WECT Investigates: Father of slain two-year-old frustrated over standstill in homicide investigation

Answers still sought in the death of two-year-old boy

BURGAW, N.C. (WECT) - It’s been over three years since two-year-old Keith Stephens, Jr. was killed. An autopsy revealed the toddler died as the result of blunt force trauma and a lacerated liver. Burgaw Police launched a homicide investigation in his death, but no one has ever been arrested, and the case remains unsolved.

Stephens’ father, Keith Stephens, Sr., remains grief stricken over his young son’s death, and devastated by investigators’ lack of progress.

“The autopsy report said he was beat to death. And it’s been three years and nothing has happened yet. They haven’t contacted my family. The DA hasn’t even tried to get an arrest warrant. Nothing,” Stephens, Sr. said.

Police investigators and the District Attorney have been extremely tight-lipped about the details of this case, citing the ongoing investigation. In fact, WECT was not even aware Stephens, Jr. had died until a Child Fatality Prevention Report was released in 2020 listing this death as a homicide.

Three years after the crime took place, Stephens, Sr., his family, and friends are losing patience with the lack of closure. As the days go by, they are also growing frustrated over the lack of transparency about what is keeping detectives from making an arrest.

“How is this unsolved?” Stephens, Sr. wondered, noting that his son was in the care of his mother and her boyfriend at the time he died. That detail is confirmed by the autopsy report from the Medical Examiner.

“[This] is a 2 year 9 month old male who was found unresponsive on the floor by the mother’s boyfriend. They were apparently getting ready to go out and when he didn’t hear the child, he went to check on him and found him unresponsive on the floor by the bed. The only known history is that of asthma for which the decedent had a recent hospital admission,” the medical examiner noted in his report. The report adds the child was taken to the emergency room without a pulse. Medical providers tried for an hour to resuscitate him but could not.

Stephens said that in the months leading up to his death, he thought his son was being mistreated.

“He’d have burn marks, bite marks, bruises, and I’m like, okay, so I went through the necessary steps to try to get full custody of my son,” Stephens, Sr. explained. The autopsy report says at the time of his death on December 11, 2017, Stephens, Jr. had no visible external injuries.

WECT has attempted to reach the child’s mother and her boyfriend, but no one answered at the numbers we found listed for them, and they have not responded to our messages. It is our policy not to identify people who have not been charged with a crime. Other than the fact that Stephens, Jr. was in the care of his mother and her boyfriend at the time of his death, and the fact that he died of blunt force trauma, few details are able to be independently confirmed.

“They need to suffer because my child suffered. I’m done with the waiting and I’m tired,” Stephens Sr. said of his need for justice. He reached out to WECT after seeing our story about three unsolved 2017 child homicides from Pender County, including his son’s case.

“I don’t want the same thing to happen to another child. And nothing happens. It’s Pender County, and it doesn’t make sense. Because this is not the only case. There’s two other cases, and Nothing is happening. Nothing,” Stephens Sr. explained of his urgency for action.

We attempted to locate a search warrant connected to the Stephens case at the courthouse to learn more about the circumstances surrounding his death. Those warrants are typically public record, but the clerk was not able to locate any on file for this case. We have reached out to the Burgaw Police Department to ask if a search warrant was ever executed while investigating this case, but they had not yet responded at the time of publication.

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