Five-year-old Kenneth White lived in a trailer in Albany, New York, with his 19-year-old cousin, Tiffany VanAlstyne, Tiffany’s mother, Brenda, and his two younger sisters. The children’s parents had lost custody of them because of deplorable conditions at the home and custody was granted to Brenda.
At approximately 1:15PM on the 18th of December, 2014, Tiffany called 911 and told the dispatcher that two masked men had burst into the home, restrained her and drove away with Kenneth. At the time, Tiffany was looking after Kenneth and his two sisters alone while Brenda was out running an errand. It wasn’t uncommon for Tiffany to look after the children on her own.
A search party was immediately assembled consisting of both concerned locals and police while an Amber Alert was declared. The search continued into the night and at around 9PM, a sniffer dog picked up a scent and directed police straight to Kenneth’s body.1
Kenneth would be found in a culvert, partially buried underneath snow, around 100 meters away from the trailer he had shared with his family. Around his body police found footprints leading back to the trailer. It was quite evident that these footprints matched the boots that Tiffany was wearing when police arrived to take her statement after calling 911…
Just the following day, it would be announced that Tiffany had been arrested and charged with second-degree murder. In addition to the footprint evidence, investigators had become suspicious when they interviewed Tiffany and she said several things which didn’t quite add up.
Tiffany confessed that she had beaten and strangled the young boy after becoming infuriated that he kept giving her the wrong answers for his homework. She claimed she had blacked out and when she came to, she was strangling him. She stated: “I just threw him and I left him there and put some snow on him.” Tiffany also said that she thought Kenneth may have let out a cry but she didn’t call 911, she simply left him to die.
Kenneth’s autopsy would show that there was also evidence of blunt force trauma to his head which had occurred before he was strangled. Tiffany would state during her interview that she wished she could take back what she had done: “I think I’m a piece of shit right now, a lowlife, to do that to a kid who can’t even fight back or something…”2
Tiffany would ultimately plead guilty to second-degree murder. She had agreed to the plea deal in exchange for an 18-year prison sentence. She had been facing a sentence of 25 years to life in prison. Her defence would state that she had stopped taking medication for bipolar disorder and hadn’t slept for days when she snapped and killed Kenneth. In handing down the sentence, the judge said: “It is a tragedy because this never should have happened.”
After pleading guilty, Tiffany was given the opportunity to speak. She became emotional as she stated: “I want to say that those kids meant the world to me and I loved them very much. I loved Kenneth with all my heart and the girls too. He was my little buddy and will always be in my heart. I’m so, so sorry for what I did. I just wish I could take it all back but I can’t.”
Tiffany’s family, including Kenneth’s own mother, Christine, would stand by Tiffany. Outside of court, Christine would say that she loved her son more than anything in the world but she also loved her niece: “People need to realize the kind of girl that Tiffany really was with my children – because she was good with them. This is a tragedy and it hurts that nobody understands truly the person she really was.”3
A judge later ruled that the two sisters of Kenneth had also been abused while living with the family. The youngest girl, who was described as being developmentally delayed, suffered a beating with a large object. He said that they too had been beaten by Tiffany but added that Brenda had used corporal punishment to discipline the children. On several occasions, the children had begged their birth mother not to return them to the trailer because Tiffany hit them. Christine and the children’s father would also admit to neglect in Albany County Family Court. After the murder of Kenneth, his two younger sisters would be removed from the home and taken in by child protection services. Their great-aunt, Michelle Sweet, would be granted custody of the girls
In death, Kenneth received much more love and respect than he did during his short life. The community provided an outpouring of support and a support group named “Kenneth’s Army” was even established in his honour.