Lotrise’s daughter pulled the trigger on her granddaughter’s birthday.
It was a Wednesday night, two days before Valentine’s Day, her daughter’s wedding anniversary. Lotrise Green was fast asleep for work in the morning when her daughter MiCyra called, crying and frantic. She couldn’t hardly speak. But Lotrise knew it was her. She could hear her gasping for air. Sirens echoed in the background.
Lotrise sat up in the bed, asking MiCyra what was wrong, what had happened.
Her daughter told her. Caleb had been shot. She had pulled the trigger.
“No, no, no, this can’t be, this can’t be,” Lotrise replied.
She’d been planning to spend the weekend with MiCyra in Little Elm to celebrate her granddaughter’s birthday. Instead, she found herself leaving Tulsa in the middle of the night with a friend to comfort MiCyra and help care for her grandchildren.
“It didn’t seem real,” she says now nearly five months later. “It felt like it was happening to someone else.”
Lotrise was sickened to her stomach, struggling with what to think. She prayed for her son-in-law, Caleb Butler-Pearson, for his family, and her daughter. She was at a loss on her drive to Texas, and had to pull over to vomit. “My body was like switched off,” she says. “I was just like in a daze.”
They pulled over at a gas station. It was raining, but Lotrise continued washing the car windows, trying to get her mind settled. This is unreal. This is unreal, she thought.
Theirs was a tight-knit family. Lotrise is a single mother of two daughters and one son, and actively involved in her grandchildren’s lives. MiCyra already had four kids by 27 and another one on the way. About a year and half ago, she had moved with her children to North Texas, as so many people do, in search of the Texas Dream: higher pay and better education. By all accounts, it seems they had found it. MiCyra had enrolled at a cosmetology school, started working part-time at a pharmacy, and rented a nice cookie-cutter home in a quiet neighborhood not far from Lewisville Lake. Her two older children—Makhi, 8, and Marissa, 6—were attending a nearby school while her two youngest—2-year-old Bishop and 1-year-old Camree—were in homecare with a family friend who lived with them. They seemed to be adjusting well to their new life as Texans until her estranged husband showed up in early February to celebrate her daughter Marrisa’s birthday and their wedding anniversary.
Theirs had been a volatile relationship fueled by jealousy. A former star high school football player, Caleb had been MiCyra’s friend before they fell in love. Lotrise called him quiet but respectful and polite. He called her, “Ms. Punkin.”
“When they had good moments, they had good moments,” Lotrise says, “and when they had their bad moments….”
The night of the shooting wasn’t the first time MiCyra had called 911. It would be her last. She told the 911 operator, “He’s been shot in the head.”
“He was shot in the head by who?” asked the 911 operator.
“By me. We just had a fight. He hit me. I’m asking him to leave. He came at me with a bottle so we were fighting over the bottle. I had my gun and I shot him.”
Lotrise was leaving Tulsa when paramedics pronounced Caleb dead at the scene. “Then I did hear that he was gone,” Lotrise says, “and the scream that [MiCyra] let out was real piercing, and I immediately started praying.”
MiCyra’s scream haunted Lotrise on the four-hour drive to North Texas. It haunted her when, two weeks later, MiCyra was arrested for Caleb’s murder and the children were put in the care of Child Protective Services. It haunted her during the weeks that Lotrise tried and failed to get her grandchildren back from CPS.
“They should have let me keep them,” she says. “There isn’t any justification. I should have been able to keep them. I just don’t know. Why?”
CPS had set a court hearing for the children on March 25. A day before the hearing, Lotrise was on the phone with her daughter, sharing the news that 1-year-old Camree had been killed at a foster home in McKinney.
MiCyra screamed again.
“I love him and I’m pregnant”
Camree was born on a Wednesday morning.
She was an inquisitive child, the youngest of four, MiCyra and Caleb’s second together. Bishop, their son, was nearly two years older, and fun-loving like all of MiCyra’s children.
MiCyra had her first child, Makhi, in July 2011 when she was 19, fresh out of high school and armed with a certified nursing assistant certificate. Makhi’s father was an old high school flame that would extinguish after their son was born. Lotrise says young people need “to sow their royal oats.”
“We just realized we weren’t good for each other,” MiCyra says.
