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Mysterious Foster Child Death in Massachusetts Is 'Highest Priority,' Says Governor

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Courtesy David Coxon

The mysterious death of a 2-year-old girl in foster care just four days after she was declared to be in good health by child welfare workers has the “highest priority” of state investigators, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said at a press conference Monday.

This past Saturday afternoon, police in Auburn, Massachusetts, received a 911 call from the child’s foster mother. When paramedics arrived, they found Avalena Conway-Coxon, 2, and another foster child, 22 months, unresponsive, Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. said at a press conference. The pair was taken to the hospital, where Avalena was pronounced dead and the other girl remains in very critical condition,” Early said.

Authorities do not yet know the cause of death or illness, a Department of Children and Families official tells PEOPLE in an email. Early said Sunday that investigators are conducting toxicology and autopsy reports on the child.

At a press conference Monday, Governor Baker said, “I can say that it’s all hands on deck with respect to determining the cause and the circumstances around the tragedy that took place at Auburn.

“And it will be all hands on deck until that report is done, and the findings and recommendations can be made available.”

The foster mother, identified as Kim Malpass by the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, had six children living with her in a subsidized apartment: two biological children, an adopted child, and three foster children.

Officials have removed all the children from Malpass, who was familiar to local cops. Auburn police were sent more than 60 times since 2006 to three different addresses Malpass has had in the Auburn Housing Authority Complex, where she currently lives, for complaints that included alleged breaking and entering and domestic disputes, according to the Telegram & Gazette.

When asked at Monday’s press conference about police frequently visiting the home, a DCF official said “many” of the calls happened before the woman became became a licensed foster care mom in 2014. In an email to the Telegram & Gazette, DCF officials said the agency was unaware of the record of police responses to the foster mom’s home, but they said she had no criminal record.

Last Wednesday, four days before Avalena, died, state child welfare officials visited the foster home “for a routine visit,” said a DCF official during yesterday’s press conference with the governor.

The DCF workers remain on the job and no charges have been filed, officials said.

Biological Mom: ‘If she was in my custody, there s no way this would have ever happened’

Jessica Conway, Avalena’s mother, was fighting hard to turn her life around.

A former heroin addict who says she is now 10 months clean, Conway, 27, of Marlboro, Massachusetts, had lost custody of Avalena about a year ago due to her return to drug use.

While Avalena was placed in foster care in Auburn, Conway served prison time for larceny charges stemming from shoplifting Jessica did while on drugs, her father, David Coxon, tells PEOPLE. Coxon and his wife wanted to care for the child, but his senior housing complex forbid it, he says.

Jessica wanted nothing more than to regain custody of Avalena. She is recently out of prison, and is now completing a live-in rehab program that might have helped her regain custody of Avalena, with a court date set for early September that might have reunited her with her daughter. Coxon, who last saw Ava in November of 2014, said, “She was the best baby you can imagine.”

Jessica, who was unable to speak to PEOPLE, told the Telegram & Gazette, “If she was in my custody, there’s no way this would have ever happened, not in a million years, even in my worst junkie stage.

She added, They were absolutely being neglectful. How can you have six children in a small home?

Conway tells The Boston Globe she is numb. It’s hit me, but it hasn’t hit me. I’ll never see my precious baby for the rest of my life, she tells The Globe.

Conway’s father said Jessica got hooked on opioids after an injury when she was about 18, and that led to heroin use. Conway told The Boston Globe she struggled with drugs over the past seven years, but was sober for two years when she had her daughter.

That was my number one motivation to get clean,” Conway told The Globe. “To get back, to get back to her.”

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