‘Saving Clayton’ premiers, uncle’s offer to care for nephew met with silence by DHS


Gabe Woolley (center), Elijah’s uncle, speaks to audience members during the premier of “Saving Clayton” at the Geaux - Jack of all Shows theater in Broken Arrow.

By John Dobberstein, Editor

The family of Elijah and Clayton Woolley has stepped headlong into the spotlight as a documentary about the family’s legal and custody battles goes public.

The 90-minute account, “Saving Clayton,”debuted recently at Geaux - Jack of all Trades Theater in Broken Arrow and at Tulsa’s Circle Cinema. It’s is slated to became available online Monday at rescueclayton.com.

The documentary describes the harrowing journey the family faced when 14-month-old Elijah Woolley was found dead in his crib in 2018. His grandparents and guardians, Bill and Lisa Woolley, were charged with murder and child abuse, only for the charges to be dropped by Wagoner Count District Attorney Jack Thorp.

The documentary was produced by Red River TV and Project 46, a veteran-owned media production company.

In spite of the charges being dropped, Clayton Woolley has not been returned to the family members in spite of repeated requests. Now 10 years old, Clayton has been placed with a guardian. The Woolleys are also being denied any visitation rights.

While custody hearings and lawsuits continue to stall in court, Gabe Woolley, Clayton’s uncle, has tried to play the peacemaker of sorts.

In 2021 he offered to take care of Clayton so he could be with someone from his biological family. In fact, he cited his role as an elementary school teacher and experience dealing with children involved in the DHS system.

But Gabe’s request, like many others from the Woolley family, has gone nowhere.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services refused again this past week to explain its decision to continue keeping Clayton away from his family.

DHS would also not say if they made any kind of recommendation about the request from Gabe, a schoolteacher who originally offered to take the child in 2021.

The Broken Arrow Sentinel asked DHS a number of questions this past week about Clayton’s placement and care, but a spokesperson said he could not address them due to confidentiality laws.

“Oklahoma Human Services is committed to protect the safety and wellbeing of Oklahoma’s children,” the agency said in a statement. “Every child welfare case is different and the specific details in those cases impact decisions made by the agency, the courts, District Attorneys and others who participate in any case.

“Additionally, child welfare cases are confidential by state and federal statutes, so we are unable to discuss the facts or circumstances of any child welfare case with anyone who is not authorized by statute or permitted by an order of the court.”

"It seems, in my opinion, that DHS is ignoring me and are insistent on not allowing my nephew to have any contact with my family,” Gabe said recently. “I believe this is because Wagoner County feels their accusations will fall apart once Clayton is reunited with family. Their accusations lack evidence and have been refuted in court."

Gabe says that any lingering suspicion or resentment that might exist between the state and his family due to the prior charges should not apply to him because he wasn’t living in the home when Elijah died.

He notes other family members of Clayton have requested custody and some even became registered foster parents in the state of Michigan in preparation to hopefully receive Clayton into their care. These requests were denied as well, the family said.

In a 2021 letter to Clayton’s caseworker, Gabe said humans are born with a need to be with a strong and pure family unit, “as it’s proven that families with a biological father and mother present and invested physically and emotionally in each other and their children will rear overall healthier children.

“A second scientific reality we can recognize by simple observation is that if we detour in any way from this intended and ideal family unit structure, that is, a biological father, mother, and children, we pay the natural consequences.

“So now we attempt for the next best thing -- a child to be raised by adults who are most closely biologically related to him/her. DHS of course recognizes the benefits of these structures and practices because a main priority of the system, as you know, is to place a displaced child with the closest and safest biological relative.

“Now I would argue that it is best to carefully follow the line down to the closest next best thing to meet these innate requirements, which would be a biological relative who is safe and stable enough to care for Clayton with his unique and challenging physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental needs. At this time, I am stating that I am this person.”

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