The adult children of Leeanna Wilson forcefully defended their mother against claims that she abused their younger half-sister, saying Sunday that the Fitchburg woman overcame a troubled past to become a devoted parent.
Department of Children and Families workers visited Wilson’s Normandy Road home Wednesday to take custody of her youngest child, 5-year-old Alize Whipple, amid an investigation into abuse allegations, but could not find Wilson or Alize.
When mother and daughter remained missing Friday evening, State Police activated an Amber Alert.
Wilson and the girl were found Saturday at a relative’s home in Shelby, N.C., and taken into custody. Wilson, 50, is being held without bail pending a rendition hearing and is charged with reckless endangerment and kidnapping of a minor by a relative, a felony.
Alize was placed with a local foster family until she could be returned to Massachusetts.
Pauline Wilson of Fitchburg and Michael Cummings of Providence, R.I., Leeanna Wilson’s children from previous relationships, told the Globe on Sunday that the DCF allegations are baseless.
“She does not abuse my sister,” Pauline Wilson said. “Just because she actually has discipline, doesn’t let my sister run wild, that’s not abuse.”
The 22-year-old said that might include occasional physical discipline, but no more than in many families.
“For my sister, discipline is like, ‘All right, you have an hour without your tablet,’ ” she said.
Speaking by telephone from South Carolina, Pauline Wilson said she had traveled from Massachusetts on Thursday with her mother and Alize because they planned to relocate there, near several family members.
“They were never in danger,” she said. “It was a family trip. We came down here to buy a house.’ ”
She said when they left Fitchburg, she did not know the DCF was trying to remove Alize from her mother’s custody, and she thought her mother was also unaware. She found out about it Saturday morning, when her mother woke her and said she planned to return to Massachusetts.
“She found out everything that was going on, so she called her [social] worker to let her know she was coming back,” Pauline Wilson said. “She wanted to face everything, and she didn’t want to get in trouble.”
Pauline Wilson and her brother said they believed the DCF was overreacting because of increased scrutiny following the disappearance of Jeremiah Oliver, a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy who was under DCF supervision for two years before he disappeared in October.
DCF officials acknowledged Jeremiah’s disappearance in December and said a staff worker had not seen the boy since May. The boyfriend of Jeremiah’s mother has been charged with brutally beating the child, and authorities have said they are treating the disappearance as a potential homicide.
“My mother got caught up in that,” said Cummings, 29. “It’s just been a fiasco, and I feel like my mother is just their scapegoat. They are trying to slay my mother over this.”
Cummings said he initially had concerns when his mother became pregnant with Alize in her mid-40s because she had a troubled past that included drug abuse and other self-destructive behavior. But becoming a mother again later in life transformed her, he said.
“My mother lives for this child,” he said. “This little girl changed my mother’s life.”
Cummings acknowledged his mother’s past run-ins with the state Department of Social Services, the predecessor to the DCF, saying it took him and Pauline Wilson from their mother when he was 7 or 8 because he reported abuse.
But Cummings said he had been a problem child, difficult for his mother to control, and had exaggerated the abuse without realizing the consequences of his actions.
“I look back at it all the time, and I regret it to this day,” he said.
After Cummings’s report, Pauline Wilson lived with her father, whose sister took in Cummings as a foster child. Cummings said he had little contact with his mother for the next decade, until he sought her out at age 18 to try to repair their relationship.
“Life wasn’t easy on none of us growing up,” Cummings said. “We just adapted. My mom went the wrong route for a while, and then she just reset. She had a new purpose in her life, and that was Alize.”