A few years later, MiCyra’s second child, Marissa, appeared much like Makhi: as a surprise. Some could call her a miracle baby; she arrived so early—34 weeks—that she spent the first moments of her life in an incubator.
MiCyra reconnected with Caleb not long after Marissa was born on Feb. 12, 2014. They had been athletes at two different high schools in Tulsa, MiCyra at Memorial High School and Caleb at Union High a few blocks away. After the school day ended, Caleb and other Union High athletes used to hang out at MiCyra’s school. He was closer to Chris Rock in build than The Rock, and loved creating rap music, playing and watching football. He came from a large family—twelve brothers and sisters—most of whom lived in Tulsa. He worked as a machinist and played for Def Row in a flag football league. MiCyra and the kids used to go watch him play every other weekend. “He was a great football player,” she says. “He really did love football, along with the boys [his brothers]. Big football fans.”
Bishop arrived on schedule in September 2017. He was MiCyra’s first full-term baby. MiCyra’s family was there. Caleb was there, and his brothers also came to see his son. It was the perfect Kodak moment: a happy family filled with joy at the sight of a new child. But happiness is fleeting for people in abusive relationships.
Lotrise didn’t become aware of the domestic abuse until after Bishop arrived. In the beginning, MiCyra was careful to hide it. In March 2016, a couple of years before they were married, Caleb was arrested on a domestic abuse charge in Tulsa. He had slugged MiCyra in front of her children. He received deferred adjudication for a misdemeanor assault and a probation he would later violate.
Violence continued haunting Caleb and Micyra’s relationship and pulling in family members. Lotrise found herself as a mediator at one point, trying to de-escelate the situation by asking Caleb to leave. Micyra’s attorney Rick Hagen, whose office is in Denton, claims domestic abuse was a pattern in the home and pointed it out in his April 20 motion to reduce MiCyra’s bond for murder:
“MiCyra recalls five times that she has called 911 to report Caleb’s violence. Three of those occasions occurred in Oklahoma. On one of those occasions, Caleb pulled a gun on her.”
Lotrise called them “blow ups” and told her daughter, “I don’t think it is a good thing to marry if you’re not going to respect each other. He’s not going to keep his hands off you. I don’t think no women should have to be hit on regardless of the circumstances.”
“She was like ‘I love him and I’m pregnant,’” Lotrise says. “‘Ok, this is your battle.’ I would then pray about it. She is grown and has to live her life. I always said, ‘I can’t pick your shade tree and you can’t pick mine.’”
MiCyra married her shade tree on Valentine’s Day in 2017 at Tulsa City Hall. About 20 people attended the small ceremony.
Nearly two years later, they were on their way to Texas, seeking a fresh start. “She was trying to save her marriage,” Lotrise says, “and thinking if they got away from family, it would be better. Instead, it got worse. I had no clue.”
The clue would come when Camree was born in March 2019. Caleb and Micyra were visiting Lotrise in Tulsa when Micyra went into labor. They rushed her to a Tulsa hospital, but Caleb, MiCyra says, struggled to stay at the hospital. He kept leaving periodically throughout Camree’s birth. After she was born, he looked tired, agitated. When the nurse asked him to sign the birth certificate, he blew up and threw his food tray. The nurse called security and CPS. “I was embarrassed,” MiCyra says. “They felt he was a danger to me and the children.”
As security led Caleb off the property, Lotrise looked at her daughter and said, “MiCyra, you guys need to let each other go. It is not good.”
“I’m done, momma. I’m done,” she replied.
“That is my Christmas gift”
February was a special month for MiCyra’s family.
Caleb’s birthday fell on February 10, Marissa’s hit February 12, and MiCyra and Caleb’s three-year wedding anniversary arrived two days later. They were going to celebrate over the weekend at Great Wolf’s Lodge.
They’d been living apart for several months. Caleb was staying on his brother’s couch, working at a manufacturing plant in Tulsa, holding tight to the dream of transferring to Texas after he put in a year of service. MiCyra had reconnected with him in early February after several months apart. He called her, crying and begging her to take him back. He promised to change, to be a better man. “All relationships have their ups and down,” MiCyra says. “It was easier to forgive him. I was tired of starting new relationships. I wanted to be with someone for the sake of the children. Really wanted to make it work with him.”
