The Shinnecock Indian Nation came together on Monday night to mourn the death of one of their youngest members, 16-month-old Roy Antonio Jones III.
Nearly 100 tribe members shed tears and honored the life of the toddler, who died Sunday evening of cardiac arrest after authorities said he was beaten by his mother’s boyfriend at her home on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation.
The candlelight prayer vigil was held hours after 20-year-old Pedro Jones of Southampton, who is not a member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, pleaded not guilty to first-degree manslaughter in Southampton Town Justice Court in connection with the toddler’s death. If convicted of the Class B violent felony, he faces five to 25 years in prison, according to the Suffolk County district attorney’s office.
According to a felony complaint filed with the Town Justice Court on Monday, August 2, police said that Mr. Jones caused the child’s death by “striking him several times throughout his body with his closed fists and grabbing him by the neck.”
Also, according to court documents of a police interview, Mr. Jones reportedly spoke with his parents from Southampton Hospital, where Roy was pronounced dead, and told them that he “killed Vanessa’s son and that he punched him too hard.” According to his comments in the documents, Mr. Jones said he was “trying to make him act like a boy instead of a little girl.”
Mr. Jones also stated in the document that the incident was an accident, and that, “I never struck that kid that hard before.”
Monday night’s vigil was an emotional remembrance which drew about 100 nation members, according to Donna Collins-Smith, the child’s great-aunt
“People expressed the need to come together to love one another, to tighten the gap in our community so this doesn’t happen again,” Ms. Smith said. “Basically, we’re trying to come together as a family and do the best we can.”
According to Ms. Smith, the mother of the child, Vanessa Jones, left the toddler in the care of Mr. Jones, her boyfriend, and no relation to either the mother or child. Ms. Smith said that Ms. Jones was going to be gone for an hour to visit her cousin. She said she did not know if Mr. Jones had hit the child before.
New York State Troopers arrested Mr. Jones after Roy died. Mr. Jones is being held without bail, according to Robert Clifford, a spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota.
At about 8:25 p.m. on Sunday, police received a 911 call of a child in cardiac arrest on Old Point Road at the Shinnecock Indian Reservation. The toddler was taken to Southampton Hospital, where he was declared dead at 9:11 p.m., according to authorities.
“The statement from the tribe is it’s a tragedy and we are in a state of mourning,” said Shinnecock spokeswoman Beverly Jensen.
Ms. Smith said she could not recall the last time an incident like this occurred on the reservation. “I’m 63 years old, and I’ve never head of anything like this,” she said. ”And in talking to others, they’re the same way.”
The State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Suffolk County medical examiner’s office and the Suffolk County district attorney’s office are investigating the case.
The toddler’s death has brought the Shinnecock community together.
“We are coming together, and we are trying to first heal the wounds and then start creating the process preventing this from happening again in the future,” Ms. Smith said.
Funeral services for Roy A. Jones III will be held at the Brockett Funeral Home in Southampton on Saturday, August 7, at noon. The family will receive visitors at 10 a.m. Interment will follow at Shinnecock Cemetery.