Baby Braxton’s mother says his death may have saved her life. In an exclusive interview, she tells investigator Mike Mather her baby’s tragic killing by a troubled foster mother is what set her on the path to sobriety.
“I had hit rock bottom pretty badly,” said Braxton’s mother Kristen. “But Braxton was just it.”
Braxton Michael Taylor was Kristen Wall's fifth child. A drug addict, she had custody of none. She and Braxton's father left the baby at the hospital. She returned to her life of drug use and, sometimes, jail.
“My daily life was horrible. It was horrible. It really was.”
When Braxton was born, Kristen was on drugs but trying to quit. Yet even her drug-clouded mind recognized her baby in foster care, was being abused. In these pictures of Braxton on her lap, taken inside the Beach social-services building, you can see he's battered and bruised. Yet trained social workers were fooled. They returned Braxton to a troubled foster mother, who killed him.
“And I relapsed again after that. But it came to the point, `How am I helping this?` You know? There is no way I can help this being in the state that I am in.”
She's been in treatment two years. Raised in a religious family, she says she's accepted God again. And maybe because of that, she now believes Braxton's death is what saved her life.
“It hurts me to say it, but I feel like he came into my life for a purpose. That maybe he was a sacrificial lamb of sorts. I feel like he was here to help me.”
Before Braxton, Kristen was a mess.
“I actually wanted to die. I was heading in the path of trying to kill myself with the drugs.”
The foster mother who killed Braxton pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The head of the social services agency said there were really no lessons to learn, because no one on his staff bore any responsibility. Kristen didn't believe that, but she figured no one would listen to a drug addict. That's when she started treatment.
“It was the fact that at that point I had exhausted everything. I had no friends. I was absolutely, if you could say, alone. I absolutely felt alone. Because the friends I associated with were not my friends. You can sit around with these people, but you know once you take that drug out of the environment, you have nothing in common with these people.”
Her mom had cut her off. They didn't talk. Already Betty Easter and her husband were raising three of Kristen's kids, and they'd just about written off Kristen as a loss.
“I think that helped me most of all.”
“When they just cut you off?” asked Mather.
“When they just cut me off, yeah. It was tough, yeah, but I learned to get strong on my own.”
When NewsChannel 3 began investigating Braxton's cases and lapses at Virginia Beach's Department of Human Services, Kristen, now clean, participated in the story. It was her pictures that sparked outrage. And it was a damning indictment on the child-welfare system that she, an unfit mother, was somehow more able to spot abuse than trained social workers.
The NewsChannel 3 investigation, with Kristen's cooperation, prompted a scathing state review, wholesale changes in the department, and the resignation of Human Services leaders. Kristen says she needed to be sober to make that happen.
“When you look back at your last 10, 11, 12 years, what do you regret the most?” asked Mather.
“What do I regret the most? Wow. All of it is bad. I don`t know if I could actually do that. Everything was bad. It wouldn`t give justice to the rest of it if I were to pick one part of it and say that was the single worst part. Every piece of it,” said Kristen.
Virginia Beach agreed to pay $450,000 to settle the lawsuit. Kristen's share was $50,000. But many people have wondered if it's folly to give a former drug addict so much cash.
What`s going to stop her from returning to that lifestyle?
“Oh, everything. Everything is going to stop me. My life is so good right now,” she answered.
She says all she has to do to stay clean is to just remember what her life was like on drugs. And just how many people, including all of her children, she has hurt.
“When you sit here right now and you look back at your life, even five, six years ago? Do you even recognize the person you were? No. No. Who was that person? Oh my goodness. The devil.”
Kristen says she’s working on her GED, and to prove to a judge she can care for her sixth child, a boy. She also wants to be a counselor for drug addicted women. Her family in North Carolina is raising her other children.
To this day they are wracked with guilt that they couldn’t take Braxton too. But they also, in this tragedy, have a message for the first foster family who took care of their grandbaby. Their story is tomorrow night at 11.