Bold little boy gets family help

| Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2003

Time after alarming time, John Sommerer would gaze out his front window and cringe. Asa was at it again.

Oblivious to the dangers of rounding a curve so recklessly, the 4-year-old boy would fly around the bend where Edith and Wilmar streets meet in Duquesne Heights. Asa's small plastic tricycle would have been no match for any car whose driver failed to see it in time.

Where was his mother?

Time after bewildering time, Sommerer would look up the street late in the evening, long after small children should have surrendered to sleep. Asa was at it again.

"I've seen that kid out on the sidewalk at 11:30 at night, screaming at the top of his lungs," Sommerer recalled Tuesday, shaking his head.

Where was his mother?

Asa wasn't screaming on Monday when a caseworker from the Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families phoned his home to check on the family. He was calm enough to inform the caseworker that his year-old baby brother was bleeding from a cut lip.

Where was his mother?

Nowhere to be found.

What Pittsburgh police did find when they arrived was moldy food in the sink and refrigerator, but nothing fit for human consumption. Asa, his little brother and 7-year-old sister were taken into custody by CYF. Police prepared an arrest warrant for Tamarrow Jones, the mother who had left them home alone.

Sommerer, a youth counselor in a group home, had anticipated that moment since shortly after the family moved to his neighborhood a year and a half ago — and shortly after Asa began his unescorted excursions up and down an unassuming street of middle class houses.

"I'm surprised no action was taken before now," he said, and as a youth counselor in a group home he knows a bit about such things.

He also knows a few things about Asa, a boy he described as "whip-smart and one of the friendliest kids you would ever want to meet. Everybody on this block knows him. He's not afraid to go up to anyone."

Sommerer got to know Asa well because the boy frequently stopped by to say hello to the two family dogs, Bogie and Bacall. He called Bacall "Devil Dog" because of the canine's persistent, loud barking.

Sommerer could say little about Asa's mother. "My wife knows her better than I do, says she's a nice, friendly person… ." He shrugged.

Whether nice and friendly outweighs negligent and irresponsible in any attempt Jones might make to get her kids back remains to be seen. CYF officials declined to comment on the case.

Sommerer, for one, hopes the family will be reunited.

"I'd like to see her retain custody if at all possible," he said. "But she definitely needs some parenting classes and to join some support groups. She's a young mother, and she obviously needs some help."

In front of the Jones house, a snow-covered plastic truck and a bat and ball lay near a tiny Fisher Price bench. Christmas lights were strung across the front porch. The plug to light them dangled impotently in front of the mailbox, connected to nothing.

No one answered a persistent knock at the door. A subsequent phone call to the house met with similar results. "You probably reached the right number at the wrong time," the voice on the answering machine said.

The wrong time, indeed. If ever again there is a right time for this troubled family, credit the self-reliant little boy smart enough to ask for help when it was most urgently needed.

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