Family Secrets: Life with Kenny Lain
PLYMOUTH, Ind. – For the last month, the ABC57 News team has been following the case of Mercedes Lain, the 11-month-old found in a forest off a country road in Starke County.
Currently, the baby's parents, Kenny Lain and Tiffany Coburn, along with her babysitter, Justin Miller, are in jail. Lain and Coburn are charged with neglect of a dependent, and Miller is charged with murder.
ABC57 was the first to uncover Kenny Lain's past, and that he'd been charged with neglect of a dependent before in regards to his daughter from a prior relationship. At the time, we were careful not to report that person's name. But now, Lain's estranged daughter is speaking out and sat down with us for on-camera interview.
She details what life with her father was really like and adds details not in the 2015 Knox Police report that describes what Kenny and Mary Lain's, Paige's biological parents, neglect charges stems from. In that report, police said, in exchange for drugs, Kenny and Mary Lain allowed a 20-year-old man to sexually abuse and impregnate their 12-year-old daughter.
Paige Hodge, formerly Paige Lain, discussed that with us, as well as new details in the timeline of Mercedes' disappearance.
We want to warn you, this story is graphic and for victims of sexual abuse and assault, what you read and hear in the video (above) may be triggering.
Part 1: Life with Lain
Before Paige was even a teenager, she says she was forced to drink alcohol as young as age eight. She says it was any alcohol her parents could find.
She was also forced to take drugs
"They got a kick out of watching us be, you know, messed up," Paige Hodge says of her parents and their other partners.
Hodge says she was forced into sexual encounters with an adult multiple times, and even subjected to violence.
"I’ve been punched in the face by Kenny (Lain)," Hodge adds.
All this happened by the time Hodge was just 12-years-old in the home she lived with her biological parents.
"I just remember not ever thinking anything was going to be normal," Hodge says during our interview in park in Plymouth.
It was just seven years ago that Paige was living her parents Kenny and Mary Lain. She describes a nightmare that left her pregnant and in a foster home at the age of 13.
"Adults aren’t supposed to kiss you, they aren’t supposed to touch you , they aren’t supposed to do any of that," Paige Hodge says.
On Christmas Eve in 2014, Knox Police opened an investigation into what was going on inside the Lain household.
"I found out that I was pregnant in November," Hodge says.
According to the Knox Police report, DNA samples were taken and police determined 20-year-old Angel Delapaz was the father. Delapaz was the cousin of one of Mary Lain's co-workers.
Back in October of 2014, an arrangement was made between the Lain's and Delapaz.
"In exchange for letting him live there and continue the relationship with me, he had set bills that he had to pay and set things that he had to give Kenny and Mary, which were drugs," Hodge explains.
The Knox-investigation confirms this, both in admissions from Mary Lain and from Cody Byrn, Mary's then-boyfriend, who also lived with the family at the time.
"I had voiced what happened to both Mary, Kenny, and Cody – so all three of them," Hodge says. "Mary’s exact response was ‘you’re going to continue to do it.’"
Delapaz was even allowed by the Lains to sleep in Hodge's bed with her.
The report says Kenny was questioned about Paige's pregnancy from a Starke County jail cell, where he was being held in February 2015 on a community corrections violation. At the time, he told investigators, while he knew Paige was pregnant, he didn't know Delapaz, adding his daughter "wasn't with any adults."
But Paige tells a different story, saying her parents even wanted her to get an abortion after it was discovered that she was pregnant.
"I didn’t want to do that," Hodge says. "I didn’t know what that was, I didn’t know what that would be. I already didn’t understand being pregnant."
Eventually, Paige had the baby, a boy named Oakley, but they were separated when he was born.
Kenny and Mary were later convicted of neglect in the Delapaz situation. Kenny was sentenced to two years behind bars, while Mary got 18 months probation.
Delapaz was given an eight year punishment, including two years of which was behind bars in prison.
Paige was adopted by a new family when she was 16, and eventually she got her son back.
At that park bench in Plymouth, Paige, now looking back, says she believes the Indiana Department of Child Services failed her and her two sisters. She says DCS should have removed them all from the home much sooner.