They were trying to make it work on February 9 when MiCyra went to Oklahoma to pick him up for the week. They stopped by her mother’s house to say goodbye. “Ms. Punkin, I want my family,” Caleb told Lotrise. “I’ll do what I have to do to get my family and get off drugs.”
Their family was growing. In late December, MiCyra told her mother that she was pregnant with Caleb’s third child. “She was always telling me she was pregnant around Christmas,” Lotrise says. “That is my Christmas gift.”
A couple of months later, Caleb was spending Valentine’s week with MiCyra and the kids in Little Elm. The first couple of days together, Lotrise says, were fine. Everything changed the day before Marissa’s birthday. MiCyra found out Caleb had been talking to another woman. They got into an argument. He laughed it off and left for about six hours, according to the police report.
Later that evening, he returned, intoxicated. MiCyra was still upset about the other woman. She had smashed his cell phone. They started arguing.
The fight turned deadly.
“I’m not scared of death”
Makhi was up late watching TV when his mother shot and killed his stepfather.
Caleb had been drinking, but seemed okay when he got home. Then he saw his smashed cell phone screen.
MiCyra headed to her best friend’s bedroom. Caleb followed, fuming, “Why you breaking my stuff?”
“I saw you looking at other girls,” she replied.
At 8 years old, Makhi had always been the protector. He was the older brother and took his role seriously. He heard his mother tell his stepfather to leave. But his stepfather wasn’t listening. He went into the bedroom and shut the door.
Glass shattered. A scream followed. Makhi told CPS that his stepfather had broken a glass over his mother’s head. MiCyra’s attorney claims Caleb was beating her with a beer bottle.
Makhi got up from in front of the TV and started banging on the bedroom door. He saw his mother trying to open it and saying, “Let me go. Let me go.”
The fighting moved from her best friend’s bedroom to MiCyra’s. She grabbed a gun from the closet. As she armed herself, Makhi recalled his mother saying she “did not want him to see anything because she was going to shoot,” the CPS caseworker wrote in her Feb. 27 affidavit.
MiCyra told police she was only trying to scare Caleb, according to the police report. She had removed the gun’s safety before pointing it.
Makhi heard his mother and stepfather discussing the gun. Then he heard Caleb say, “I’m not scared of death. I’m not scared of death.”
Caleb headed toward the bathroom. “Here, I’ll make it easy for you. I’ll get into the tub.”
Makhi tried going into the bathroom to protect his mother. He saw Caleb “come at her.” When MiCyra saw her son, she told him to get out of the room because he didn’t need to be in there.
He needed to be sleeping. It was shortly after 1 a.m., but there’s no sleeping when abuse ravages the home. Instead, he walked back into the front room to watch TV with his brother and sister.
Gunfire erupted like a thunder crack.
MiCyra rushed out of the bathroom and said, “Call the police, call the police.”
“God help me”
Two weeks had passed since MiCyra had pulled the trigger.
It was late February, and Lotrise had been staying with her daughter in Little Elm. “I stepped up to be her mother like she had been a kid. Mentally and emotionally, she was just gone and drained,” Lotrise says. “I was the mother and they all were the kids. Even the grandkids were the kids.”
Since the Feb. 12 shooting, MiCyra had been crying, throwing up, experiencing migraines, suffering nightmares. No eating or sleeping, “basically just there,” Lotrise says. “[But] emotionally not there, writing on the mirrors, ‘God help me.’ She wouldn’t sleep in the room at all. She basically just slept in her recliner, and the kids slept on her.”
A few days after the shooting, they celebrated Marissa’s sixth birthday. Lotrise didn’t want her granddaughter to feel left out. Marissa didn’t quite understand what had happened, but she knew it had been bad. Bishop and Camree were far too young to understand.
Makhi understood. He had seen the blood on the walls in the bathroom. He’d been holding Camree when the police arrived. He told officers that his stepfather had been shot in the head in the bathroom. “He stated he (Caleb) was charging at her (MiCyra) and then the gun went off,” the CPS caseworker wrote in her late February report.
