published Sunday, July 8th, 2012

Memories and questions abound in the deaths of two Bradley County boys

Flowers adorn the double-grave of 5-year-old Leland Bates and his 3-year-old brother River at Moore's Chapel Cemetery. A funeral for the boys who died of hyperthermia was held Tuesday.
Flowers adorn the double-grave of 5-year-old Leland Bates and his 3-year-old brother River at Moore's Chapel Cemetery. A funeral for the boys who died of hyperthermia was held Tuesday.
Photo by Kate Harrison /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The daisies, roses and lilies covering the newest grave at Moore's Chapel Cemetery are starting to dry.

The ribbon tied across the blue flowery cross at the foot of the double grave, the ribbon that reads "Our Precious Angels," is starting to fade.

Though the decorations have been up only a couple of days, the searing triple-digit heat has glared hard on this little cemetery in rural Bradley County.

It's the same extreme heat that led to the deaths of the two little brothers who were laid to rest at this place Tuesday, officials have said.

Authorities know that hyperthermia -- extremely high body temperature -- is what killed 5-year-old Leland Bates and his 3-year-old brother, River. But it's still unclear just how they were exposed to such deadly temperatures at their Cleveland, Tenn., home on June 28 while their mother, Tasha Moses, was home. Officials said Moses has told conflicting stories.

The gnawing questions only aggravate the family's grief.

The boys' grandmother Linda Bates said she and Tasha Moses took turns at Children's Hospital at Erlanger, cradling Leland until he was taken off life support on June 29, the day after his brother died. Bates still does not know exactly why the boys died.

"I don't think for one minute that [Tasha] intended for them to die. It's just what happened leading up to it and what she did afterward that needs to be cleared up," she said Friday.

"Oh, those boys loved each other, those brothers," she added quietly.

Both boys were blue-eyed and rambunctious, said their father, Jonathan Bates, who is Linda Bates' son.

"Where one was, the other one always wanted to be. They never wanted to be apart," he said Saturday.

The boys always looked out for each other. One would split the last piece of gum in a pack so the other wouldn't be left out, their dad said.

Linda Bates said redheaded Leland was about to be enrolled in kindergarten and always walked around on his tiptoes. River, the rowdy towhead, was always underfoot, Linda Bates said -- "always following you around, always wanting to stay close."

•••

River and Leland spent a lot of time with several different relatives before and after Moses and Jonathan Bates divorced, friends and relatives say.

The boys were with Moses that Thursday when temperatures soared to 101 degrees.

Shortly before 3 p.m., Tasha Moses called 911 saying she had found the boys unresponsive at her Keith Valley Road home. Initially, she told first responders the boys might have drowned.

Authorities soon reported that the deaths didn't involve water, and Moses later told officials she had left the boys unattended on a Slip 'n Slide for 45 minutes.

Moses told officials she drove the boys 1.5 miles to her father's house on Armstrong Road because there was no phone at her home.

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Though the area is rural, more than two dozen homes line the road between her home and her father's.

At the bottom of Moses' gravel driveway is the home where Jennifer Kazy's family lives. Kazy was home with her young children all day June 28, watching movies to stay out of the heat. She said she never heard any commotion until friends started banging on her front door, afraid it was her children who had drowned.

"Then I looked out the back door and there was law everywhere out back," said Kazy, who added that she didn't see the boys very often, but when she did, they would holler and wave.

She said investigators have interviewed her and other neighbors multiple times, asking whether residents saw the boys or their mother that day, or if they noticed any unusual activity.

While rumors are rampant, Bradley County Sheriff's officials have not released more information about the case or from the autopsies -- including the boys' core temperatures when they were found.

"We are getting close to finishing up the case, but we are waiting on outside agencies at this point," Bradley County Lt. David Shoemaker said.

Moses has no criminal history in Bradley County, court records show. Investigators have declined to say whether they plan to press any charges in the case.

•••

A shriveled Slip 'n Slide was still unfurled in the unkempt yard at Moses' home Friday, framed by two trees still tied with tattered caution tape.

No one answered the door Friday, and neighbors and relatives said no one has lived there since the incident. Neither Moses nor her father could be reached for comment.

Jonathan Bates said he and Moses have struggled with drug use over the years, and that he recently has been in rehab.

He said Tasha has barely looked him in the eye since the incident. Over and over, in the hospital, at the funeral services, he's asked her what happened that day, where the boys were, what she was doing. All she said was, "I don't know," Bates said.

"I just want the truth to come out. There needs to be some answers. I want people to just tell the detectives the truth. I just can't take this."

He already had lost one child -- 3-year-old Travis Hyatt Bates -- in 2007. That child, born to another mother, was killed with his half-brother in a Cleveland house fire.

Linda Bates has custody of Jonathan's and Tasha's 8-year-old son, Skyler, who has cerebral palsy.

When she told Skyler his brothers had died, he just said, "Oh no, oh no, oh no."

And when she took him to the viewing before the boys' funeral, Skyler looked at his little brothers and wept.

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