Bryan Keith Allen Jr. lived through a tragedy for at least two days, not knowing who to turn to. And he is only 4 years old.
“Mom, wake up! I’m hungry,” he would call out.
Other tenants in the three-unit apartment building on East Delavan where he and his mother lived occasionally heard Bryan call out he was hungry. But the boy would quiet down, so neighbors did not think too much of it. Kids are always hungry, they reasoned.
Then, a week ago Friday, a terrible discovery was made.
The boy’s mother was dead.
“He thought she was sleeping,” Community Police Lt. Steve Nichols said. “He had been living off of milk and maple syrup.”
Police credit a Rent-A-Center worker with possibly saving the boy’s life. Taijuan Littleton drove to the family’s apartment to follow up on a previously scheduled appointment that Friday.
When Littleton arrived at the apartment on the 1300 block of East Delavan Avenue, he knocked at the door, but Shaleena Hamilton, a longtime customer of his, did not answer.
From behind the door, Littleton could hear the voice of her son. Rather than leave, Littleton engaged Bryan in conversation, though the boy refused to open the door.
“Littleton said he heard the boy talking to his mother,” Homicide Detective Sgt. Jim Dunham said. “He asked the boy to open the door, but he didn’t. Littleton then looked through the window and saw the mother lying on the floor at the foot of the stairs. At that point, Littleton called 911. He also asked the boy again to open the door, and he did.”
Realizing that the 43-year-old mother was dead, Littleton ushered the boy from the apartment.
“He took him into his work truck and comforted the child until the police arrived,” the detective sergeant said.
Bryan was cold, so when Littleton took him to the his work truck, he wrapped the boy in a cover and turned on the heat in the vehicle.
“The boy could have been there for countless more days, if not for the action of this individual,” Dunham said.
As for Littleton, he explained: “Any decent human being would have done the same. I don’t think I did anything special.”
Northeast District patrol officers who responded called the Homicide Bureau. Detectives David Rambino and Mark White, along with Dunham, arrived and began their investigation in an effort to determine how and when Hamilton died.
In speaking with other apartment building residents and friends of Hamilton, they determined she was last seen alive on Tuesday, Dec. 1.
The Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office also helped solve the mystery. The staff conducted an autopsy and ruled Bryan’s mother had died of natural causes, probably within 48 hours of Littleton’s discovery.
“Because the medical examiner performed the autopsy right away, we were able to learn that she died of natural causes and we did not have to secure the scene,” Dunham said.
Homicide Detective Scott Malec located Bryan’s father and told him what had happened. The father then went to Women & Children’s Hospital to be with his son. Bryan had been taken there for a check-up. The boy was in good health and has been placed with relatives.
“Bryan was a little disheveled, but anyone at 4 years old living alone for two days would be,” Dunham said.
The case has stuck with homicide detectives. They investigate all kinds of heartbreaking situations and cope with them. But the thought of a little boy alone with his dead mother, drinking milk and maple syrup to survive, especially touched them.
So they reached out to Nichols, who is known in the department for finding ways to promote good will between police and the citizens.
“The homicide detectives said to me, if ever there was a situation where someone was in need, this child qualifies,” said Nichols.
He went into action, making arrangements to purchase a two-wheel bicycle for the child with money from a special grant designated to assist community members.
But the detectives wanted to do even more to make Bryan feel special.
So at 11:30 a.m. Monday in the academy on the second floor of Buffalo Police Headquarters, a reception for Bryan and his family will be held where the shiny new bicycle will be presented.
Police also are appealing to the public to help make Bryan’s first Christmas without his mother special.
“Anyone who wants to donate a present can at Police Headquarters or at our district stations,” Nichols said. “This is about trying to make a nice Christmas for this boy.”
Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda commended the detectives and Nichols for going the extra step.
“This young child went through a tragic experience,” Derenda said. “Hopefully, the bicycle can take his mind off recent events, if only for a little while.”