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. Samantha Cleary said she also lost custody her only daughter, Brittany, age 3, who had a different father. A DHS official said Wednesday he could not by law provide any details about the accident or the foster care situation. Dewanna Cleary said she’s still finding it hard to accept that John is gone, but she said she has no ill feelings toward the foster parents or toward the girl who hit him. "My heart just goes out to that little girl, she’ll have nightmares probably her whole life now,” Dewanna Cleary said. But that doesn’t stop her from wanting more details. "We don’t even know if she was living at the same house or was just a neighbor. I know Wilson is a farming community and kids do drive young. But like any family, we want details. We want to know what really happened. We want to know was John Brian happy there.” Samantha Cleary said her son was the "best baby” in the world. He never cried and everyone called him Smiley. She said she made an appointment with a lawyer to find out if she has any hope of getting the other children back. Samantha Cleary said she’s not certain she will get to speak to any of them at John’s funeral on Sunday, but she hopes they will be there so she will at least get to see them from across the room. This Thanksgiving, Dewanna Cleary said, she and her daughter are having a hard time finding anything to be thankful for. "I don’t even have any money to send flowers to his funeral,” the grandmother said. She said she is finding comfort in the dozens of friends who are offering to help, but even that support falls short when she remembers the image of John-John in his little yellow jacket. "I hope God gives comfort to everybody involved because everybody’s hurting, and it’s going to take someone much stronger than us to sort this thing out.”
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