EDITOR'S NOTE: The details of this case are graphic and may be upsetting for some readers.
While 3-year-old Scotty McMillan was allegedly being tortured to death inside his own home, his older brother — also a victim of abuse — did not show up for kindergarten.
Coatesville Area School District Superintendent Dr. Cathy Taschner said no one at the school was aware of abuse in the home but the school did go to the 6-year-old's home after he was absent for two full weeks.
"We are devastated by the horrors these boys endured,” Taschner said.
McMillan died last week from what investigators said was abuse at the hand of his mother, Jillian Tait and her boyfriend, Gary Fellenbaum, inside a West Caln Township trailer home that Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan called an “American horror.”
The abuse occurred over a two-week period dating back to October in the Hope Lane home located about 35 miles west of Philadelphia, according to investigators.
"We are confident our staff was not aware of the abuse, which has been reported to have primarily occurred over a two-week period during which the kindergartner was not in school,” said Taschner. “Whenever a child is absent, our staff tries to make contact with the parents to determine the reason for the absence, through phone calls, written communication, and eventually a home visit to the residence we have on record. All of those procedures were followed.”
That visit occurred before Scotty was found dead inside the home, district spokeswoman Beth Trapani told NBC10. No one answered the door and the school investigators left a letter for Tait. News then later broke about Scotty’s death.
"Employees of the district are trained to recognize signs of abuse,” said Taschner.
Police said that Fellenbaum met Tait at a local Wal-Mart where they worked together. Tait and her two sons — Scotty and the 6-year-old — moved in with Fellenbaum in mid-October and the abuse began shortly thereafter, said investigators.
Hogan said Fellenbaum used a makeshift whip, a curtain rod, an aluminum strip and the home's wall to beat Scotty and his brother while Tait admittedly sometimes watched and laughed.
NBC10 is not naming this surviving boy since authorities said he is a victim of child abuse.
On Thursday, Hogan announced first- and third-degree murder charges, homicide, endangering the welfare of a child, assault and reckless endangerment charges against both Fellenbaum and Tait. A judge denied bail to both.
Fellenbaum expressed remorse that "his physical assaults caused another's death," according to a criminal complaint obtained by NBC10.
Fellenbaum's estranged wife, Amber Fellenbaum, was charged with child endangerment and sent to county jail unable to post $500,000 bail. The 21-year-old told investigators that she first became aware of the alleged abuse about two weeks ago when she saw Fellenbaum spank Scotty after the boy didn’t respond to Fellenbaum. She also said she saw Fellenbaum and Tait beat the boy with a green frying pan on another occasion and saw Fellenbaum tape Scotty to a chair and severely pummel the boy’s face and stomach.
The county took the older brother and the Fellenbaums' 11-month-old daughter into protective custody.
Scotty’s death was part of a difficult week in the Chester County community.
“Our community is reeling from this tragedy as well as the murder of one of our parents last week at the Brandywine YMCA,” said Taschner.
Taschner asked for “the space we need to come to terms with these awful events so we can focus on helping our students to grieve and to heal.”