Tiffany Van Alstyne of Berne pleaded guilty Tuesday to the murder of her 5-year-old cousin, Kenneth White, in Knox last year.
Van Alstyne, 20, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Albany County Court Tuesday morning. She faces 18 years to life in state prison when sentenced on Jan. 14, according to the Albany County District Attorney’s Office.
The boy’s murder last Dec. 18 shocked the rural Knox community. Since then, multiple family members have been charged with and have admitted in civil court to neglect and abuse toward Kenneth and his two sisters.
The family lived in a trailer at 994 Thacher Park Road, where Van Alstyne has admitted to killing the boy before dumping his body in a nearby culvert along a road, covering him in snow and inventing a story about a home invasion and abduction.
Kenneth’s two young sisters remain in foster care after their aunt, Brenda Van Alstyne, was denied custody and was accused of abuse and neglect. Kenneth was living with Brenda Van Alstyne at the time of his death. His aunt was watching him when the murder took place.
The boy’s murder spurred an outpouring of community concern, crystallized in a group calling itself Kenneth’s Army that honors his memory, as well as new legislation to speed access to child-abuse records in missing-children cases.
The bill, pushed initially as “Kenneth’s Law,” was signed into law Monday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
When Tiffany Van Alstyne originally reported the fabricated abduction of Kenneth, Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple was denied immediate access to Child Protective Services records regarding the family, according to a news release from state Sen. George Amedore, who introduced the legislation. It later was decided that the records should have been turned over when requested.
“In these types of cases, seconds matter,” Apple said in the release. “This new law will allow for child protective agencies and law enforcement to share information which is paramount, and I’m so glad to see this new law enacted in memory of Kenneth White.”
The law will take effect in 60 days.
With Kenneth’s mother, father and aunt accused of neglect or abuse, the members of Kenneth’s Army, most of whom had no prior relationship to the boy, have stepped in as a kind of adoptive family for his memory. On Aug. 22, what would have been his 6th birthday, they were the ones gathered round his grave with balloons and cake.
On Tuesday, Heather Bier, a member of Kenneth’s Army, said she only hesitantly welcomed the news of Van Alstyne’s guilty plea.
“I’m glad she pled guilty,” she said. “But nobody really wins. Kenneth is dead and now another child is going to be in jail potentially for life. It’s such a horrible situation.”
She said she and the rest of Kenneth’s Army will be pushing for criminal charges to be filed against Brenda Van Alstyne.
Brenda and Tiffany were the primary caregivers for Kenneth and his two sisters after the children were taken away from their mother by the Montgomery County Department of Social Services for unsanitary living conditions.
And while Brenda was accused of neglect and abuse in civil court, those charges carry no jail time.
“I think anybody over the age of 18 who lived in that house definitely needs to be charged with at least accessory,” Bier said.