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Tuesday, Nov 26 2013 10:22 AM

Parents, relatives asking, 'Why?' as child's alleged killer appears in court

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Felix Adamo / The CalifornianAdrianna Brown, left, mother of Pharaoh Van Vactor, her mother Carol Roberson, center, and sister Shayla Stafford,talk about the death of the toddler who was allegedly killed by last week by Brown's boyfriend, Matthew Berry.

Felix Adamo / The CalifornianAdrianna Brown, left, mother of young murder victim Pharaoh Van Vactor, is consoled by sister Shayla Stafford as their mother, Carol Roberson, talks about the death of her grandson.

Felix Adamo / The CalifornianCarol Roberson, right, wonders how anyone could kill her young grandson Pharaoh Van Vactor. Second from left is Van Vactor's mother Adrianna Brown, third from left, Shayla Stafford, Van Vactor's aunt, and at left family friend Rhonda Frazier.

Felix Adamo / The CalifornianPharaoh Van Vactor, was allegedly killed by last week by his mother's boyfriend Matthew Berry.

Adrianna Brown named her son Pharaoh because she knew he would be her little king.

The 2-year-old lived up to the name. He liked to have things his way, even when it came to playing with other kids. But his sweetness could sway anyone, his grandmother, Carol Roberson, 53, recalled on Monday.

"Just that smile would win you over," Roberson said.

Roberson and Brown, 22, are still trying to figure out what happened to the little boy with the persuasive smile. Pharaoh Van Vactor's funeral will be held Wednesday, one week after a bus driver came upon the child and his mother's boyfriend beside a road outside California City.

The boy was pronounced dead and Brown's boyfriend, Mathew Berry, was detained when the bus stopped in downtown California City.

The coroner's office determined Pharoah died of blunt force trauma and Berry, 26, was arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder and assault of a child younger than age 8 resulting in death.

Berry kept his head down on Monday when he appeared briefly in Kern County Superior Court. His arraignment was postponed until Dec. 2 at 3 p.m.

"I just wanna know, 'Why?' ... I wanna ask this guy, 'Why?'" Roberson said standing in the courthouse lobby. She said she had a bad feeling about Berry because he couldn't maintain eye contact with her, but she never voiced her concerns.

Pharaoh's parents said they never suspected Berry might harm the boy.

"He seemed like a really nice guy," Brown said.

Brown and Berry dated for about five months after they met through a friend in California City. Brown said she didn't introduce Berry to her son until they had been together for two months and Berry was eager for Pharaoh to like him.

But sometimes Pharaoh didn't want to be around Berry. Brown said she thought her son was just agitated because he missed his father.

Pharaoh and Douglas "Rick" Van Vactor IIII were close. Van Vactor said even Berry acknowledged their bond and told Van Vactor that he could tell Pharaoh was a "daddy's boy."

"He told me that he could see ... how much we loved each other and that he would never do anything to come between us," Van Vactor said by phone.

Van Vactor, 41, said he lives in Los Angeles and works as a shuttle bus driver. He and Brown shared custody of Pharaoh, their only child together.

Van Vactor said he only saw Berry twice and Berry called him a couple times after they met for the first time about a month ago. One call was about Berry's relationship with Brown.

"(Their relationship) was kind of volatile. They argued all the time and stuff. But he never mentioned anything physical," Van Vactor said.

Brown said she and Berry had arguments. He could get very mad and would punch things, like walls, Brown said. But he was never physically abusive to her or her son, she said.

Brown said Berry took Pharaoh from her sister's house in California City to get ice cream and shoes on Nov. 19 at 2:30 p.m. Brown said her keys were locked in her car the previous night and she was fine with her son going while she was waiting for help. Berry also said he needed to get tools.

"(After an hour) I started texting Mathew and telling him to bring Pharaoh right back," Brown said.

She said Berry texted her that they were already in Mojave. She said she asked him to meet her because she wanted to take Pharaoh to Lancaster to visit her mother, but Berry never showed up. Her sister texted Berry and he told her that he couldn't get the tools he needed, so he had to go to Rosamond, Brown said.

Brown got mad. She rushed to her sister's house and called Berry repeatedly, but he didn't answer, she said.

Brown said she started to search for Berry because she knew his car had troubles. She said she didn't want to fear the worst, but she called hospitals and she reported Pharaoh missing. Brown said she went to a sheriff's office on Wednesday morning.

Brown said detectives interviewed her and she learned her son was dead at 1 p.m. the day after Berry took him for a treat.

Family members said they viewed Pharaoh's battered body on Sunday. Van Vactor said he could only see his son's head and arms, and they were covered with bruises.

Van Vactor said he cannot accept any punishment other than the death penalty for the man accused of murdering his son.

"Anything less than that would be him getting off too easy," Van Vactor said
 

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