Tyrese Sutherland, 10, was found dead with his adoptive father and brother after having finally left foster care in the spring
Candles, flowers and messages were placed at the home of Samuel Masih in Mississauga last week for a vigil in honour of his two sons, whose bodies were found with his in a burned-out car near Barrie.
Tyrese Sutherland lived as a foster child for years before finally finding a permanent family of his own.
His adoption by foster parents Samuel Masih and Brintha Shanmugalingam was finalized just this spring, the Star has learned. On July 4, he was found dead in a burned-out car on a country road near Barrie, with the charred remains of his adoptive father and 4-year-old brother Santosh.
The Ontario Provincial Police are keeping the cause of death secret, but said they are “satisfied that the person responsible for the other two deaths perished in the vehicle as well.” The investigation is ongoing.
Sutherland had lived with the family for years as a foster child, but the private foster care agency that placed him said its visits ended in March, when his adoption was finalized by the Peel Children’s Aid Society.
His death will trigger a review process with the Chief Coroner’s Office that kicks in whenever a child dies within a year of having contact with a children’s aid society.
Cheryl Mahyr, coroner’s office spokesperson, couldn’t speak to this specific case, but said that typically, “the death investigations of children who were in care take a long time to conclude.” In such cases, the coroner’s office has three weeks to call for an internal CAS review, which can take up to 90 days. After that, the coroner can consider an inquest.
The Peel CAS, which has jurisdiction for the Mississauga home where Tyrese lived, would not discuss either Tyrese or Masih.
“We could never confirm whether a child was adopted,” spokesperson Lucie Baistrocchi said. Several friends and neighbours of the family have told the Star about the adoption.
Pat Convery, executive director of the Adoption Council of Ontario, had no information about Tyrese, but said she can’t recall a case where a death happened so quickly after placement.
“Everybody, I’m sure, is looking at this,” she said. “They’re looking for anything missed. Is there something that should have been seen before this child was placed for adoption?”
Convery said that, based on what she’s seen before, if Tyrese had died while in foster care the case would be almost guaranteed to trigger an inquest. “But even if he’s been with the family (for years), you want a review,” she said. “The field would want it, the adoption field. You want to know what happened.”
Tyrese began his foster care with Masih and Shanmugalingam while they were living in Trout Creek, a village 50 kilometres south of North Bay. They had purchased a house there in 2006.
“I did meet both (Masih) and his wife when they were first thinking about starting to be foster parents,” said Bob Connor, executive director of Connor Homes, the foster agency. “We thought they would make excellent foster parents, and they were.”
Connor said his agency uses the same foster-home assessment program that each CAS in the province does, and that supervisors check in with families weekly by phone and monthly in person.
After he heard Masih and the boys had been found dead, Connor said he reviewed the meeting notes his staff took with the family until the foster care situation ended. “There was nothing remarkable in them,” he said.
The couple had even flown Tyrese to Australia in the past year at their own expense so he could see a specialist about his eczema.
Peel police have said they hadn’t been called to the house prior to the missing persons report.
In the days after Masih and the boys were reported missing, several neighbours told the Star there had been recent marital problems. A classmate said Tyrese had talked of having to choose which parent he was going to live with.
Connor said the news of the deaths hit him hard. “It’s anger, it’s hurt, frustration,” he said. “You think of all the times that people were in the home … they’re checking out to see how things are and whether plans are being followed through with. And to ensure that people are safe.
“And then out of the blue, really, something happens which is unpredictable, unthought of, unheard of. It’s indescribable.”
With files from Todd Coyne and Jane Gerster