Lotrise shared a photograph of Marissa’s birthday. A shirtless Bishop stands at the corner of the table, staring at the burning candles on Marissa’s cake. Marissa is smiling at him. Lotrise stands next to her, holding Camree who looks lovingly at the camera. They seem to be doing their best to appear happy while anguish and heartache besieges them.
“Why are you taking my grandkids?”
CPS showed up with the Little Elm police on a Wednesday night to take Lotrise’s grandchildren while she was cooking dinner for them.
It was late February, and she’d been caring for her daughter and her grandchildren for a couple of weeks. CPS had approved her to be in the home with MiCyra, who admitted to police she’d been using marijuana. Her caseworker made her take a drug test. She later tested positive for marijuana, methamphetamines, cocaine, and benzoylecgonine. She admitted to using ecstasy but not knowingly using meth or coke. She claimed it may have been in the ecstasy pill. “She stated Caleb Pearson had basically forced her to take the pill,” the CPS caseworker wrote in her late February report. “She would have done anything to keep him happy.”
CPS then discovered that MiCyra’s roommate, Tarleasie Harris, had been arrested in 2018 in Tulsa on an accessory to murder charge. She was a passenger in a drive-by shooting.
After Makhi’s interview, police began suspecting MiCyra’s shooting may not have been self-defense. It was something said during his CPS interview and underlined in the copy of the CPS caseworker’s report shared with me:
“Makhi explained it was when she (mother) was getting her gun because she did not want him see anything because she was going to shoot.”
When she walked into the police station, Lotrise didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary. The police took MiCyra in the backroom to sign paperwork. Lotrise waited in the lobby. About 5 or 10 minutes later, the detective came out and told her, “Let me be honest with you. We’re going to arrest her for murder, and you have to stay here for CPS. They need to talk with you.”
Lotrise didn’t stay. She was too upset, and had to get home to cook dinner for her grandchildren.
The CPS caseworker had discussed placement options with Lotrise. She had told Lotrise that she wouldn’t be able to keep her grandchildren because she wasn’t a Texas resident.
“I live in the house. They go to school. What do you mean I can’t keep the grandkids?” asked Lotrise.
Marissa Gonzales, a CPS spokesperson, wrote in a June 1 email to Local Profile, “Placing children with someone who lives out of state requires that DFPS follow the procedures outlined in the Interstate Compact for Placement of Children (ICPC). This involves requesting a full study of the home by officials in the person’s home state. The judge in the case then determines if the children may be placed there.”
CPS contacted Makhi’s and Marissa’s biological fathers about placement options and asked Lotrise if she had any family in Texas who could care for the children. Lotrise mentioned a cousin. CPS discovered he’d been arrested for homicide in Oklahoma but was never charged. They then contacted an aunt who shared a home with her little sister. They both worked full time, and since she didn’t have any children, the aunt wasn’t sure she could handle four kids and decided against taking them.
Lotrise mentioned other family members, but they all lived in Oklahoma.
The next time Lotrise spoke with the caseworker, she was standing at MiCyra’s front door with the Little Elm police. They informed her that they were taking her grandkids.
“Why are you taking my grandkids from me?” she asked.
The kids began crying. She began crying. The CPS caseworker and the police officer, she says, just stood there.
“Why can’t I have the grandkids?” Lotrise asked again.
“You’re not a Texas resident,” the CPS caseworker replied.
“I’ll move here,” Lotrise said. “It was okay for me to stay in this house. Now it is not okay. I’m not understanding.”
Lotrise asked if she were to move to North Texas, what are the other stipulations that she needed to meet so she could get her grandkids? She says they told her she needed to be living here for five years and have a job. She was like, “Are you kidding?” Her daughter and grandchildren hadn’t even lived in Texas for two years.
She tried giving the kids some clothes to take with them and wanted to feed them before they left, but she says she was told she couldn’t. She was only able to give Camree a bottle and say goodbye with tears in her eyes. It would be the last time she saw Camree alive.
“Camree is not answering”
The day Camree died, Makhi called his grandmother around 10 a.m. and said, “Grandma, Camree is not feeling good.”
It was Monday, March 23. Lotrise hadn’t seen her grandchildren since they’d been taken in late February. MiCyra remained in the county jail, unable to afford her $500,000 bond. She’d been talking with her mother through the jailhouse video chat. It had taken Lotrise a couple of weeks to get her grandchildren on the phone. Marissa was sent to stay with her father in Tulsa. Mahki, Bishop, and Camree ended up together at a foster home in McKinney.
