Custody dispute over son of sledgehammer attacker

  • Joe Dombroski, from left, Ashley Dombroski and Joey Dombroski.

    Joe Dombroski, from left, Ashley Dombroski and Joey Dombroski.

  • Kelly Dombroski in 2008

    Kelly Dombroski in 2008

Updated 10/28/2010 4:44 PM

Joey Dombroski has had little contact with his mother in the eight years since she pleaded guilty to bludgeoning his father with a sledgehammer.

But now that the 11-year-old Lake in the Hills boy's father has died and his mom was released from prison, relatives on the father's side of the family say they fear the youngster will fall into the wrong hands.


"He's definitely afraid of his mother," Debbie Dombroski, a paternal relative, said. "We're the only family he's ever known."

Joey's mother, Kelly Dombroski, pleaded guilty in January 2003 to armed violence for striking her husband, Joe Dombroski, in the face with a sledgehammer as he slept on Oct. 27, 2001. The repeated blows left him with permanent injuries, including partial blindness, frequent headaches and loss of taste and smell but he was able to continue caring for Joey, who was then just a toddler.

According to Debbie Dombroski, everything changed the morning of Oct. 14 when Joey found his father's lifeless body in their home. The next day, she said, officials from the Department of Children and Family Services took Joey and placed him with his mother's cousin.

Now, the paternal side of the family says the state is considering returning Joey to his mother. A hearing has been set for Nov. 5 in McHenry County court.

"She's actually trying to get custody," Debbie Dombroski said. "But she's been out of prison for two years and never even tried to get visitation. She never even tried to contact him."

by signing up you agree to our terms of service

A woman who answered the phone at Kelly Dombroski's cousin's home declined to comment, as did a spokesman for DCFS, who cited state law prohibiting public disclosure of child custody matters. Attorneys who have represented Kelly Dombroski either declined to comment or didn't return messages.

The motive for the attack was never fully established. But after his wife pleaded guilty in exchange for having an attempted murder charged dismissed, the victim told the Daily Herald he believed she wanted to cash in on his life insurance.

"I have no other reason," he said then. "I guess I'll never know."

Joe Dombroski survived the 2001 attack but died recently, and the 45-year-old's death remains an open matter. McHenry County Coroner's officials are awaiting a pathology report before ruling on a cause of death. According to Debbie Dombroski, there were no obvious signs of injury.

Kelly Dombroski served about six years before she was released from Dwight Correctional Center in January 2009, according to Illinois Department of Corrections spokeswoman Sharyn Elman. At that point, she moved to Wisconsin, where she remained on parole until her discharge in August, Elman said.


Under the Juvenile Court Act of 1987, DCFS can cease efforts to reunite a minor with a parent if the parent has been stripped of parental rights, convicted of a variety of violent crimes against children, or if reunification is found to be "not in the best interests of that minor." Court records indicate Kelly Dombroski's parental rights were never revoked, and visitation rights were left open upon her release from prison.

Debbie Dombroski, who is the mother of Joey's sister, Ashley, and the ex-wife of Joe Dombroski, said moving on from the family tragedy has been difficult for Joey, but he found comfort with his father, sister, a paternal aunt and his paternal grandmother.

"Joey is very well-mannered and very polite, but he still has a lot of insecurities because of what happened," she said. "He could never be without his father. He was glued to Joe; he wouldn't even sleep in his own room. He thought she (his mother) was going to come and finish what she started."

For now, Joey's paternal family is holding out hope they will be able to persuade a judge to let them care for the boy. Debbie Dombroski said Joe Dombroski made it clear he wanted Joey to remain on his side of the family, but they have yet to find a will indicating that explicitly.

Meanwhile, she said, her family has been unable to have contact with Joey for several days.

"He probably thinks we abandoned him because they won't let us talk to him," Debbie Dombroski said. "But we're trying to get him back where he belongs. I've called the governor, and I'll call the president if I have to."