Ohio Girl Abducted, Killed on Way to School — and Parents Sue School for Not Reporting Her Absent
The parents of a 14-year-old Cleveland girl abducted on her way to school, then raped, tortured and murdered, allege the school is at fault for not alerting them about her absence, wasting hours that might have been used to search for her.
In a wrongful death lawsuit filed Friday and obtained by PEOPLE, the parents of Alianna DeFreeze say her school knew about the seventh grader's unexcused absence on January 26, 2017, but failed to properly use an automated messaging system in place to alert parents with news about their children.
The school system “utterly and without question breached a critical duty owed to each and every parent to provide notice of a missing child—no text messages, phone calls, emails or any other form of communication,” the lawsuit alleges.
“Defendants have tried to cover up their fatal inaction by claiming that they sent [Alianna's mother] a message … notifying her of Alianna's absence, but that the system malfunctioned. … Upon information and belief, defendants school system have lied about their action of sending a message,” according to the lawsuit.
Alianna's killer, Christopher Whitaker, is in prison after being convicted and sentenced in March 2018 to die for his crimes.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the City of Cleveland, Cleveland Metropolitan School District, E Prep and Village Prep Woodland Hills, and Friends of Breakthrough Schools, which is the parent organization for the group of charter schools including E Prep that Alianna attended.
Also named are Whitaker himself, along with Lavontay McKenzie, who owned the abandoned home where Alianna was found dead after being lured inside by Whitaker, a convicted sex offender who was accused of following the girl from a bus stop.
The lawsuit was filed by Alianna's mother, Donnesha Cooper, and father, Damon DeFreeze.
It alleges that on the day Alianna was abducted, her mother had no knowledge of her daughter's absence from school until 4 p.m., when she called E Prep and was told Alianna had not arrived that morning and was absent all day.
Had her parents been alerted sooner, they might have acted to help locate Alianna before she was raped, tortured and killed, alleges the lawsuit, which seeks $15 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
The parents organization Friends of Breakthrough Schools responded with a statement, saying, “We cannot comment on pending litigation at this time other than to say, Alianna's death was a terrible loss to our entire school community and we have tried to stay in touch with the parents and be supportive to the parents along the way,” reports News5 Cleveland.
A call by PEOPLE to the Cleveland Metropolitan School District communications office were not immediately returned.
The City of Cleveland, through a spokesman for the mayor's office, declined to comment on a pending lawsuit.
The case sparked Ohio lawmakers to pass a new statute, effective in April, that requires schools to call parents within two hours of the start of a school day if a child is marked absent without prior parental notice, reports Fox8 Cleveland.
In addition to his death sentence for murder, Whitaker received an additional 48-year sentence for his convictions of aggravated burglary, rape, felonious assault, obstruction of justice and gross abuse of a corpse in connection with Alianna's killing.
To honor the girl's memory, her family created the Alianna DeFreeze Let's Make a Change foundation, a non-profit organization to help low-income families.