"Multiple CPS cases that were opened and then they’d just get closed," Paige recalls. "My little sister got a vacuum thrown at her. It hit her in the face. She had to go to the hospital and get it glued shut and everything, but when CPS got involved, they said they couldn’t do anything because it didn’t leave bruises."
Paige remembers her parents lying to DCS to cover up the abuse and protect each other.
After the nightmare ended for Paige, she refused to contact Kenny Lain for years, but she says she always worried his other kids might be suffering through the same situation.
Then, her half-sister Mercedes went missing.
It began with a Silver Alert. The moment Paige saw it, she called Tiffany Coburn, Mercedes' mother.
"This was Sunday (Aug.15)," Paige recalls. "I called at 11:36 p.m."
Paige says Kenny Lain answered and she hung up, not wanting to talk to him. But then he called back.
"It seems like there’s no way to avoid talking to Kenny if I want to figure out what happened," Hodge says.
On the second phone call, Paige says Kenny told her Justin Miller, who Paige knew growing up and said of Miller, she was surprised he would be involved in Mercedes' death, took Mercedes to babysit her of Thursday, August 12, but Mercedes was supposed to be back for a birthday party the following day.
"She wasn’t supposed to be gone any longer than that," Hodge says.
The Marshall County Prosecutor's Office tells a story. Investigators believe Mercedes went with Miller on Friday because Kenny and Tiffany could "have a break."
Kenny also told Paige that he and Tiffany tried to find Miller and Mercedes when they didn't return as scheduled. But when Paige asked more questions, Kenny changed the subject and asked her how she was doing.
"It seemed to me like he didn’t care," Paige says.
Paige hung up on Kenny, not wanting to talk to him.
Police and investigators say it was difficult to reach and locate Kenny and Tiffany while 11-month-old Mercedes was missing.
The morning of August 19, at a news conference at the Marshall County Sheriff's Department, Marshall County Prosecutor Nelson Chipman said, "It took some effort to find them (Kenny and Tiffany)."
But Paige was quickly able to get ahold of them twice. Despite talking to Kenny while Mercedes was missing, Paige says she was never contacted by police or the FBI, who were also involved in the search for Mercedes.
ABC57 Investigates sat down with Paige to conduct our interview the day Mercedes' death was announced.
"I’m so mad right now and it’s probably why I haven’t been able to cry," Paige said.
Court documents show Justin Miller claims he woke up sometime on Saturday, August 14 at a residence in Mishawaka to find Mercedes already dead. Merecedes' autopsy report shows she died of blunt force trauma.
"This would’ve never happened if they didn’t leave their child in the care of somebody who went out of their way to hurt this child," Paige says.
But her anger isn't just with Kenny and Tiffany.
"DCS should be held to the same account," Paige Hodge says.
And as court proceeding against Lain, Coburn, and Miller begin soon, the community, and Paige, might finally get some answers.
"I see Mercedes in my son... we all look alike," Paige says.
We reached out to DCS for more information on the Lain family's cases and specific statistics on the number of cases across the state.
DCS says it can't comment on the Lain family due to confidentiality regulations in Indiana Child Fatality Statutes.
We also gave the agency the chance to respond to Paige's claims, which others in Marshall County have expressed, that DCS fails children and leaves them in dangerous situations.
The agency did not answer that questions, but it did give us the statistics we asked for.
Part 2: DCS
Paige and her sisters all experienced abuse at the hands of their parents. Paige says that abuse continued because of cracks in the system. So we asked DCS and the Indiana State Personnel Department questions about children in the foster care system, open cases, and the number of case workers.
Here's what we found.
Paige was adopted by a new family, the Hodges, on October 10, 2018. She says being adopted was life-changing, but getting there was long journey.
"They (DCS) didn’t even remove me when they found out I was pregnant by someone over the age," Paige Hodge says.
She says it took her parents, Kenny and Mary Lain, to fail a drug test for DCS to remove her and her two sister from the home.
The girls lived in three foster homes together before being separated. Paige was also separated from her son, Oakley, the child fathered by the family friend Kenny and Mary Lain let live in their house with Paige when she was a child.
"Really nobody wanted all three of us – all four of us – me, my sisters, and Oakley," Paige says she was told.
But the four of them are just one example of the thousands of cases DCS is managing all at the same time.
