DHHS Commissioner Addresses Handling of Marissa Kennedy Case

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AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - The Department of Health and Human Services is facing criticism over the handling of a brutal child abuse case that ended in the death of a ten year old girl.

Marissa Kennedy was found dead in Stockton Springs on February 25th. Her parents are charged with her murder.

DHHS Commissioner Ricker Hamilton sat down with TV5 Wednesday, providing insight into this tragic case.

"How do you respond to the anger that people are feeling when something like this happens?"

"I'm upset. They should be upset."

More than a week after a girl was brutally murdered in Stockton Springs, Maine's Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner is breaking his silence.

"For those who would harm a defenseless child, I hope the criminal justice system holds them to the highest level accountable that they can."

That message for Julio and Sharon Carrillo, the mother and stepfather charged with killing their ten year old daughter, Marissa Kennedy.

Following news of her death, Commissioner Ricker Hamilton says an internal department investigation began immediately.

"So for the public to be upset, they should be. For the public to expect better, they should. For the public to expect something from the department and those of us in the system to improve it, absolutely. And that's our commitment to that."

Former neighbors and school administrators have come forward over the past week, claiming to have reported the abuse to DHHS several times.

The department will not confirm whether they received those reports or if a case worker was assigned to the Carrillo family. They say confidentiality laws prevent the department from speaking about individual cases, including Marissa's.

"What's not helpful is the blaming or pointing of fingers. It's understandable. A child is dead. Someone took this child's life is what's alleged. So I understand that. But let's gather together and work together and improve the system."

More than 8,000 reports of suspected child abuse were submitted into that system in 2016.

In a recent report, DHHS found nearly 2,300 of those cases resulted in a finding of abuse or neglect.

Hamilton says the responsibility placed on caseworkers and the department to protect our children is one they don't take lightly, and he hopes further investigations into Marissa's death will prevent future tragedies.

"We're going to band together to make sure that whatever the facts are, to point us in a direction to take the steps necessary to improve and to change."

According to a child protection statute, the commissioner can disclose information in cases of fatal child abuse or neglect, but Commissioner Hamilton says doing so would jeopardize the pending criminal case involving the Carrillos.

But a more involved investigation into Marissa's death must wait until the Attorney General's Office gives DHHS approval.