For the past month, Lotrise had been trying to get them out of the foster system, but she kept hitting brick walls. “[The caseworker] used her race and her authority to bulldoze us down and take my grandkids,” Lotrise claims. “It was like, I’ll prove to you what I can do, and that is what she did. Because how can one father who lives in Oklahoma come get one child, but the grandmother (who lives there) can’t get the kids when I was already here, keeping the kids at MiCyra’s and making sure they were going to school? Why couldn’t they just leave as is alone?”
When she found out about the home study requirement, Lotrise, a registered tribal member, contacted the Cherokee Nation to have it done. Cherokee officials, she says, conducted the study and approved her home as a safe environment for her grandchildren. She also received legal guardianship papers from the court, and then offered to take a hair or urine drug test—whatever was necessary to get her grandchildren. “I just want them,” she told CPS at an early March court hearing. “Can I get my grandkids?”
Despite the evidence she collected proving she was a fit guardian, Lotrise says at the first hearing, “They wouldn’t look at nothing.” Instead, the caseworker announced she was no longer handling the case, and the rest of the hearing, Lotrise says, was spent arguing about who would handle it in her stead. They postponed Lotrise’s hearing until March 25.
Two days before the rescheduled hearing, Camree was killed.
“They are acting more like MiCyra is the villain,” Lotrise says. “They are acting like it is her fault. They are not realizing we are the ones that are hurt and are going through the pain and sorrow.”
When Makhi called and told her Camree was not responsive, Lotrise asked him, “Where is your Nana at?”
Helene Jones-Spears, the foster parent, had asked the grandchildren to call her “Nana.” Lotrise didn’t know much about her. She says Helene had given her last name as “Johnson” and told her that she was in her 50s instead of her late 60s. Besides Lotrise’s three grandchildren, Helene was also reportedly caring for a 7-month-old. A couple of days before Camree’s death, Lotrise says they were going to meet at a McDonald’s not far from Helene’s house, but COVID-19 derailed those plans.
“Put your Nana on the phone,” Lotrise told Makhi again.
“Camree is not answering her name,” Makhi said. “And her head’s rolled back. Nana told me to get out of bed, and she is limp.”
Lotrise recalls Helene got on the phone and told her, “She was just a little limp and okay now.”
“Take her to the hospital,” Lotrise begged.
Helene couldn’t, Lotrise says, because CPS had told her to stay at home due to COVID-19 and to give her something soft, like eggs, to eat.
Lotrise wasn’t satisfied and asked Helene to send her a picture of Camree. Makhi had mentioned bruising on the side of Camree’s face. “At that point, I’m worried about Camree,” she says. “Something don’t look right in the picture.”
Later that day, Lotrise got permission to do a video chat with Helene. After she sent her the link to Whatsapp, Lotrise says Helene quit responding.
Doing her best not to panic, Lotrise went to take care of some business and tried calling Helene again a few hours later. She still wouldn’t respond. Lotrise called the court-appointed special advocate (CASA) for her grandchildren, explained what had happened, and begged her to check on them.
The CASA checked on Camree, discovered what had happened, but didn’t contact Lotrise until later that evening.
It seems Helene didn’t take Camree to the hospital until she started vomiting, according to Helene’s April 16 arrest warrant affidavit. The ER staff noticed the left-side of Camree’s face was bruised. They suspected head trauma, possibly internal bleeding. Helene denied any knowledge of how the baby had gotten injured.
McKinney police detectives later discovered that Helene, the primary caregiver, had only bathed Camree and changed her diaper twice over a two week period.
At 8:19 p.m., Lotrise received the phone call no one should ever have to receive. Camree was dead.
“No, no, no, no,” Lotrise said.
“Yes,” the CPS case manager said.
“What do you mean?”
“She’s at Baylor White Scott Hospital. You can go see her there.”
“No, no, no, no.”
“I’m sorry. She is gone.”
The Medical Examiner reported “significant left-sided facial bruising and swelling, several areas of blunt force trauma to the head, a subdural hemorrhage on the left side of the brain, and a left sided parenchymal hemorrhage. They ruled her cause of death ‘blunt force head injury and ruled the manner of death a homicide.’”
