We just posted on this case earlier today. Notice how dad GARY DETOMA is coming into focus in this follow-up article: he's the very picture of a classic control freak abuser who wanted FULL CUSTODY as a way of maintaining power over/punishing his wife. But short of having full custody, killing the kids would do in a pinch. Also notice that the evidence now suggests he tried to strangle the dead boy's brother as well. But, like many abusers, he also managed to charm the neighbors into thinking he was the perfect dad. That's one reason these guys are so dangerous. Neighbors and casual acquaintances don't see behind the facade. And very often, judges and custody evaluators don't either, as DeToma did get visitation, though not the full custody he wanted.
Parents of dead 5-year-old boy were going through divorce
By Rhonda Cook and Ty Tagami
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Gary DeToma seemed like a loving dad to neighbors.
Dekalb County police and investigators work the scene where a 5-year-old boy was found dead in the Oakhurst Place Apartments in Decatur on Monday, July 12, 2010.
Gary DeToma, Sr., 41, was arrested and charged with murder in the death of his 5-year-old son.
He skipped work to take his two boys to the park. He took them on trips to see their grandparents. And on Sunday night, neighbors saw him outside their Decatur apartment, as usual, watching over the boys as they rode their bikes.
But by Monday morning, something had gone terribly wrong. Police were pounding on the door of DeToma's apartment, and he wouldn't let them in. Later in the day, a co-worker peered into a window and saw DeToma's 5-year-old, Gary Jr., sprawled on a bed. The boy was later pronounced dead.
Investigators believe he was suffocated. They also suspect the father may have tried to strangle his younger boy, Will, 4.
Gary DeToma is to make an initial court appearance Monday afternoon to face charges of murder and aggravated assault.
Police have not offered a motive, but the dead boy's parents were going through a divorce. Blue Spruell, the divorce attorney for the mother, said he suspects it was a way of getting back at her.
“It was not a good divorce,” Spruell said, adding that Gary DeToma wanted full custody of the children.
“He was a controlling personality,” Spruell said. “It was a six-year marriage. They had two things to be thankful for from that marriage, and he’s taken one of them.”
Next door neighbor Felicia Miller said Gary Jr. was a "beautiful" child, and his father seemed to cherish him. He often took the children to nearby McCoy Park, and had recently cut back on work to spend more time with the boys, she said. In the past year or so, the family had gone on trips to visit grandparents in Mississippi and some kind of cave in Tennessee, she said.
"He was the kind of dad that you would want for your child," Miller told the AJC. Or at least, that's what she thought until Monday evening, when she learned of the boy's death.
Miller said Melanie DeToma moved to a nearby apartment several months ago. Miller had noticed the couple arguing at times, and said Melanie told her last winter that the marriage was falling apart.
Melanie DeToma kept a blog entitled “My Boys’ World.” The photos of the boys and their parents suggest a happy family.
She wrote that she wanted to call her second born “Billy” after her father, but “Gary, my husband, didn't like the idea… So, he's Will, well, when he's not Bubba," she wrote Nov. 15, 2007.
Miller, the neighbor, said Gary, an electrician, was the sole breadwinner. The couple moved from Lithonia to the apartment on East Lake Drive in Decatur's Oakhurst neighborhood a year and a half ago, Miller said. They were in search of good schools, she said. Melanie DeToma told her she had quit working when she became pregnant so she could stay home with her children.
In April 2009, Melanie DeToma bemoaned sending Gary Jr. to pre-kindergarten and Will to a Head Start program.
“I'm not going to know how to behave with all those kid-free hours on my hands,” she wrote in her blog.
Spruell said Melanie DeToma left her husband in January and sought an uncontested divorce.
The two DeTomas had reached an agreement through mediation, but the settlement had not yet been filed with the court, Spruell said.
The visitation agreement was that the father would have his sons on alternate Fridays until the following Monday morning. This Monday, however, he did not bring the children to his soon-to-be ex-mother-in-law as was the agreement, Spruell said.
That prompted Melanie DeToma to call her lawyer, who called Gary DeToma's attorney.
Spruell and his client then called Decatur police, the DeKalb Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Family and Children Services, but the agencies said there was not enough to allow them to go into Gary DeToma’s apartment without permission.
“We tried to get the property owner and the property manager to let us in, and they said they wouldn’t unless the police let us in,” Spruell said.
“We did everything thing that we could do and not a single government entity wanted to help us out,” Spruell said.
Decatur police said no one responded when an officer went to the door earlier Monday.
"The residence was secure and the officers observed nothing suspicious," the police said in a statement.
Spruell and Melanie DeToma also called Gary DeToma’s employer, who said he had not come to work. State Sun Electric declined to comment.
Melanie DeToma knocked on Miller's door around 8 a.m. and asked her to call the property manager. Miller said the property manager came over immediately, but told police she couldn't let them in. Miller said she was surprised that one of the boys hadn't opened the door. They often opened it for no reason after learning how to, she said, and surely would have answered a knock. She said she was also surprised to see Gary DeToma's van outside the apartment. He usually left for work by 6:30 a.m.
Miller left for work. Later, one of Gary DeToma’s co-workers came to check on him. When Gary DeToma didn’t answer his knocks, the co-worker, an electrician, took an extension ladder off his truck and climbed up to look into a bedroom window, Spruell said.
He saw Gary Jr.’s body on a bed, the attorney said.
The co-worker was able to persuade the younger boy to open the door.
“He went in and saw Mr. DeToma and the little boy was deceased,” Spruell said.
Moments later, Melanie DeToma made her second trip of the day to the her husband’s apartment.
When she drove up, she saw the co-worker standing on the sidewalk with Will, still in his pajamas.
The official cause of Gary Jr.'s death is pending an autopsy to be performed Tuesday, but the results will not be released until a toxicology report is completed in two to three weeks.
Meanwhile, neighbors such as Miller must wrestle with the sudden loss of a child. On Sunday evening, she saw Gary DeToma with his boys as they road their blue bicycles outside the apartment. The younger boy was frustrated because he couldn't ride as fast as Gary Jr., who was recently liberated from training wheels.
Her own boy, 7, played with the DeToma boys, and as of Tuesday afternoon, she hadn't yet told him about Gary Jr.'s death.
"He's going to ask," Miller said, as her son squeezed past her out the apartment door with a scooter. "I'm hoping it's not going to be as hard as I think it's going to be, but I'm going to have to tell him."