Dewanna Cleary was looking forward to getting her Wednesday newspaper from outside her apartment and looking at the recipes, but she never made it past a smiling face, half-hidden in the shadow of an oversized yellow hat.
That was her grandson in the photo on the front page of The Oklahoman, and the story said the 5-year-old boy she called John-John had died while in foster care. She read John Brian Gifford was killed Tuesday in Wilson when a 13-year-old girl accidentally put a car in gear and ran into him. The paper fell from her hands, and Cleary searched for her telephone as she tried to concentrate on her breathing. "I was in shock,” she said. "I didn’t believe it, but I read the article, and I knew it had to be true.” The first call she made was to her daughter Samantha Cleary, John’s mother, who lives in the same Oklahoma City complex. "I asked her roommate to send her over here because I didn’t want to tell her on the phone, then I started calling DHS to try to find out what was really going on and why we weren’t notified.” Cleary said she has anger toward DHS — for not notifying them about John’s death, for not telling them the details of what happened, and for making all the funeral arrangements without their input. But one thing she doesn’t blame them for is taking John and his three brothers in the first place. "Samantha is really feeling some anger,” her mother said. "She told DHS that they killed her son. But I don’t feel that way. I think he was in more danger had he been left in an abusive situation. This, at least, was an accident,” Cleary said. Samantha Cleary, interviewed briefly Wednesday at her mother’s apartment, said she lost her three older boys a few years back when she was in a custody battle with her ex-husband, Mel Gifford. She then lost John after she had "gotten mixed up in something she shouldn’t have been,” Dewanna Cleary said, and Gifford was awarded custody of him also. The Department of Human Services later took custody of the boys.
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