Many ques­tions, few an­swers

Fam­ily, await­ing word from po­lice, re­flects on mother’s chal­lenges

Albany Times Union - - FRONT PAGE - By Paul Nel­son Sch­enec­tady

The de­tec­tives, FBI agents and state troop­ers are gone, but po­lice are keep­ing watch on the State Street prop­erty where a child’s re­mains were found Thurs­day.

The site — mon­i­tored Fri­day by a small cadre of pa­trol of­fi­cers — was the scene of an in­tense search this week. Po­lice say they found a child’s re­mains in a ditch be­hind 766 State St., but they say they won’t know if it is 4-month-old Rayen Puleski un­til an au­topsy is com­pleted.

“We will be speak­ing with the pathol­o­gists once the au­topsy is com­pleted but with test re­sults, it could take sev­eral days be­fore we’ll know de­tails,” Pub­lic Safety Com­mis­sioner Michael Ei­dens said.

Po­lice and the child’s fam­ily said the baby lived with his mother, Heaven Puleski, in the State Street build­ing. The 38-year-old woman was

ques­tioned by po­lice on Wed­nes­day but gave con­flict­ing ex­pla­na­tion of where her son was, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the case.

While the full facts of Rayen Puleski’s brief life were be­gin­ning to sur­face, pub­lic records, rel­a­tives’ ac­counts and of­fi­cial sources de­picted a chaotic do­mes­tic sit­u­a­tion that spi­raled down­ward in re­cent weeks.

Heaven Puleski and her baby were liv­ing in Saratoga Springs in the first weeks of the child’s life, Puleski’s aunt Lisa Dutcher told re­porters Thurs­day night. Dutcher said she last saw the child in June when the mother and in­fant were liv­ing in a mo­tel.

“He was healthy. He was fine. He gained a lot of weight. He was chunky,” said Dutcher, who has been a driv­ing force in the fam­ily’s ef­fort to get po­lice and so­cial ser­vices work­ers to search for the baby af­ter he seem­ingly van­ished in mid-july.

Dutcher said her niece moved to Sch­enec­tady to get out of the cramped mo­tel room.

“She jumped on an apart­ment she thought would be great for the baby,” Dutcher said.

But trou­ble soon started. Dutcher said her niece, who lost cus­tody of her two other chil­dren, strug­gled with drug prob­lems.

Au­thor­i­ties said Puleski, who has bat­tled heroin, is in detox.

Dutcher said oth­ers in the build­ing helped care for Rayen. The child was last seen out­side the State Street apart­ment build­ing in footage recorded by a sur­veil­lance cam­era at­tached to the build­ing.

The search for the child in­ten­si­fied Thurs­day af­ter­noon when Sch­enec­tady de­tec­tives, FBI agents and State Po­lice swarmed into an area be­hind the build­ing. A diver searched an ex­posed por­tion of the Cowhorn Creek, which runs be­hind sev­eral houses in the area.

Dutcher and her rel­a­tives waited for hours to learn what was hap­pen­ing.

Even af­ter a coro­ner’s van drove off with the re­mains, Dutcher said they could not get po­lice to tell them what had been found. She said pa­trol of­fi­cers at the apart­ment build­ing promised they’d get de­tails at po­lice head­quar­ters Thurs­day, but no one there gave them an­swers.

There was no word later Fri­day from au­thor­i­ties on whether they’d been able to con­firm the iden­tity of the dead child.

Fam­ily mem­bers later ex­pressed anger and dis­may that they were not no­ti­fied about the dis­cov­ery of the body. Most of what they learned about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Dutcher said, came from on­line posts.

“We have all been through this since Mon­day,” Dutcher said Thurs­day. “What I want to know is why we had to find this out on so­cial me­dia? How come we did not get any phone calls from de­tec­tives or child pro­tec­tive when we are the only ones that have been search­ing and do­ing our own in­ves­ti­ga­tion to find this baby?”

Ei­dens said “it’s our pol­icy to re­lease in­for­ma­tion when we can (and) it’s not a good idea for us to make com­ments on on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions that could end up in­ad­ver­tently com­pro­mis­ing the in­tegrity of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Dutcher said the last time a county child pro­tec­tion ser­vices em­ployee vis­ited with Rayen was July 17. She said she has re­signed her­self to the cold re­al­ity that she prob­a­bly won’t see the in­fant again.

“I’m just tired of keep­ing up hope and be­ing dropped on my face so I just have to come to terms with the fact that it is him,” said Dutcher.

De­fense at­tor­ney Michael Ho­ran said po­lice need to con­sider nu­mer­ous is­sues in cases sim­i­lar to this that may in­volve drug prob­lems. He said gen­er­ally two doc­tors typ­i­cally make the med­i­cal de­ter­mi­na­tion if a per­son is a dan­ger to them­selves or oth­ers, which would mean the hos­pi­tal could hold that in­di­vid­ual with­out his or her con­sent.

In Puleski’s case, po­lice may have to con­tend with the idea of whether she is in the right state of mind to be ques­tioned and if her state­ments are cred­i­ble.

Ad­di­tion­ally, Ho­ran said po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tors may also want to in­ter­view Puleski in the hos­pi­tal in the hopes she can pro­vide in­for­ma­tion for them to fol­low up on.

“They have to give you the Miranda warn­ings if they’re go­ing to ask you ques­tions while you’re in cus­tody,” she said. “Would a rea­son­able per­son in those cir­cum­stances un­der­stand that they could say, ‘No I don’t want to talk to you and leave?’”

Will wal­dron / Times Union

Po­lice pa­trol the scene at 766 State St. in Sch­enec­tady Fri­day near where a child’s body was found Thurs­day. Re­sults of an au­topsy could take days, of­fi­cials said.

Will Wal­dron / times union

Po­lice se­cure the scene in the back­yard of 766 State St., Sch­enec­tady, on fri­day. fam­ily mem­bers of a miss­ing baby say an­swers to their ques­tions aren’t com­ing fast enough.

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