Tina Vanguilder says child-protection workers are unfairly trying to remove her blind, terminally ill son from a perfectly normal home.
The South Buffalo mother says she will fight the workers as she disputed police contentions that her live-in boyfriend forced food down the boy's throat as he slept Sunday night. She insisted that the boy willingly ate a piece of hamburger that Gregory T. Gorney fed to him.
"The child-protection workers are using petty little baloney to break up my home," Ms. Vanguilder said. "Sure, Greg drinks on football nights, but every man does. He doesn't lose his temper; he gets louder when he drinks."
Her son, Walter Vanguilder, 15, remained in stable condition Tuesday night in Children's Hospital, where he was taken several hours after the feeding incident.
Police arrested the boy's mother and Gorney after interviewing a nurse caring for the child in their Colgate Avenue home. The nurse witnessed the food incident, according to authorities.
Ms. Vanguilder said her son gets nourishment three times a day through a tube in his stomach but also eats.
"Wally eats both ways. He has three meals a day through the tube in his stomach, and he also eats with his mouth," said Ms. Vanguilder, who was released without bail Monday from the Erie County Holding Center.
She said in an interview Tuesday that she has provided a good home for Walter, who has an inoperable brain tumor, and her other son, William, 13, who now lives with her mother, Rose Wils, on Hopkins Street.
Ms. Vanguilder, 32, downplayed reports of frequent police visits to her residence, the recent removal of two shotguns from the house and excessive drinking by Gorney, 36.
Her neighbors, however, described the last few months as a hellish summer on the usually quiet block. When Gorney was seen on the porch drinking, neighbors said, they knew that they were in for a night of loud voices and fighting.
"One night about 2 a.m., the police came and a woman was screaming outside the house, 'Lock
him up and I'll sign the papers. He threatened to kill my children,' " said a neighbor, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Ms. Vanguilder recalled the night:
"Greg's sister was visiting, and she was down in the basement. She and the kids were singing happy birthday to one of the younger children, and Greg was trying to watch a movie upstairs.
"He yelled down, 'If you kids don't shut up, I'll shoot a hole in the floor, and then you'll all shut up.' Well, the night nurse caring for Wally panicked and called the police. That's when the guns were taken away."
Ms. Vanguilder acknowledged that there have been problems between Gorney and her son William.
"There's big-time jealousy because Billy feels Mom gives Greg more attention, and Billy feels he doesn't get enough," Ms. Vanguilder said.
Neighbors say both the mother and the boyfriend have mistreated William, a seventh-grader in a Buffalo public school.
"They'd swear at him and call him fat. One time, the mother swung her fists at him in front of a crowd of children after one of them complained about Billy, and then the mother said to the kids, 'Are you happy? I kicked his ass right in front of you.' "
Another time, neighbors recalled, Gorney stood outside screaming that he would kill someone if William did not put his bicycle in the garage.
"The thing was, there is no garage at the house," the neighbor said.
Ms. Vanguilder dismissed neighbors' observations, saying Gorney is not violent.
"Greg once broke doors in the house because he thought I was with another guy. But I was out at the store buying milk," she said.
She added that she is upset that Erie County child-protection workers have notified her that they are seeking to remove her ailing son from her custody.
"I just got him back in February after he was taken from me by child protection. I want to get it all back to normal, Greg going to counseling and working, Billy going to school, and Wally and me together all day," Ms. Vanguilder said.
That may take some doing.
Gorney is in the Holding Center on felony charges in Sunday's arrest, and William remains at Mrs. Wils' home.
Child-protection officials declined to comment, citing confidentiality laws.
Erie County Social Services Commissioner Deborah A. Merrifield said that the county "means business" when it seeks a court order of protection.
She also noted that while it is the county's responsibility to make sure that a child is safe, it is "ultimately up to a judge to order the removal of a child from his or her home."
The Family Court order was issued earlier this month directing Ms. Vanguilder and Gorney to refrain from harming the two boys.
Police on Tuesday continued to express concern about the Vanguilder family situation, despite the court order instructing the mother and boyfriend not to harm the boys.
"Those kids should not go back," a police officer said.