Death at the hands of adults

Oct 24 2009 - 11:05pm


Jordyn Marie Parker. Lesly Morales. Jackson Burns. Shelby Laice Andrews.

These four Top of Utah children died from injuries caused by an adult. They were among the 76 youngsters abused and killed by Utah adults between 2001 and 2007, according to a report released this week by Every Child Matters, a national nonpartisan, nonprofit organization.

Anne Freimuth, director of Prevent Child Abuse Utah, a nonprofit organization, said she believes the actual number of deaths is higher than 76.

"It's sometimes difficult to prove neglect or abuse," she said.

If a child dies in a vehicle crash and had not been in a seat belt or safety seat, it's not considered abuse or neglect, but an accident, Freimuth said.

If a child dies from pneumonia, it may be because the parents failed to get the child timely medical care, Freimuth said.

"Not every child who dies of pneumonia is neglected," she said. "It's a tough call."

But, Freimuth said, that should not stop someone from reporting suspected abuse.

The key word in law is "suspected," she said.

"You do not need to investigate or even know, just suspect."

Prosecuting child abuse cases is one of the more difficult parts of a county attorney's job, said Deputy Davis County Attorney Richard Larsen.

"Quite frankly, there's a reason why I come home and hug my girls every day when I walk through the door," he said. "I never want to see anyone hurt."

Larsen said has not seen an increase in felony child abuse cases in the past few years, but the ones that do end up on his desk are generally "horrific."

Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said the Shelby Andrews case still haunts him. The 10-year-old Syracuse girl died Aug. 1, 2006, from injuries inflicted by her father, Ryan William Andrews, and her stepmother, Angela Ray Andrews. Both were convicted of first- degree murder and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

According to Ryan Andrews' written testimony, Shelby was locked in a closet on the night of her death, compressing her body and making it difficult for her to breathe. She had been forced to eat her own fecal matter and had her head smashed into the stairs of their home in the weeks leading up to her death.

"From what I know from the evidence of the case, what this child suffered, I never want to think about it again. But on the other hand, there are lessons we as a society can learn," Rawlings said.

One of those lessons, he said, is to get to know the children in your neighborhood.

It's not just teachers, clergy, medical personnel or law enforcement who are required to report suspected abuse, but every adult in Utah.

"If you're uncomfortable with something you saw or heard, call for help and leave it to the professionals to investigate," Freimuth said.

The law protects those who report suspected abuse as long as it is not done with a malicious intent, but is a reasonable report, she said.

Reports, she said, can also be made anonymously.

Related Standard-Examiner article: Congress pressed to act to curb child-abuse deaths

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