As of July 2021, DCS says it had 18,123 open cases and, of those, 11,377 children were in foster care. In Starke County, where Paige's case was handled, DCS currently has 83 open cases. In Marshall County, where Mercedes died, DCS currently has 60 children in the system.
According to the Indiana State Personnel Department, there are 2,292 Family Case Managers at DCS with 160 in training.
The number of case managers varies by county. In Starke County, DCS says there are 15 and in Marshall County, there are 13.
Below is a direct passage from DCS on how many children or families one Family Case Manager can monitor.
Best-practice caseload standards are set by Indiana statute. SECTION 2. IC 31-25-2-5, AS AMENDED BY P.L.128-2012, SECTION 86:
Sec. 5. (a) The department shall ensure that the department maintains staffing levels of family case managers so that each region has enough family case managers to allow caseloads to be at no more than: (1) twelve (12) active cases relating to initial assessments, including investigations of an allegation of child abuse or neglect; or (2) twelve (12) families monitored and supervised in active cases relating to ongoing in-home services; or (3) thirteen (13) children monitored and supervised in active cases relating to ongoing services who are in out-of-home placements.
So, based on all the numbers we were given by DCS and the Personnel Department, in the state of Indiana, there's an average of eight kids, or families, under monitoring per case worker.
But despite coming in under DCS standards, Paige still says the system failed her and her family, and that failure extends to her half sister Mercedes Lain.
"It definitely failed Mercedes and it failed her family and it failed her siblings," Paige says.
Back in July, DCS sent Kenny Lain and Tiffany Coburn notices that the agency would be conducting an investigation due to a report of neglect or abuse. It had 40 days from July 21, the day the notices were issued, to complete the assessment, but 28 days later, Mercedes was dead.
Mercedes' aunt, Stacy Milton, and grandmother, Angie Owens, agree, DCS failed their family.
"They were called several times," Milton says. "They should’ve taken her out of that situation a long time ago."
In fact, Milton and Owens say they've been calling DCS about Kenny and Tiffany's three kids since Tiffany was pregnant with the first one. Owens adds she's called DCS multiple times about Mercedes alone.
"I know I called at least eight times," Owens says.
I asked Owens specifically why she called DCS.
"I heard there was drug use in there, she was never clean," Owens recalls.
Milton chimed in about the state of the room, which ABC57 Investigates saw with our own eyes during our investigation.
"I knew the way they were, I knew they weren’t parent-material," Owens says.
Owens says she and others told Tiffany while she was pregnant with Mercedes that family in Indianapolis was willing to take her.
"Adopt her and give her a loving home and Tiffany wouldn’t hear of it," Owens says.
Owens even says other people at the Economy Inn in Plymouth, where Kenny and Tiffany were staying, called DCS on them too.
"It’s just aggravating that they got so many calls and they failed every time," Milton says. "They had several chances to take her out of that environment and they chose not to."
Below is a direct quote from DCS regarding when Family Case Managers can take children out of homes:
1. A reasonable person would believe the child’s physical or mental condition is seriously impaired or seriously endangered due to injury by the act or omission of the child's parent, guardian, or custodian; or
2. The child's physical or mental condition is seriously impaired or seriously endangered as a result of the inability, refusal, or neglect of the child's parent, guardian, or custodian to supply the child with necessary food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, or supervision; and
3. The coercive intervention of the court is needed to protect the child.
Paige says despite her past, it's made her stronger and she wants others who have gone through the system to know they're not alone.
"DCS hasn’t just failed us, it’s failed a lot of other kids as well," Paige says.
Hodge, Milton, and Owens say they hope their tragedies inspire change to keep kids safe in the future.
You might be wondering about Paige's sisters from Kenny and Mary Lain's relationship. Paige says they've moved out of the state.
Again, we reached out to DCS several times with questions about the Lain family, but DCS told us no one could talk per confidentiality statues. We also gave the agency the opportunity to respond to claims it fails families. It didn't answer that question.
We'll be following Tiffany Coburn, Kenny Lain, and Justin Miller's cases closely and we'll have updates along the way.
But we also want to hear from you if you were in the foster care system or if you're a current or former case manager. Tell us about your experience at [email protected].