Matthew W. Kuzdzal was the terror of a West Side neighborhood, but inside his home, he was a nightmare for Eain, the 5-year-old son of his girlfriend, according to relatives and police.
Neighbors on Albany Street say Kuzdzal harassed them for money, then threatened them when they tried to collect what he owed them.
Behind the walls of the gray and white two-story house, from which Kuzdzal could be heard sometimes screaming when the windows were open, he frequently beat and burned the child, according to Eain’s grandmother. There also are signs that the boy was being sexually abused.
The beatings were so frequent and severe, according to the grandmother and biological father, that they pleaded with Erie County child protection workers on numerous occasions to remove Kuzdzal from the home. That never happened. And on Sunday evening, while baby-sitting Eain, police say the 26-year-old man beat the child into unconsciousness. Eain died Tuesday.
“I looked straight in the face of the Child Protective Services worker and said, ‘What … is it going to take?’” said Robin Hart, the maternal grandmother of Eain Clayton Brooks. “Matt has been beating Eain and also chemically burned him. What is it going to take? And now Eain has been killed by him.”
Kuzdzal was charged with second-degree murder early Thursday morning. But more than one investigation is proceeding to try to determine how long the beatings had been going on and whether Eain also was being sexually abused. There is evidence on Eain’s body that suggests he was molested, police sources say.
In addition, there is an investigation into how Erie County Child Protective Services intervened with the family after complaints were made.
“I called Child Protective Services numerous times, with the last complaint within 30 days. My son showed up numerous times with black eyes and bruises,” said Kyle Charette, Eain’s father. “I kept getting letters from CPS saying the complaints were unfounded. I can’t tell you how many times I got those letters.”
At about 7:30 p.m. Sunday, a call was made to 911 seeking an ambulance for a boy who had fallen down a flight of steps at 127 Albany. When paramedics arrived, they requested police because of the severity of the child’s condition.
Eain, who was unconscious, appeared to have been beaten with a blunt object on his head and body, police said.
One of the paramedics took the boy into his arms and carried him outside. Neighbors were shocked at the sight of Eain, his arms hanging limp from the paramedic’s embrace.
“The paramedic kept saying, ‘Eain, can you hear me?’ He didn’t respond,” said next-door neighbor Zona McCarthy.
Kuzdzal stepped from the house, walked up to another neighbor and explained that the boy had fallen.
“I heard the guy ask Matt if Eain had seizures. Matt said he fell. Then Matt went over to the ambulance and got into it, and they went to the hospital,” McCarthy said.
Eain’s mother, Nora Brooks, was not home at the time, according to police.
When the ambulance pulled up to the house, not far from Niagara Street, neighbors figured that the big moment had arrived for Brooks, who is due to give birth to a baby girl any day now.
The upcoming birth was a bright spot in an otherwise traumatic time for residents on the block who had been shocked and frightened by Kuzdzal, who had moved in with the mother and son last winter.
Eain’s joyful personality quickly captivated the neighbors. His mother was described as loving and friendly. But Kuzdzal was a different story.
Neighbor Joseph Meli, 93, recalled how warmly Eain always greeted him.
“He’d say to me, ‘Hi, Mr. Joe,’ and I’d give him a dollar. He’d come by again on the sidewalk and say, ‘Hi, Mr. Joe,’ and I’d give him 50 cents,” Meli said. “Other times, I’d say, ‘Eain, come here,’ and I’d give him a tomato or grapes from my garden.” Kuzdzal also sought out Meli.
“He’d ask for $20 dollars. Twice I loaned him money,” Meli said.
A couple weeks ago when Meli asked for his money back, Kuzdzal went at him, shouting.
Neighbor Rosara Monteleone said, “He told Joe, ‘Get out of my face.’ I said to Matt, ‘Don’t you talk to Joe that way,’ and Matt said he was waiting for his check to arrive.”
Occasional public fits of anger were only part of Kuzdzal’s intimidating behavior, neighbors said.
