James Lewis took his son, Aveion, and daughter, Gabrielle, to family cookouts, and spent time with them at home. But that changed, Lewis said, when the children's mother began dating Brandon Lockett.
"It just seemed like she was shutting me out of my kids' lives," Lewis said Friday, the first time he's spoken publicly since Aveion's death.
Lewis, 23, also talked about his custody battles with Morgan Lockett and the Department of Social Services.
Social Services issued a statement Friday about Aveion's case. Social workers put him in foster care for 16 months after he was found to be severely underweight. He was returned to his home after the Locketts completed classes and other requirements, the news release said.
Police are still searching for the 2-year-old's body. The Locketts reported to police Jan. 14 that Aveion was abducted, but Brandon Lockett later told police that the toddler had died.
Police haven't said how Aveion might have died, but a search warrant said they are investigating the toddler's death as a homicide.
Brandon Lockett has been charged with felony child neglect, improper disposal of a human body and obstruction of justice.
Morgan Lockett has not been charged.
Aveion's case came to Social Services in May 2008, when the boy was 14 months old. The department got a report that Morgan Lockett was neglecting Aveion, and that he was severely underweight.
A search warrant filed this week in Roanoke City Circuit Court said Aveion weighed less than 9 pounds at that time.
Aveion was born with a medical problem that required surgery to remove part of his intestines, according to the warrant. As a result, he had a strict feeding schedule and needed medication.
Two days after Social Services was notified, Aveion was taken into protective custody so he could get the medical treatment he needed, the news release said.
Aveion remained in foster care until March. During that time, Social Services developed a plan for Aveion's mother and stepfather that was approved, and periodically reviewed, by the Roanoke Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
The plan included having Brandon Lockett attend an 18-week program on domestic violence alternatives, which he completed, the news release said.
He and Morgan Lockett also completed a parenting education class.
While in foster care, Aveion doubled in weight, according to the search warrant.
During that time, Lewis said he visited his son and tried to get custody of him.
"I was always worried about him," Lewis said.
In December 2008, Social Services allowed the Locketts to have extended visitations with Aveion at their home.
A clinical in-home therapist spent 20 to 30 hours per month observing the Locketts parenting, reinforcing and teaching good parenting practices, and watching Aveion's adjustment, the news release said.
In March, Aveion was returned home, but Social Services retained legal custody. The in-home therapy continued, and Aveion's social worker made scheduled and unscheduled visits to see that Aveion's medical needs were met.
In September, a judge awarded Morgan Lockett legal custody of Aveion on the recommendation of Social Services, the news release said.
Jane Conlin, director of Social Services in Roanoke, said Friday that the responsibility for what happened to Aveion does not rest with her department.
"The person who is responsible for this is not the social worker," she said. "I think we need to keep in mind that social workers aren't mind readers. We work with the best knowledge and information we have and within the law. Nobody can, with 100 percent accuracy, predict the behavior of another person."
Lewis, however, said he never trusted Brandon Lockett.
"The way Brandon was, it just seemed like he wanted to get to me," Lewis said.
The two would have confrontations during court hearings, and Lewis said that his children's mother's attitude toward him changed after she began dating Lockett.
That's when Lewis said he lost contact with his children.
He recalled several times that he tried to see them, such as on Aveion's first birthday, when he said Morgan Lockett wouldn't answer the door.
Lewis' mother, Briggitte Mason, also said she had to go to court to get visitation rights and, even then, found herself knocking on a door that wouldn't open.
"How many times can you get your heart broke?" Mason said.
Now Lewis, who works at Walmart and at the Roanoke Civic Center, wants custody of his daughter, who is about to turn 4.
She is currently staying with Morgan Lockett's mother, who is also looking after Brandon Lockett's two children, said Cara Ward, Morgan Lockett's sister.
Ward has been busy collecting donated items for the children because no one wants to go back to the Southeast Roanoke home where Aveion was last seen.
The Kirk Family YMCA, Total Action Against Poverty, Babies and Children Inc. and other businesses have donated toys, clothing and other items, Ward said.
She said her family has been touched by the community's support, and she praised Roanoke police for their dedication.
The support, and the family's faith, are keeping them going.
"We believe Aveion is in heaven," she said.