memorial service rather than just letting them walk in and walk out for a viewing, but she had criticism of DHS — describing its power as unchecked.

"I still want to make the public aware that DHS has so much control that they can manipulate your life and never even look you in the eye,” she said. has disabled the comments for this article.


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