“He told me he was a felon and had done time in prison for a charge involving guns. He also said that Eain was telling him stories about being sexually molested. Another time he told me that he had a 6-year-old daughter who had died,” McCarthy said.
Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda, who said Kuzdzal gave a statement implicating himself in the boy’s death, confirmed Kuzdzal had been arrested on numerous occasions.
Past news stories show Kuzdzal was sentenced to prison on a weapons charge.
At times, Kuzdzal and his friends gathered on his front porch and smoked marijuana, neighbors said. The neighbors were afraid to call police, fearing him and his friends.
On his social media page, Kuzdzal posted photographs of a marijuana plant from his backyard. One of the captions beneath it stated: “Our other baby! Lol cant wait gonna be super piff! – feeling excited.”
He also posted a message condemning men who beat women and displayed a photograph of himself kissing his pregnant girlfriend’s stomach with a caption stating: “Me kissing amillianna daddy loves his lil girl! — feeling blessed.”
The tender image was a sharp contrast to the often-bruised Eain, who had won the hearts of neighbors on Albany Street.
On several occasions Eain would have bruises and black-and-blue marks either on his neck or face, the neighbors said.
“One time I asked Matt about three marks on Eain’s neck. They were bruises. He said Eain fell in the bathtub,” Monteleone said.
McCarthy said she was upset when she spotted a mark below the boy’s eye.
“Eain told me he got punched in the eye at school,” McCarthy said.
Eain, who was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, attended a preschool program at a Gateway Longview facility, according to his family.
At a birthday party last June for a baby on the block, Eain was there and had a bruise on his forehead.
The excuse that time was that Eain had been bouncing on a bed and slammed his head, Monteleone recalled.
Then around midsummer, Kuzdzal started accusing neighbors of reporting him to Child Protective Services for child abuse.
None of this surprises Robin Hart, the maternal grandmother, who lives in Buffalo’s Lovejoy neighborhood.
“CPS dropped the ball last March. I told the caseworker Kuzdzal had physically abused Eain four different times,” Hart said.
“He told me he did not see any signs of abuse. Every time Eain was hurt, it was when he was alone with Matt. Matt kept coming up with lies, and the CPS worker believed him.”
“I called CPS, my son called CPS, my brother called CPS, and the teachers at Gateway Longview called,” Hart said, breaking down and sobbing several times. “My daughter Nora was constantly asking Eain if Matt was hitting him, and Eain would not say. Matt had scared Eain.”
“I am not condemning the CPS system. Any system that tries to protect children is good. What I am saying is investigate the people from the system who failed Eain,” Hart said.
“I wish they could charge him with first-degree murder and execute him,” she said of Kuzdzal. Erie County officials declined to comment specifically on the case, except to acknowledge they are investigating the boy’s death.
Peter Anderson, spokesman for County Executive Mark Poloncarz, issued this statement:
“There are currently two ongoing investigations into this tragic death, one being conducted by Child Protective Services, as required by law, and one a criminal investigation.
“We are prohibited by law from commenting on any aspects of this case at this time, or for that matter any other CPS case. Like all people, we grieve the passing of this child, and we thank the Buffalo Police Department for its rapid, professional response and quick arrest in this matter.”
Eain had gone with his mother to the doctor’s office to follow the progress of his unborn sister, Hart said.
“He listened to the baby’s heartbeat and saw a sonogram of her. He also helped in naming her. The baby’s name is Amillianna Jade Irene Brooks. Eain picked the name Jade. Every night he would hug his mother’s tummy and say, ‘Good night, Amillianna Jade Irene Brooks. He couldn’t wait to be her big brother,” Hart said.
Funeral services for Eain are set for 11 a.m. Saturday in the Rhoney Funeral Home, 5893 Hoover Road, Sanborn.
A fund will soon be started at Citizens Bank for contributions to assist victims of child abuse, Hart said.