REPUBLIC, Mo. — Within 12 weeks, Cheryl Hodges lost two grandchildren.
The Ledger, Mont., resident barely had time to grieve the death of her 18-month-old grandson,Darby Hodges, in Kalispell, Mont., when her step-granddaughter, 4-year-old Kiera Pulaski, died in Republic, Mo., in 2010.
Authorities could find no wrongdoing and left the cause of each death undetermined.
Hodges said she was worried about the safety of the children even before their deaths. When Kiera died, she started looking for answers.
She talked to investigators in two states. She pressed for records. She even enlisted the help of TV psychologist Phil McGraw, better known as Dr. Phil.
Her efforts have paid off, she said. Police investigations of both deaths have been reinvigorated and she hopes she'll soon know why — and specifically how — both children died.
At the time of the deaths, the Darby and Kiera were in the custody of their mother and her then-boyfriend, Codey Cummings. The children's mother, Julia Savage Hodges, was married to but separated from Cheryl Hodges' son, Tom. Julia Hodges is now married to Cummings.
Julia and Tom Hodges split in March 2010. Darby was found dead June 27, 2010, and Kiera died Sept. 17, 2010, after Julia Hodges and Cummings moved to Republic, about 15 miles from Springfield in southwestern Missouri.
The children had different fathers. Julia Hodges gave birth to Kiera before she and Tom Hodges got married. Darby was born to the couple soon after. Attempts to reach Julia and Codey Cummings, who still live in the Springfield, Mo., area, failed though the children's mother, her present husband and Cheryl and Tom Hodges are appearing together May 5 and 6 on Dr. Phil.
Darby died of an undetermined cause in an undetermined manner, according to comments from the Kalispell medical examiner in his autopsy report. He had multiple contusions and abrasions on his head, mild brain swelling and two broken ribs.
Kiera's "adult guardians" said she had fallen in the bathroom when she lost her footing, according to the Greene County, Mo., medical examiner's report.
That autopsy showed a "large subdural hematoma," or collection of blood on the brain, which the medical examiner noted didn't appear to match the explanation of Kiera's fall.
"This was a significant degree of trauma and appears disproportionate to fall as describe in the narrative," the doctor wrote. The report a
"This is suggestive of but not conclusive for possible abusive treatment," the report said. "The manner of death is, pending additional information, inconclusive."
The Republic Police Department began investigating Kiera's death the day she died, and an officer said Wednesday that the investigation is ongoing almost four years after the death.
Lt. Mark Wilcox of the Republic police said the department knew Darby had died a few months before Kiera.
"The circumstances surrounding the death of the two children had various similarities," Wilcox said in an e-mailed statement. "The case is still an active investigation and will remain as such until all leads have been exhausted."
Several local agencies have been called in over the course of the investigation to assist, as well as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, he said.
"It is my sincerest desire to see this case through to a successful conclusion for the families and victims of this tragedy," he said.
Wilcox said he sent the same statement to the Dr. Phil show.
Cheryl Hodges said Savage and her now-husband indicated on the show that they thought Kiera's autopsy was false because of incorrect dates.
Tom Van De Berg, chief investigator for the Greene County Medical Examiner's Office, said the original report had typographical errors that were corrected to reflect the true dates more than two years ago.
Hodges said she was pleased with how the show went and hopes it will lead to further investigation of her grandchildren's deaths.
"I'm really excited," she said. "I got answers on Dr. Phil. It was a good experience."