On Tuesday, September 23, 2008, in the shrinking, economically-challenged City of Troy, New York, four-month-old Matthew Thomas died of serious head trauma due to injuries sustained when his 26-year-old, 500-pound father, Adrian Thomas, “threw him down hard” several times while arguing with his wife. (see CapitalNews9)
That same day, almost a thousand miles away in the thriving, rapidly growing little City of Troy, Missouri, 6-week-old Hannah Edwards sustained severe brain damage after being struck in the head and shaken by her mother’s boyfriend, Ronald I. Schupmann, 23, who was not her biological father. (See the St. Louis Post-Dispatch).
Hannah died on Friday, September 26, the same day that little Matthew Thomas was buried and his father (who was recently unemployed and depressed) was indicted for murder, in Troy, NY.
For quite a few months, I’ve been wanting to write about a terrible trend I’ve noticed here in the New York Capital Region the past few years: Although we are a relatively small Metro area, every month or so a grown man is in the news for killing a baby (usually his own or his girlfriend’s). The men are most often in their early to mid- 20’s. They shake, punch or throw the child — usually because the baby is crying inconsolably. Their victims are not even toddlers yet, and often just a few months old.
I’m finally writing this post, because the Schenectady Sunday Gazette featured the article “Shaken baby deaths persist: Problem is all too common” (by Jill Bryce, October 19, 2008) on the front page of the local news section. From the article and additional research, I’ve learn that about 80% of the perpetrators of Shaken Baby Syndrome or Abusive Head Trauma to young children are male. In addition:
When Googling /Troy murder infant father/ yesterday, to locate the recent case described above from the nearby city of Troy, NY (find more coverage of it here and here), I discovered the strange coincidence of baby Hannah’s death the same week as Matthew’s in the very-different city of Troy, Missouri.
According to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, SBS/AHT (shaken baby syndrome/abusive head trauma) is a term used to describe the constellation of signs and symptoms resulting from violent shaking or shaking and impacting of the head of an infant or small child.
- Often, perpetrators shake an infant or child out of frustration or anger. This most often occurs when the baby won’t stop crying. Other triggering events include toilet training difficulties and feeding problems.
- The Shaken Baby Coalition says: “In America last year, approximately 1,200 – 1,400 children were shaken for whom treatment was sought. Of these tiny victims, 25 -30% died as a result of their injuries. The rest will have lifelong complications.”
- Perpetrator Profile: Average age of perpetrator 22 years; 75% male; 81% had no history of child abuse; 75% had no history of substance abuse; 50% were natural parents of the victims; 37% biological father; 21% boyfriends of the mother; 17% female child care providers; 12% mothers; 13% other
- It’s estimated that “Twenty-five (25%) to fifty (50%) percent of Americans do not understand the danger of shaking a baby, nor do they realize the possible long-term consequences.”
We haven’t located more-recent statistics, but a 2003 North Carolina study estimated that about 300 babies died in this country from SBS or non-accidental head trauma in 2002. In 1997, the FBI reported that about 5 babies a week are killed in the USA. In his 1998 “History of Infanticide,” Dr. Larry S. Milne presents some pretty dismal statistics about infanticide in the United States (emphasis added):
Statistically, the United States ranks high on the list of countries whose inhabitants kill their children. For infants under the age of one year, the American homicide rate is 11th in the world, while for ages one through four it is 1st and for ages five through fourteen it is fourth. From 1968 to 1975, infanticide of all ages accounted for almost 3.2% of all reported homicides in the United States.
The 1980’s followed similar trends. Whereby overall homicide rates were decreasing in the United States, the rate at which parents were killing their children was increasing.
The f/k/a Gang can’t offer much direct guidance on this topic. In a decade representing children at Family Court, your Editor saw many young males (and some females) accused or capable of shaking or assaulting a baby. Despite the fact that the incidence of SBS/AHT appears higher among the poor and less educated population, it can and does happen throughout our society, affecting every socio-economic and demographic group, across the nation. We surely need much more vigilance on the part of family members, discretion as to who is left to care for a baby, and education for young parents and their paramours. Dr. Rudy Nydegger, a clinical psychologist in Schenectady, told the Gazette that the perpetrator often has very little knowledge of how to care for a child.
“It’s terribly important to ensure that people in charge of a child know what to do” when a baby is crying inconsolably. Caregivers need to ask for help.
Here are links to resources that interested and affected persons and organizations might use to help prevent, understand, and deal with the fatal (or serious, but less severe) effects of non-accidental assaults on “our” babies:
- Parents, and other caregivers and family members will find much useful information and guidance, in several languages, from the New York State Department of Health, including a Family Guide to Parenthood, and Tips for Calming a Crying Baby
- Dontshake.org has the program “Dads: The Basics“, and for distribution to families: a brochure with DVD on The Period of PURPLE Crying
- For social, medical, legal and other professionals, see “A Guide to Shaken Baby Syndrome” from Cuyahoga County (Ohio), which includes a 35-minute video clip.
- Folks in the criminal defense bar might want to consult the “Shaken Baby Syndrome Defense” website.
- Thomas at the Library of Congress has information on H.R. 2052, the proposed Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention Act
Parents, siblings and other relatives of SBS victims face a special kind of grief. My heart goes out to them. They can find some help and comfort from the National Center on SBS, and on the Family Support page of ShakenBaby.org.
In 19th Century Japan, Master Haiku poet Kobayashi Issa saw all four of his children die in the first two years of their lives. His sorrow and loss, and his love for small children, can be seen in many of his poems. Here is a sample:
is a dewdrop world
why did the blooming
missing a child
the parent’s face
meigetsu ya hiza [wo] makura no ko ga araba
my lap would be a pillow
if my child were here
…….. Translator David G. Lanoue explained the context of this last poem:
“This haiku was written in Seventh Month, 1819. Its biographical context is important, because Issa’s daughter, Sato, born the previous year, died of smallpox in Sixth Month of 1819–just a few weeks before Issa composed this poem. As he sits looking at the harvest moon–one of the most joyful occasions in the calendar for a haiku poet–the happy occasion is marred by a palpable absense. If only Sato were here… This sad poem reminds us of how precious children are to us; how, without them, the wonders of the universe, even the resplendent moon, seem drab and ordinary.”
“Gimme that moon!”
cries the crying
………. by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue
and the casket chosen —
roses on the casket
at the lowering
… by Michael Dylan Welch –
“roses on the casket” – frogpond (XXIX: 1, Winter 2006)
mourners and bare trees
……. by George Swede – The Heron’s Nest (June 2005)