GOUVERNEUR — Three days after Gouverneur High School student Treyanna Summerville was reported dead inside her Rowley St. home, the 18-year-old’s community, classmates and family members continue to mourn.
Ms. Summerville, a senior who had been set to graduate Friday with about 115 other students, has been described by friends this week as once vibrant and bubbly, always polite and someone who radiated a quiet kindness.
A resident at 135 Rowley St., Ms. Summerville lived at the single-family home with her mother Lashanna N. Charlton, 38, and her younger half sister at the time of her death, according to Isiah Samuels, 23, the stepchild of Mrs. Charlton and Ms. Summerville’s older stepbrother, who agreed to speak to the Times on the record Wednesday evening.
Mr. Samuels, like several classmates and community members this week, said Mrs. Charlton physically and psychologically abused him and Ms. Summerville and was psychologically controlling of his younger half sister.
First moving as a family to the north country from Georgia in 2011, Mr. Samuels said he, Mrs. Charlton, her husband Rhodney A. Charlton, Ms. Summerville and their younger half sister lived together at 135 Rowley St.
Town of Gouverneur tax assessment records indicate Mr. Charlton, who Mr. Samuels said is currently stationed long-term at Fort Drum and deployed in South Korea, has owned the Rowley Street residence since 2012. The most recent final assessment roll, dated 2019, indicates Mr. Charlton still owns the home.
Mr. Samuels said he lived at the residence from 2011 until 2015, primarily with Mrs. Charlton and his sisters, as Mr. Charlton traveled for training and was deployed out of the area several times. He said he ran away after a particular incident in January 2015, and that he had attempted to seek help by contacting law enforcement and other adults during his residency in the abusive environment.
Recalling the incident that prompted his departure, Mr. Samuels said Ms. Summerville had unplugged and moved a phone cord inside the house, not thinking anything of it. When Mrs. Charlton asked about the cord later that day, wanting to know where it was, she became enraged.
“I left because I got hit in the head with a frying pan,” Mr. Samuels said of his decision to leave the house after his stepmother hit him.
He left on foot that January night without a coat and missing a sock.
At the Gouverneur Neighborhood Center, 15 Rock Island St., three-tenths of a mile from his home, Mr. Samuels said he got some warm clothes and a winter coat. Then he continued walking.
“I was trying to get to Ogdensburg,” he said.
Along the more than 30-mile route from Gouverneur to Ogdensburg, Mr. Samuels said he was picked up by people driving in his direction. When he got to Ogdensburg, he spent some time at Walmart and slept in a 24/7 laundromat that night. With help from staff at the Ogdensburg Neighborhood Center inside City Hall, Mr. Samuels was connected to programs at Renewal House, a domestic violence victims services center 20 miles southeast of the city in Canton.
“If it weren’t for Ogdensburg and Renewal House, I would have nothing at all,” he said.
After receiving the help he needed, he attended SUNY Canton for computer and game programming, and since he left Rowley Street in 2015, Mr. Samuels said he hasn’t been back, and he hasn’t seen his sisters.
But he did talk to his youngest sister over the phone earlier this week on Sunday, Father’s Day.
During the phone call, Mr. Samuels said he spoke to his youngest sister and could hear Mrs. Charlton in the background. He said he didn’t speak to Ms. Summerville, and he described his youngest sister’s voice on the phone as coached.
“There’s a difference between someone speaking from the heart and someone reading from a script,” he said. “I don’t know what happened in that house, but I know my sister didn’t do it.”
According to state police records, a 911 call was received at 2:53 a.m. Monday, and responders were dispatched to 135 Rowley St. By 11:30 a.m. that day, state police announced they were investigating a death in Gouverneur.
As of Wednesday, the scene at the Rowley Street residence has not been cleared, and St. Lawrence County District Attorney Gary M. Pasqua said no additional information about the investigation, which was officially declared a homicide investigation Tuesday, is being released at this time.
As the investigation into Ms. Summerville’s death continues, one person is in custody, a 13-year-old girl, according to state police records for Troop B, headquartered in Ray Brook, Essex County. The 13-year-old was arrested around 3:20 p.m. Monday at the state police station on Route 11 in Gouverneur.
After Mr. Pasqua on Tuesday morning confirmed Ms. Summerville as the victim found the day before, he said the 13-year-old suspect was arraigned on a second-degree murder charge in the youth division of St. Lawrence County Family Court following her arrest.
Law enforcement and the DA’s office have not confirmed the identity of the 13-year-old in custody.
An autopsy was performed in Albany on Tuesday, but no results have been released.
Anyone with information that may help the investigation is asked to contact law enforcement or the DA’s office, Mr. Pasqua said. The DA’s office can be reached at 315-379-2225.
During a vigil for Ms. Summerville on Monday night at the Gouverneur village park, classmates and community members cried, sang and called for justice, decrying “the system” and saying “the system has failed this baby.”
Gouverneur resident Kayla D’Agostino, who helped organize the vigil, said she remembers seeing Ms. Summerville and her younger sister walking to and from the Gouverneur Price Chopper every week, carrying bags of groceries home.
Ms. Summerville’s classmates said this week that they’ve known for the past few years that something was off, saying they contacted Gouverneur High School officials and the Gouverneur Police Department in the fall out of concern for their friend.
A phone call to the Gouverneur PD main line Monday evening, requesting records related to an incident at a Gouverneur laundromat three weeks ago, as well as general blotter items the Times usually receives and has not received in about a month, has not been returned.
A Freedom of Information Law request for the laundromat incident report was digitally filed Tuesday morning with Gouverneur Police Chief Laurina Greenhill, as was a request for officer disciplinary records pursuant to the June 12 appeal of article 5, section 50-a of New York Civil Rights Law, which previously shielded officer disciplinary records from the public. A second FOIL request for additional records was digitally filed with Gouverneur PD on Wednesday evening.
The Times has yet to receive any response to its requests.
After Mr. Samuels heard about Ms. Summerville’s death Monday, he said he contacted Gouverneur PD, seeking information about the case. He said he was redirected to a different agency, then redirected again. A third redirection brought him back on the line with Gouverneur PD.
Mr. Samuels, Ms. Summerville’s and her sister’s classmates, parents and Gouverneur community members want justice.
“If I drank water without permission, I got beat,” Mr. Samuels said of Mrs. Charlton’s prolonged abuse. “That’s the house I lived in. ... I made the mistake of assuming that it ended when I left.”