ELDRIDGE, Iowa — The aunt of an Iowa four-year-old who died in August in a Fort Wayne hospital from injuries received while in his mother’s boyfriend’s care doesn’t want people to forget her nephew’s name.
His name was Brantley Michael Welford, and she’s fighting to ensure that her nephew gets justice.
Jenna Bruck of Port Byron, Illinois, a small community just outside the Quad Cities area of Iowa and Illinois, launched a Facebook page she named Justice for Brantley in honor of her nephew.
Brantley, 4 of Clinton, Iowa, was pulled unconscious and unresponsive by police from the sleeper of Dylan Diericx’s semi-tractor while it was parked in Shipshewana on Aug. 19. Police arrested Diericx, 35, of Eldridge, Iowa, the truck’s driver, and charged him with neglect of a dependent, resulting in death, a Level 1 felony.
If convicted, Diericx is facing a sentence between 20-40 years behind bars. The court appointed attorney Stanley Campbell as Diericx’s public defender. It also ordered him held on a $250,000 bond. As of Tuesday afternoon, Diericx remained in the LaGrange County jail.
Diericx was identified by police as the boyfriend of Brantley’s mother, Victoria “Tori” Welford, of Clinton, Iowa.
Bruck said she hopes the Facebook page will keep her nephew’s memory alive, keep people informed of the court case against Diericx — since it’s happening in LaGrange, 275 miles away from Brantley Welford’s home — and put pressure on Iowa’s child service authorities to better protect the children in their care.
Brantley died Sunday, Aug. 22 at Parkview Regional Medical Center in Fort Wayne, three days after police pulled him from the sleeper of a parked semi-truck in Shipshewana. He was unconscious and unresponsive. Brantley was transported by helicopter to the Fort Wayne hospital and placed on life support but later died.
Bruck described her nephew as a happy kid with a smile that could “light up a room.” She said he loved playing with dogs, and loved farm animals, like chickens and cows. Brantley was a sports fan, and loved playing soccer and baseball. Somewhat shy when you first met him, Bruck said her nephew would slowly open up and then talk to her about the sports and animals he loved.
“He was just like any other four-year-old boy,”she said. “He was funny. And you could always see the wheels turning in his head like he was plotting something really good.”
Bruck is Tori Welford’s younger sister. Bruck said the two sisters were close growing up, sharing the same room in the family home.
“After our mom passed away we weren’t as close but still talked on a regular basis,” she added. “A lot of our separation was due to the distance we lived from each other. And she was busy working, attending parenting classes, undergoing therapy, and doing visits with her children.”
Still, she said, the pair managed to talk over the phone several times a month before Brantley’s death.
Nowadays, they don’t talk at all.
Five days before his death, Bruck said her sister posted a new photo to Facebook allegedly taken by Diericx, of Brantley apparently sitting in the passenger’s seat of his truck, suffering what appeared to be a swollen lip and facial cuts. Bruck said her sister told her Brantley had been injured when he fell out of the truck.
But shortly after Brantley’s death, Bruck posted another photo to her Justice for Brantley page of a fiery text message exchange between the sisters where Welford appeared to be defending Diericx. Bruck was visibly angered by her sister’s comments and the exchange ended with Tori Welford telling Bruck to not contact her again.
Bruck said she still has many unanswered questions surrounding her nephew’s death, like why Diericx was allowed to travel with Brantley and act as his only caregiver for the five days before his death. According to Bruck, Diericx and Tori Welford had been dating for less than a year.
Diericx called 911 on the afternoon of Aug. 19 to report the child unconscious inside his truck He allegedly told police Brantley’s injuries as the result of “horseplay” between the two. Diericx also allegedly said he threw the child onto his sleeper’s bunk bed and then Brantley struck his head on “a fixed object,” then “started convulsing and later became unresponsive.”
Diericx also allegedly told authorities Brantley had been injured at least two other times before that in the five days he was caring for the child.
Court documents show doctors who examined the young boy after he arrived at the Fort Wayne hospital said he was suffering from a wide number of injuries, including fractures to his clavicle and shoulder blade, bruises to both sides of his face and forehead, cuts, and blunt force trauma to the back of his head, bruises to his genitalia, an injury to his anus, cuts to his arm, a busted lip and burns around his mouth and body.
Ironically, Brantley had only been in his mother’s care since April. According to Bruck, Brantley and his younger sister had been pulled from his mother’s care in September 2018 by Iowa Department of Human Services workers and placed in foster care. Bruck also said Tori Welford completed several DHS parenting classes and appealed the decision to take her children away from her. She added an appellate court overruled DHS and returned the children to their mother this past spring.
Bruck said Diericx worked as a truck driver hauling livestock. She added that she’s still unsure why her nephew was allowed to make the trip to Indiana with Diericx.
“I’m unsure why Brantley was with him in the first place, because he goes to a daycare and Tori received state aid help to pay for the daycare so it was free for him to go,” she explained.
Investigators have sought several search warrants from the court, including warrants to closely examine his truck as well as search through any devices Diericx may have used for communication. LaGrange County Prosecutor Travis Glick said investigators are moving the investigation forward carefully. The prosecutor, along with Diericx and his attorney, are due back in court for a pretrial conference on Monday.
Bruck is hosting a celebration of life for her nephew on Sunday, Oct. 3, at the Eldridge Community Center, in Eldridge, Iowa. That event starts at noon. She said she started the Justice for Brantley Facebook page to continue to make the Quad Cities area where Brantley lived aware of his story.
“I knew I needed to get the real story out, it’s something I think Brantley deserves. Not only for Brantley but for his younger sister. She deserves the protection,” Bruck said in a text message. “In a sense, I hope that it puts pressure on the DHS system and judges to do right by her and put her in the correct home and terminate Tori’s rights. So the page is dedicated to keeping my community up to date and informed on Dylan’s charges since they are coming from another state. I just don’t want people to brush this under the rug like Brantley’s life doesn’t deserve justice.”
Bruck said she hopes others will remember her nephew and his smile.
“I want everyone to come together and share stories of Brantley. We’ll have pictures, toys, and some of his projects he made at school. We’re serving his favorite food, spaghetti and breadsticks. And he loved circus peanuts, so we’ll have those as well,” she said.
She’s also encouraging others to help other area children in Brantley’s name.
“I’m not looking for any financial gain from the justice for Brantley page, but I will continue to spend my own money to boost my post and get his story out there,” she continued. “I’ve encouraged the daycare that raised money for Brantley to build a buddy bench at the daycare, plant a tree, buy new playground equipment or even donate some to the local library for new children’s books.