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History of Chester County 8-year-old whose parents are charged with his drug overdose points to years of concerns

WEST CHESTER — There had been signs for months, if not years, that something was troubled in the life of Hunter Hawa.

Doctors and counselors noted his developmental delays, and urged his parents to seek assistance from professionals. His pediatrician expressed concerns to the couple about his vision and hearing. An aunt reported suspicious behavior on the part of Hunter’s parents. The Chester County Department of Children, Youth and Families, CYF, opened an investigation into his care, including possible physical abuse, and he was briefly removed from their home. And Coatesville police twice found the young boy alone outside his home, wearing only underwear.

But Hunter’s parents, Mousa Abdallah Hawa and Holly Marie Back, apparently resisted efforts to oversee his care with professionals, and kept him away from family members who were concerned about his welfare.

On July 26, 2023 all those warnings and red flags came to a head when police were called to the Hawa home and Hunter was found unresponsive and without a pulse. He was declared dead at the Chester County Hospital around 3:30 a.m. that day.

On Monday, the Chester County District Attorney’s Office, the Coatesville Police Department, and the Chester County Detectives announced the arrest of Back, 40, and Mousa Hawa, 41, for charges related to the death of the 8-year-old child due to illegal drug exposure.

Mousa Hawa mugshot
Mousa Hawa (Courtesy of Chester County District Attorney’s office)

Both were charged with murder of the third degree, involuntary manslaughter, both felonies, and other related charges. Magisterial District Judge Gregory Hines set bail of $1 million for each and set a preliminary hearing for June 12. Both are being held in Chester County Prison.

According to a press release from the D.A.s’ Office, an intensive investigation revealed that the residence where Back, Hawa and the child resided was littered with drug paraphernalia. Investigators located empty heroin bags in three separate locations on the floor of the room where responding officers first saw him. Investigators also found a shoebox that contained hundreds of small glassine bags that each contained blue fentanyl/heroin bags that were either empty or contained residue.

Samples from the child’s blood, urine, and hair were analyzed to determine what, if any, illegal drugs were in his system. The blood and urine samples contained cocaine and fentanyl. The hair sample showed traces of fentanyl in the child’s system, indicating additional exposure prior to July 26, 2023.

Holly Back
Holly Back (Mousa Hawa (Courtesy of Chester County District Attorney’s office)

Hawa, the son of a former Coatesville Area School District administrator who was caught up in a scandal involving racial text messages between the former superintendent and the former athletic director, is already awaiting trial on charges that he supplied the fentanyl-laced heroin to a 32-years-old Phoenixville man who fatally overdosed on the drugs.

In an affidavit filed by Chester County Detective Jonathan Shave and Coatesville Corporal Shawn Dowd, Shave laid out a history of the concerns that had been expressed about Hunter’s health, development and care dating back to when he was 18 months old.

Records showed that in December 2016, he was seen by medical staff from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, or CHOP, and that the issues that were noted then “went (largely) unaddressed for the entirety of the victim’s life.” Those included language delays and behavioral problems, and included a referral for early intervention.

In 2017, county officials with the Department of Mental Health/Intellectual Developmental Disabilities reached out to Hawa and Back to offer their services for Hunter. There was no response, however, and the file was closed.

His physician, Dr. Jordan Spivack of Coatesville, wrote a letter in 2018 to the couple expressing concern over the child’s developmental delays and urged them to seek intervention. But again, his records show no follow up appointments.

In 2019, CYF started an investigation after Jennifer Back, Holly Back’s sister, went to Coatesville police to report her concerns about the couple’s drug use. Holly Back had been found in her car unconscious from an apparent drug overdose in March of that year. She was revived using Narcan.

CYF investigators reviewed two incidents in which Hunter was injured through what they believed was a lack of supervision. In one, a picture frame fell on his head and in the other Hawa reported that he fell and hit his head on a park bench. An examination at A.I. duPont Hospital for Children in May 2019 found no evidence of acute fractures, “however staff indicated they suspected child abuse,” the affidavit states.

When a CYF investigator interviewed Mousa Hawa at the couple’s home, he became upset with her presence and began banging his head against a kitchen wall and muttering. Both denied any illegal drug use, but Hawa said he took anxiety medication. After he took a few of the pills, the investigator, Megan Chichester, observed him “nodding off.”

In June 2019, Hunter was placed in the care of Jennifer Back, who began to routinely take the child for medical care and supervision, the affidavit states, including the referrals that Spivack had been recommending for months. “He began to improve under her care,” the investigators said. She provided him with healthy food and registered him in the Octorara School District.

But Jennifer Back was ordered to surrender custody to Hunter’s grandfather, Abdallah Hawa, before the school year started. It is unclear why that order was issued. When the transfer was made, Jennifer Back was prohibited from seeing the child and eventually Hunter went back to living with his parents.

In 2021 and 2022, city police found Hunter outside, wearing only underwear, unaccounted for by his parents, who claimed that he had wandered out of the home — even though they did not call 9-1-1 to report him missing.

In interviews with Jennifer Back and and her mother Barbara Back in September 2023, after the child’s death, they said that one of the last times they saw Hunter was at Easter dinner in 2023. The boy told his grandmother then that he did not want to go home with Hawa and Holly Back, and that Hawa “kept hitting him on his head. The grandmother said he did not look like he was being taken care of and that he was dressed inappropriately for the weather.

“His hair was not brushed, and he did not look good,” the affidavit quoted the grandmother as saying. “The victim child told her … that he hated his parents.”

To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.

Source: Berkshire mont

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