The daughter of the gunman who killed two women at the New Castle County Courthouse is seeking legal guardianship of her three nieces.
The girls’ mother, 39-year-old Christine Belford, was shot to death in the lobby of the courthouse Feb. 11 by her former father-in-law, Thomas Matusiewicz of Edcouch, Texas.
That day, Belford was on her way to attend a child-support hearing opposite ex-husband David, with whom she had three daughters. Matusiewicz also killed Belford’s friend, Laura “Beth” Mulford, before taking his own life.
Amy Gonzalez of Edinburg, Texas, wants to take responsibility for her three nieces, ages 7 to 10. Gonzalez is the younger sister of David Matusiewicz and the only aunt to his three daughters, who are in foster care.
The Delaware Division of Family Services is opposing Gonzalez’s petition, saying she isn’t related to the children and, thus, doesn’t meet requirements for permanent guardianship under Delaware law, according to court records.
Family members usually receive preference when the courts are considering the permanent guardianship of minors in foster care. However, the state is grounding its argument in a Family Court order that, in 2011, terminated the parental rights of the girls’ father, David.
That order followed David’s 2009 conviction on charges that he kidnapped of his three daughters to Central America for a year and a half with the help of his mother, Lenore Matusiewicz. Both David and Lenore served prison time — Lenore following her conviction on three counts of endangering the welfare of a child.
The day after the February courthouse shooting, a Delaware judge issued a no-contact order against Lenore, now 67, directing her to stay at least 1,000 feet away from her three granddaughters and to have no “direct or indirect” contact with them. David has been in federal custody since the shooting, currently serving a six-month sentence for violating his probation.
When a mother or father loses parental rights to a child, that loss extends to the status of the parent’s blood relatives for the purposes of preference in family court proceedings, said Jason Miller of the state Attorney General’s Office.
“It’s as if the familial relationship never existed for purposes of preference in a Family Services hearing, and by extension, his blood relatives’ relationship never existed,” Miller said.
It also means that someone in Gonzalez’ position has no right or recourse to information on the welfare of her nieces, where they’re living or the identity of her foster family — all of which is confidential under state law.
“Your email and multiple telephone calls seeking information have been referred to me for response,” Deputy Attorney General Patricia Dailey Lewis wrote to Gonzalez by email March 1.
“You have no legal relationship to the children you seek information about; the rights of their biological father have been terminated; that termination was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Delaware. Any rights you may have had were extinguished. No information will be provided to you.”
Dailey Lewis, head of the Attorney General’s Family Division, directed Gonzalez not to contact her office again or that of the state Department of Services for Children Youth & Their Families.
Gonzalez says she had only emailed and called the Family Division once. She petitioned for guardianship of her nieces in February.
“I have no idea where my nieces are and will not be given any information when requested from Attorney General Beau Biden’s Office and the Delaware child protective services,” Gonzalez wrote in an email to reporters. “I am deeply concerned for them.”
State law permits Gonzalez to petition for guardianship, but she receives no preference in regards to her relationship to the girls, according to state officials.
“If the parental rights have been terminated, then the court would look at that individual like a stranger, if they are not a foster parent or family member,” said Frank Perfinski, adoption program manager for the Division of Family Services.
The state would remain the official guardian of the Matusiewicz girls until a judge appoints another legal guardian or the children are adopted.
In cases of terminated parental rights where the child remains in welfare, DFS updates the court at least twice a year on that child’s welfare and the division’s progress in seeking a permanent home for him or her, Perfinski said.
Gonzalez wants to know whether state officials or the courts have asked the girls whether they’d like to have contact with their father, she said by email.
” I hope the judges that have made these life-altering decisions for these families never have to experience another judge saying that you cannot contact your own children,” Gonzalez said.
Officials would not comment specifically on the case of the Matusiewicz girls, citing confidentiality laws and the ongoing criminal investigation into their mother’s death.
“We’re aware of the children’s status,” said Miller of the AG’s Office. “They’re in a loving family and being well cared for.”