Lotrise grew furious with CPS. “None of this would have occurred if you had just given me my grandkids. All I wanted was my grandkids.”
“All I wanted was my grandkids”
Camree was buried on a Friday afternoon in late April in Wagoner, Oklahoma.
Her mother’s side of the family is originally from the West Oklahoma rural community. The Fords, the Rutherfords, the Browns—Lotrise says they have a lot of kinfolk who still live there. MiCyra used to spend time on her grandparents’ farm outside of Wagoner when she was growing up. Camree’s great-grandparents are buried there.
About 20 people showed up for the graveside service. Only eight were allowed to gather at Camree’s grave due to the COVID-19 restrictions. Most of the family lingered in their cars and took turns saying their goodbyes. A month had passed since Caleb had been buried. His family held his funeral in Tulsa about a week after Camree was killed. When Caleb’s father found out Camree was dead, Lotrise says he initially thought her family had something to do with it. He didn’t know about Lotrise’s quest to get her grandchildren out of foster care. “They didn’t want nothing to do with me or my daughter or grandkids and didn’t ask me to go,” Lotrise says. “They are going to make it a point to call the DA every day.”
Helene was arrested on April 16 for criminal negligent homicide, a state jail felony with a fine of up to $10,000 and 180 days to 2 years behind bars. Helene’s 28-year-old daughter, Dameka Spears, was arrested a week earlier on a felony criminal negligence charge for abandoning and endangering a child. It’s unclear if the cases are connected. McKinney police wouldn’t respond to requests for comment.
CPS is working with the police to investigate Camree’s death on two fronts: Child Protective Investigations (CPI) and Residential Child Care Investigations (RCCI) “to determine whether abuse or neglect contributed to her death,” the CPS caseworker wrote in her June 1 email. “RCCI will also determine whether there were any violations of the minimum standards for child care in the foster home. Those results will be turned over to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.”
When Lotrise told her daughter that Camree was dead, MiCyra was sitting in the jail pod at Denton County, looking at her mother through the video conference app. She howled and wailed when her mother shared the news. “To look my baby in the face while she was locked up behind the bars and tell her that her baby is dead… It was just so hard,” Lotrise says. “That gut cringe, that scream. Oh God, I hope you never have to experience it, the screams and howls a mother gives out.”
A month later, MiCyra was standing next to her daughter’s grave as her family members swapped out to say their goodbyes. She wasn’t shackled, and there were no jailhouse bodyguards watching her every move. Her attorney, Rick Hagen, took it upon himself to convince the judge to release MiCyra on a $50,000 attorney recognizance bond. The judge must have taken pity on her because he had allowed her to travel across state lines and return to jail the following day.
CPS didn’t take as much pity. Instead, they reminded Lotrise on the day of Camree’s funeral that Micyra could not spend the night in the same household as her 2-year-old son Bishop. CPS had given Bishop to Lotrise shortly after Camree’s death and sent Makhi to stay with his father and grandmother in Tulsa. “‘If we found out that [MiCyra] is in the same household with Bishop, we’re going to come back and take the kids,’” Lotrise recalls the caseworker saying.
She pauses. “It wasn’t a proper burial.”
MiCyra is now staying with a loved one and awaiting trial. She is six months pregnant, and due about a week before Bishop’s third birthday in September. She still misses Caleb and thinks about him often. “He was a great father, and he was a good guy,” she says. “He was a great husband when he could be.”
Since Camree’s funeral, Lotrise has been trying to pull her family back together. She’s still involved in Makhi’s and Marissa’s lives, but she hasn’t forgotten what CPS did to their family when they removed the children from their home. She says she still has many unanswered questions. The five-year Texas residency requirement claim, she says, isn’t right, especially when her daughter had only lived in Texas for a year and a half.
It also doesn’t make sense because, as she points out, Marissa’s father lived in Oklahoma, and was allowed to pick up Marissa.
“MiCyra never done anything,” Lotrise says. “She saved her kids life and her life and now she can’t even be alone with them. It is like CPS has punished her because of what happened because she was a victim of domestic violence.”
Originally published in the July/August 2020 issue of Local Profile.