The Engelhardt family knew daughter Amanda's former boyfriend D'Andre Howard had a troubled past.
But they were surprised to learn just how bad it was when details were unveiled in a new Department of Children and Family Services inspector general's report.
Howard is charged with the first-degree murder of three members of the Engelhardt family in their Hoffman Estates home in 2009. At the time, Howard was 20 years old and a ward of the state, but was living in an apartment with Amanda Engelhardt, the mother of his second child.
Shelly Engelhardt, who was stabbed during the melee but survived, said Howard never divulged many details about his past.
"He talked about his mother being a drug addict and stuff like that, but not the violence toward him. It was very glossed over," she said Thursday. "It is a sad state of affairs that this report is so long and so full of hurt."
The inspector general's report uses the case of Howard and others to recommend changes to the way DCFS handles cases of older wards like him.
State-funded agencies gave him more independence even as his alcohol and drug use, "escalating mental health symptoms" and history of violence "indicated an urgent need for services," the report states. Howard is not identified by name in the report, but officials acknowledged the case study is about him.
Shelly's son, Jeff, who was away at college when the murders took place, said the family knew Howard had been bounced around foster homes as a kid, and they always tried to make him feel welcome and part of the family.
"It's unfortunate that this probably happened to more than one person, so you hope (the report) will lead to improvements in the system," he said.
Even if Howard was the victim of a flawed system, the family doesn't believe that's an excuse, Jeff Engelhardt said. "It doesn't change the reality," he said.
According to the report, Howard became a ward of the state at age 5, and after two years of foster care, required a psychiatric hospital stay because he had symptoms of rage and violence.
At age 9, Howard received treatment for being sexually aggressive, and starting at age 13, he began to be arrested on charges like aggravated battery and drug possession, the report says.
The report says Howard fathered a child at age 15, and a year later was convicted of the criminal sexual assault of a female schoolmate. He was placed on probation for two years and required to register as a sex offender for the next 10 years, according to the report.
At age 17, while still in high school and living in a residential treatment facility, he was transferred to an apartment at Alternative Behavior Treatment Centers in Mundelein.
Within months of the transfer, the report said Howard tested positive for marijuana, was caught with alcohol, injured a peer in a fight, threatened staff, and was found with a switch blade. He was suspended from school and banned from his graduation ceremony because he forwarded a nude video of himself to his classmates.
At age 19, he was charged with battery after a woman alleged he had raped her in a motel room, according to the report.
"He was engaging in alcohol use and showed signs of deteriorating behaviors and escalating mental health symptoms. He voluntarily sought help at a psychiatric hospital in fear of harming himself or others. He was violent during a four-day hospitalization and was criminally charged," the report said. "He appeared anxious and voiced paranoid thinking."
Howard's apartment was increasingly dirty and damaged by pellets from a BB gun, which he was allowed to keep, the report said.
Attorneys who have represented Howard say the report corroborates their findings and suggest it could reopen the issue of Howard's mental status at the time of the murders.
Psychiatrists have concluded Howard was sane at the time of the crime and fit to stand trial.
"Of course, the public defender's office will want to take a look at it to see how it impacts doctors' opinions," said Cook County Assistant Public Defender Julie Koehler, who previously served as Howard's co-counsel,
Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Maria McCarthy declined to comment.
DCFS, Koehler said, "dropped the ball."
"For the inspector general to make this statement is impactful," she said. "They transferred him from one troubled foster home to the next ... then he turns 21 and we drop him on the street and expect him to be OK."
The inspector general's report bolsters the defense's PTSD diagnosis, as well as its argument that Howard's background somehow led him to perceive a threat in the Engelhardt household, where Howard and Amanda went after they argued, said Jim Mullenix, the public defender who represented Howard until he retired in December.
"Once he got into that chaotic environment on the night in question ... had he not suffered PTSD, he could have coped with the situation in a different way," Mullenix said.
Shelly Engelhardt just hopes none of this delays the trial any further. It's already been almost three years since her husband, daughter and mother were murdered, and the trial is probably another year off, or longer.
"I worry about it hanging over our heads for so long," she said. "We'd like to move on."