Fired DFCS worker tells I-Team she didn’t handle rolling pin beating case, but got the ax anyway

A fired state social worker says she’s a scapegoat in the death of an 8-year-old Gwinnett County girl, with the agency that terminated her now looking into her side of the story.

In an exclusive interview with the FOX 5 I-Team, Alexandria Armah said it was her superiors in the Gwinnett office of the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services who made the decision to close an earlier investigation into the deceased girl’s family. Not her, she said, nor the case manager she supervised, who also lost her job.

"Literally, I feel like my name was tarnished," said Armah, 31, who worked seven years for DFCS and had been promoted to supervisor in October. 

Alexandria Armah, 31, who DFCS fired on Feb. 15 after the death of an 8-year-old girl, said her name has been tarnished even though she was barely involved in an earlier investigation into the deceased girl's family. (FOX 5)

The I-Team wasn’t able to verify Armah’s account because the file provided by DFCS on Sayra Barros’ Jan. 30 death contained heavy redactions, with dozens of pages entirely blacked out. It’s not clear in the records who acted as supervisor on the prior complaint, or who approved closing the case a little more than a month before the child died – allegedly beaten to death by her stepmother with a wooden rolling pin.

The I-Team asked DFCS’s state office about Armah’s story, and an agency spokeswoman sent a written statement: "We take this matter very seriously and are reviewing it."

Told of Alexandria Armah's version of events leading up to her firing, the state DFCS office said in a statement, "We take this matter very seriously and are reviewing it." (FOX 5)

FOX 5 first reported on the firings in mid-March. Personnel records obtained from DFCS show that an internal review in the days following Sayra Barros’ beating death faulted both Armah and Case Manager Shetial Wingard for mishandling a prior complaint about Sayra’s parents.

The girl’s father, Cledir Barros, 37, and stepmother, Natiela Barros, 34, are both charged in her killing, being held in the Gwinnett County jail without bond. A bond hearing for the father earlier this month revealed new details about the prior DFCS complaint, which was apparently far more explicit than the account provided to the I-Team by DFCS through an open records request.

Cledir Barros (left) and Natiela Barros are both being held in the Gwinnett County jail without bond, charged in the killing of 8-year-old Sayra Barros. (FOX 5)

The account in the redacted records quoted an unidentified tipster saying the father "states the child had two personalities and was causing a problem with his current marriage due to her being born out of wedlock."

According to the allegation, Sayra’s father "referred to the child as a demon" and "admitted that the (stepmother) loses her cool and disciplines the child inappropriately causing bruising."

The latest account of that complaint, though, raises more questions about why and how the prior case was closed.

Statements made by a prosecutor in a bond hearing revealed that a Nov. 14 complaint about Sayra Barros' parents, described in this passage from DFCS records, came from her school, Harbins Elementary. The DFCS investigation into the complaint was clos

The complaint came from Sayra’s school, Harbins Elementary, reporting that her father told school personnel the girl "had demons in her because she was born out of wedlock," Gwinnett County Assistant District Attorney Megan Matteucci said during a bond hearing this month.

"The victim child had gone to school with visible injuries on her head and other body parts on numerous occasions," Matteucci told a judge. "In one incident, she had been pushed by her stepmother, the co-defendant, and she fell down the stairs. But (her father) told her to say that she fell in her bedroom."

A makeshift memorial has been set up outside the home on Vine Springs Trace in Gwinnett County, where Sayra Barros, 8, allegedly suffered a fatal beating on Jan. 30. (FOX 5)

When the school confronted the father about Sayra coming to school with injuries, he pulled her out of school so his wife could homeschool her, according to the prosecutor.

A spokesman said in a written statement that Gwinnett County Public Schools can't comment on an open criminal investigation, but "we can confirm that a review of the case establishes that GCPS educators complied with their mandatory reporting obligation."

The DFCS complaint was closed after 38 days. The agency previously told the I-Team that the case manager found no evidence of abuse or neglect, and her supervisor approved closing the case.

Then on Jan. 30, "the wife struck the child ten to twenty times on the back of the head, neck and arms with a wooden rolling pin," Matteucci said. "Instead of calling 911, this defendant, Cledir Barros, told his wife to pray about it.

"Cledir Barros arrived home and saw the unresponsive child," the prosecutor said. "He then prayed for about another 20 minutes before he eventually called 911 at 2:16 in the afternoon, which was about two hours later after the child went unresponsive."

Matteucci, who heads the DA’s office’s special victims unit, added, "The investigation found that the victim child could have been saved if she had received medical attention sooner."

In an email recommending Armah and Wingard be fired, then-Gwinnett DFCS Director Travis Moses cited a "pattern of closing … cases (particularly when child vulnerability is high) without fully assessing for safety of the children," saying they should be let go for "reckless assessment decisions/conduct." 

Moses, now a DFCS regional director, said the review found three other cases that needed to be reopened. Wingard’s termination papers cited several policy violations, including falsifying records.

Fired DFCS supervisor Alexandria Armah told the I-Team "no decision is made by just two people" at the agency's Gwinnett County office. (FOX 5)

Armah said none of that makes sense. She said as far as she knew, Wingard – who had only been with DFCS for six months – had spoken to the family, as well as to Sayra, and was being guided by her superiors in the Gwinnett office.

"No decision is made by just two people," Armah said. "Any decision to close a case, or to move forward with anything, or place in other services – those directives come from above me."

What’s more, Armah said that during most of the investigation into the Barros family, she wasn’t even in Gwinnett County, but in a classroom at a technical college in Griffin for mandatory supervisor training. She said the training lasted until Jan. 4, almost two weeks after the Barros case was closed.

"In the weeks that I was in training, there would be another supervisor that would be there to supervise her," Armah said. "There was also administration that was involved in her reporting."

So who closed the case? Armah wouldn’t say.

Ex-DFCS supervisor Alexandria Armah said that for most of the time a prior complaint into the Barros family was being investigated, she wasn’t in Gwinnett County, but in a classroom at a technical college in Griffin for mandatory supervisor training.

"I feel like if another investigation was to happen, they would figure that out," Armah told FOX 5. "I’m not here for vengeance or anything like that. I’m just here to set the record straight."

The I-Team reached out to Armah before the first story about her firing aired March 14, but she declined to comment. "I wanted to gather myself," she said.

Armah first went to work for DFCS in 2016, soon after graduating from the University of West Georgia with a psychology degree. After leaving DFCS in November 2021, the agency re-hired her the following September.

She's raising two sons on her own, and had just been promoted to supervisor in October. She says the loss of her career has been devastating.

Alexandria Armah first went to work for the state Division of Family and Children Services, whose Gwinnett County headquarters is pictured here, in 2016. (FOX 5)

"I’m calling for them to go back, dive in, ask those questions," Armah told the I-Team. "If they want to still call me in, I’ll talk. I’m here. My life has been turned around through all of this."

Wingard, the former case manager, has not responded to messages from the I-Team.