Amidst mourning, an Albany family fights for custody

Posted at: 11/02/2012 5:47 PM
Updated at: 11/02/2012 5:51 PM
By: Abigail Bleck

ALBANY--In an ideal world, a casket made for a three year old would not exist.  But that is the tragic reality for parents Derek Welburn and MarAsia VanNess.

"I'm sad, I'm angry, I just have a lot of emotions right now," said VanNess through tears following her daughter's, three year old Amari Welburn, funeral.

In October, little Amari died from injuries she sustained during a fire at the family house on Benson Street.  Her parents don't dispute the investigators' report--that Amari accidentally started the fire playing with incense she lit from the stove.

A stove that was on, MarAsia explains, out of necessity, "I had to leave my burners on, to warm my house, so I did."

After the fire, the now family of six moved in with relatives.  Representatives from Albany County's Department of Children and Family Services visited that residence and determined the four surviving children should be placed in foster care.  The reason, according to the family, was that the stove there was also being used to heat the apartment.  The couple concedes the stove was on, but argues it was to cook a meal.

"I feel like the kids were taken without any just cause and I would appreciate the return of the children back," explained an understandably somber Welburn.

VanNess admits she did sign legal documents approving the removal.  But says she only did so because she was told it would be for 32 hours and that if she didn't they would be separated for even longer.

"It's been hard, stressful.  I'm sad because I just lost one of my kids already.  I didn't think I'd end up losing the other four for no reason ," adds VanNess.

Because this is a family matter, involving minors, Albany County cannot reveal much about the case.  A statement indicates that when the welfare of the children is in question, they go to court and that in this case a judge ruled that the children be placed in foster care.

The VanNess/Welburn family also claims they were mistreated by city officials, including police officers and fire fighters on the scene of the fire.   Amari's grandmother claims she told firefighters one of her grandchildren was inside but that they told her the house was empty.