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Jill Jackson, Malachi's former foster mother, closes her eyes after releasing balloons in Malachi's honor. Lady Moses, left, places a hand on her shoulder to comfort her. A vigil was held for 4-year-old Malachi Lawson on Tuesday, August 6.
Jill Jackson, Malachi's former foster mother, closes her eyes after releasing balloons in Malachi's honor. Lady Moses, left, places a hand on her shoulder to comfort her. A vigil was held for 4-year-old Malachi Lawson on Tuesday, August 6. (Ulysses Muñoz)

Malachi Lawson, the 4-year-old whose mother and her wife are facing charges after he was found dead in a Baltimore dumpster, was returned to them by child welfare officials several months after being removed from their care in 2016, according to his former foster mother.

The call asking whether Jill Jackson could take in the toddler came on a Monday night that May from a hospital where he was being treated, she said, although she didn’t know the exact circumstances.

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“He was very frightened, very timid, very scared, very shaky,” Jackson said Wednesday. “As time went on, he was a happy little boy. He would play with the other kids. He laughed, he joked, he played ball.”

Less than a year later, Jackson said, she got a call that Malachi would be returned to his mother, Alicia Lawson, and her wife, Shatika Lawson.

Malachi Lawson was initially reported missing, but his mother later confessed to putting his body in a trash can.
Malachi Lawson was initially reported missing, but his mother later confessed to putting his body in a trash can.

While the foster care system aims to reunify families wherever possible, Jackson said she now questions why the little boy was placed back with his mother and her wife who, according to police, put him in a scalding bath and decided not to take him to a hospital out of fear he would be taken from them again. Alicia Lawson told police that nine days after the scalding, she found him unresponsive and she left him in a dumpster in Gwynn Oak.

After initially reporting him as a missing child, the two women are charged with nearly a dozen crimes, including involuntary manslaughter, first-degree child abuse, reckless endangerment, tampering with evidence and giving false statements.

At a bail review Monday, Shatika Lawson’s attorney blamed her wife for the child’s death. Both women were ordered held without bond.

According to police, Shatika Lawson said she had been distracted on the phone talking with her mother while she placed the boy in the scalding bathtub of the couple’s home in the 1800 block of N. Spring St. in East Baltimore. She had wanted to bring him to the emergency room to treat the serious burns from his waist to his feet but couldn’t because she was not the child’s biological mother, said Roya Hanna, her attorney.

Instead, the two women — fearful Malachi might be taken from them or that they might face charges — tried to treat the burns themselves for more than a week, according to charging documents.

Shatika Lawson’s attorney said Wednesday that she is mourning the loss of the child.

“She’s very upset about the baby,” the lawyer said.

Greg Fisher, the public defender representing Alicia Lawson, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Jackson, Malachi’s former foster mother, said if he had been left in her care, he would still be alive. More than three years later, she still has a picture of him on her phone from the night he came to live with her. She can’t understand how a baby so giggly and happy could be left to such a horrible fate.

“I wish [Child Protective Services] would have left him in my home,” Jackson said. “The court made a decision. ... I would have loved to have him. You get attached to the baby, but what could I do?”

Officials with the Maryland Department of Human Services, which oversees Child Protective Services in Baltimore, have declined to answer questions about social service officials’ involvement in Malachi’s care, citing an ongoing investigation.

They have not responded to a request for comment on Jackson’s statements.

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Jackson, who says she fed, clothed and took care of Malachi for several months, was distraught to hear about his death. She says she had watched him come out of his shell to play with her other foster children. She remembers his big smile.

“I’m hurt,” she said. “I’m human. He’s a baby. His life is gone. No school, no nothing. No children. No birthdays. No Christmas — no nothing.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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