Torture, death of 4-year-old Walterboro native Myls Dobson spark outrage in N.Y., S.C.
As a toddler, Myls Dobson went to live with relatives in South Carolina and others in New York.
But the bright and smiling boy never showed signs of the turmoil that seemed to follow him.
He would strum a comb as if it were a guitar at the Walterboro church he once attended.
When his family moved him to New York City, he would greet every bus driver and police officer he came across.
He would point out restaurants and list the food they served.
Myls was 2 when he left his hometown in South Carolina for the big city, where his mother was born and his father lived. His grandmother had been caring for him after 29-year-old Ashlee Dobson told Colleton County deputies that she sometimes snapped and hit her son.
But the boy's father, Okee Wade, soon won custody through New York City's social services agency, despite his criminal history.
And on Jan. 8, as Wade sat in jail on new charges unbeknownst to the agency, 4-year-old Myls died as a result of what authorities likened to torture by Wade's girlfriend, Kryzie King.
His death sparked outrage among community activists and an investigation by Mayor Bill de Blasio's office. It prompted legislation there that would require the agency to be alerted if a child's parent is arrested.
Myls recently returned to Colleton County, where his ordeal began. His body was put in the cold ground of a rural Wade family cemetery north of Walterboro. During the burial, the late-day sun shone through trees bare of their leaves and struck the concrete that covered his grave.
Many of his loved ones here, including the pastor whose guitar skills Myls once emulated, didn't know what had been happening in the little boy's life until he died. They couldn't make sense of it.
"They think they know what's best for a child," said the pastor, Ja-Don Buckner of Walterboro Christian Center. "But no social service in the world is going to love a child the way a parent is going to love a child."
Myls was born April 7, 2009, in Charleston to parents who lived apart. His mother was in Walterboro; his father, in New York.
When Wade returned for visits, he would attend Buckner's church with Dobson and her family.
But it was Myls who stole the show during worship services in which music played a starring role.
He ran down the center aisle of the church set up in a former Kmart store. He sometimes jumped onto the stage to join Buckner, an electric guitarist who once toured the nation and entertained American presidents.
Myls clutched a comb and moved the fingers of his left hand through its bristles. He wanted to be a professional like Buckner.
"Whatever tune the pastor played, he would try to play it," Deloris Mack, his godmother, said. "And he was always smiling, always smiling."
Despite his desire to make music, Myls was quiet. He said little as a 2-year-old, Buckner noticed.
And his mother struggled with emotional problems.
"She was a loving person," Buckner said. "But she would kind of just lose it for a second sometimes."
Dobson was arrested the day after Myls turned 2. That day in 2011, she took him to Colleton Medical Center, where he was treated for a head injury, cuts and bruises on his face.
She first told deputies that Myls had run in front of a car near a Bi-Lo. Dobson said she saved him from getting hit but accidentally scratched him and fell on top of him in the process, a Colleton County Sheriff's Office report stated. She then scolded him by slapping his face.
Later that day, at a friend's house, he fell downstairs and was knocked unconscious, she told deputies.
But Dobson was scared, and she didn't want to tell anyone about the boy's injuries. Her mother, Faith Bennett, eventually took Myls to the hospital.
Dobson later "admitted that sometimes she just snaps and gets angry," the report stated, "but she does not mean to hurt the child."
Bennett got temporary custody after that episode, said Marilyn Matheus, spokeswoman for the S.C. Department of Social Services.
The charge that Dobson was arrested on that day was dropped later that year.
Myls was already living in New York City.
In the Big Apple, the city's Administration for Children's Services first started looking into allegations of maltreatment of Myls in early 2011.
Dobson had moved to Harlem and lost Myls to Wade, who had spent part of his life behind bars.
Case workers for the agency started observing Myls in Wade's care the month after Dobson's arrest in South Carolina. From May to August 2011, the boy seemed safe and healthy, according to the investigation that the mayor ordered after Myls' death.
But the workers didn't know that Wade was jailed from September 2012 to February 2013.
On the nine occasions when agency workers checked on Wade's home, his then-girlfriend was caring for him, the probe found. During each visit, the woman said Wade was at work.
Dobson, meanwhile, tried regaining custody. She sometimes visited him.
Myls made new friends in the big city. One of them was the grandson of Virgil Richardson, who has pushed for new laws since Myls' death.
"He was the most gentle, delicate kid I have ever met," Richardson said. "My grandson is a terror, but when he got with Myls, he calmed down."
As he traveled with loved ones around the city, he greeted bus drivers by saying, "Hi." He would always say "bye" when he walked off.
If he saw people commit an unkind act, he would tell them.
Myls saw everyone as part of one big family, said Bennett, his grandmother.
"Any time we were in a public place," she said, "Myls always thought we were all together."
Wade left his son in the care of his latest girlfriend, 27-year-old Kryzie King, in December, when he was arrested on bank fraud charges in New Jersey.
The city's social services arm again knew nothing of his arrest.
Myls collapsed and died Jan. 8 in a bathtub in King's high-rise apartment in Manhattan. She was later charged with first-degree assault, reckless endangerment and unlawful imprisonment.
How Myls died wasn't immediately determined, but the police said King acknowledged starving him for days, locking him out on a cold balcony, binding him to a chair and burning him with cigarettes and a hot oven grate.
After a funeral in Harlem in which the Rev. Al Sharpton spoke, Myls' body was flown back to his hometown, where he was buried late in the day on Jan. 24. He wore a white suit and a white top hat, and a teddy bear was placed at his feet.
Mourners at his former church in Walterboro said Myls was dressed like the angel he was. His death wasn't in vain, they said.
Buckner, the pastor, preached to the crowd by saying that government leaders and parents would learn from it.
"The enemy took his life," Buckner said.
Wade sat in the first chair of the first row. A judge had given him a three-week furlough from jail so he could he mourn.
He stood and spoke softly to the crowd about his two years with Myls, about how Myls was the "most beautifulest" child he had ever seen.
"My son saw the good in everything," Wade said before taking his seat again. "It was just a blessing to look at him and tell myself I wanted to change and be different.
"I wanted to see him grow up."
But as Dobson and the rest of the mourners stood and sang and clapped in celebration of Myls' life, Wade stayed in his chair. Behind sunglasses, his eyes were fixed on the small, white casket in front of him.