A fellow used to stand outside the courthouse every morning. He was at the losing end of a custody battle, and carried signs that lambasted several county judges, as well as Children and Youth. Though likable, he was generally regarded with healthy skepticism. The same is true of child abuse awareness groups that occasionally gather outside the courthouse. But now that a former adoption supervisor in Northampton County has been charged with participating in the rape, murder and dismemberment of her own adopted daughter, the public is going to feel far less confident in the caseworkers at the county's Children,Youth and Families (CYF) division. Instead of assuring the public that what happened is an aberration, Executive John Brown has circled the wagons and has directed his staff to clam up. This is a disservice to the public he represents, as well as the many good people in CYF who work under him.
It's a case so bizarre it could be turned into a Netflix movie. Sara Packer was supposed to be the kind of person who looks after children, instead of participating in a scheme to rape and murder them. She had two adopted children herself. Her daughter Grace was adopted in Berks County. She was also, from time to time, a foster parent. She was unable to foster any children in Northampton County once she started working there in 2003, but she did foster about 30 children from other counties. Eventually, she became an adoption supervisor in Northampton County. But all that came to an end in 2010, when she was suspended without pay and terminated.
Shortly thereafter, her husband at that time, David Packer, was charged with sexually abusing an adopted daughter and a foster child in 2010. He and Sara were Grace's adoptive parents, so it's safe to assume he abused Grace when she was about nine. Packer was sentenced to one to five years in jail in Lehigh County, and was classified as a sexually violent predator.
After losing her job, it's unclear what Sara did until September 2015, when she began working for The Results Company, a corporate call center.
Eventually, she had a new boyfriend named Jake Sullivan, who is originally from Wisconsin. According to what Sullivan has now told police, she and he cooked up a plot to drug, rape and then kill 14 year-old Grace. He had sexually abused her before, performing oral sex on her twice. This time, he would rape her as well, while the former adoption supervisor watched and was sexually aroused as he bit the semi-conscious child's breast.
After it was over, they gave her more pills, hoping they would kill her. She threw up instead. So they just left her in the third floor attic, bound and gagged, figuring the heat would do her in. But a few hours later, when she was still alive and conscious, Sullivan wrapped his arm around her face and neck, "and slowly squeezed the life out of her."
Obviously, she suffered horribly.
The child was packed in kitty litter while Sara eventually went to Tractor Supply for a bow saw and two extra blades. She and Sullivan eventually cut up the desiccated remains, which were found by hunters in Luzerne County on Halloween Day 2016.
Though Sara Packer had reported that her daughter was missing, she made no frantic pleas on Facebook about her, something that people usually do if they're even missing a pet. She told police she had notified all her relatives, but they soon discovered that was untrue.
As a result of intense pressure from the police, Packer and Sullivan entered into a new pact. This time it was a suicide pact. They would both overdose on sleeping pills, and took them at the home of another of Sullivan's girlfriends. He left a note."I can't exist with Sara in jail and those fucking lying pigs and the whore media have made it impossible for us to live."
But he didn't die. The other girlfriend found him, and called police. A few hours later, she called again. Sara was in another room, and had taken pills, too, but not as many. Had Jake Sullivan died, the one witness who could clearly inculpate her would be out of the picture. But he lived, and now he's sorry.
The Northampton County connection was first made by NBC10’s Deanna Durante on December 28, but was completely missed by the dailies until yesterday. If they had any real integrity themselves, they would have given Durante credit because they never would have known about this but for her own hard work.
The county stonewalled multiple calls from Durante about Parker, even though Parker was discharged long before John Brown became Executive. I was waiting for Durante to appear before the Council's Human Services Committee later this month, something she was considering in her quest for information.
I understand the unwillingness to discuss someone's employment, even though the rules are different for a public sector employee. We have a right to know when a person was hired and why she was fired. We have the right to know how much she was paid. But there are bigger concerns. A prosecution like this destroys the public's confidence in our child protective services program. It tarnishes every person who works in CYF or Human Services, no matter how dedicated. By refusing to address this crisis, Brown has validated every criticism made of the department.
I understand that he's in Florida. If he can't return, he needs someone who can speak for him and address the public on the following matters:
- The County needs to review every case on which Sara Packer worked, and should be able to either confirm that nothing inappropriate happened,or that corrective action has been taken.
- The County needs to make the public aware of what kind of training CYF workers receive after they are hired.
- The County needs to assure the public that she was never a foster mother for any child in the Northampton County system because that is contrary to county policy.