Sunday, February 6, 2011

"Missed opportunities" with murdered 5-year-old girl; dad, girlfriend charged with homicide (Shreveport, Louisiana)

We've reported on this case before, but this article by Alison Bath adds a lot more detail.

As you can see, the murder of this little girl--"allegedly" at the hands of her father WESLEY LOWE and the new step--follows a familiar pattern. Lots of authorities who failed to do their job and essentially set up this crime. People who now refuse to take any responsibilities for their actions. Unfortunately, this is not a unique incident. Fathers of history of violence are often skilled manipulators when it comes to getting and retaining child custody, and smearing/discrediting the protective mother. And too often, these cases end as this one did: with the death of an innocent child.

Missed opportunities
Death of 5-year-old Anna Celeste Lowe brings more questions than answers

By Alison Bath • • February 6, 2011

The name on her birth certificate was Anna Celeste Lowe.

But the people who knew and loved the 5-year-old, who was one-part tomboy, one-part girlie-girl and 100 percent precocious, called her by her middle name. She was Celeste.

She loved Barbie dolls, mermaids and fairies. She liked to play in the dirt and explore the world around her. She was the center of attention in her family — doted on by her mother, half-sister and half-brother, and grandparents.

"She was an extremely happy child," said Jamie Mercer, Celeste's mother.

Most people know the ending of Celeste's story. Her father and step-mother — Wesley and Catherine Lowe — brought her to a Shreveport hospital Jan. 13 claiming she was suffering from a stomach virus.

But Celeste already had been dead for some two hours and her body showed signs of a different story. Among the injuries an autopsy would reveal: Celeste's stomach had been ripped away from her intestines.

Caregivers accused

The Lowes remain jailed in Bossier Parish. Wesley Lowe, 32, is charged with negligent homicide, and Catherine Murray Lowe, 34, who investigators contend intentionally hurt Celeste, is charged with first-degree murder. A grand jury will consider in March whether Catherine Murray Lowe should face the death penalty.

"I hope she rots," said Mercer, who also wonders why Wesley Lowe let Celeste be abused and wants him to face more serious charges. "I wish he could be held just as responsible as she is."
Yet, Celeste's story is more than another tale of child abuse. It's the story of a little girl caught in a custody battle. It's the story of an accused mother desperately trying to get her daughter back. And, it's the story of how "the system" appears to have been manipulated to gain the upper hand.

But most of all it's a story of missed opportunities. At most every turn, it seems, the people who Celeste counted on most appeared to have failed her.

"The whole system broke down in this particular case," said Eydie Comeaux, a Shreveport child abuse awareness advocate. "Nothing worked for this child."

But others say pointing fingers is useless and unfair — social workers, teachers, judges, police and others followed the law. Blame for Celeste's death should rest squarely on the shoulders of the people who hurt her.

"Why do we have to look past where the blame actually lies?" Caddo Assistant District Attorney Hugo Holland asked.

A routine visit

On Sept. 24, Celeste went for a weekend visit to see her father. Wesley Lowe's then-girlfriend — Catherine "Cat" Murray — met Celeste and her mother at an Arcadia truck stop for the Friday evening exchange.

Mercer and Celeste lived in West Monroe. Lowe and Murray lived with her two children in Elm Grove.

Mercer and Lowe were together until Celeste was born.

"She was a beautiful baby," Mercer said. "She always was a beautiful child."

Mercer said Lowe was in and out of Celeste's life, sporadically exercising his visitation rights. In fact, Mercer was unaware that in 2008 Lowe was living in North Platte, Neb. A Dec. 26, 2008, North Platte police report shows Lowe was arrested and charged with domestic assault involving his then-girlfriend, Pam Murrill. Police say the couple had a fight that turned physical. Lowe was accused of pushing Murrill into a wall and then taking her to the ground by the throat. He later pleaded guilty and was fined $300 plus court costs, Lincoln County Clerk of Court records show.

By the summer of 2009, Lowe and Murrill had parted. He was back in Louisiana and dating Murray. Celeste was regularly visiting with him every other weekend and on holidays.

"It was like this girl came into his life and completely took over," Mercer said, referring to Murray.

A surprise call

On the Friday night Celeste went to visit her father, Mercer received a phone call from Lowe demanding to know about a bruise on Celeste's head. The question surprised Mercer, who said Celeste did not have the injury when she and Murray met to exchange the child.

She didn't hear anything more from Lowe until that Sunday, when she called him to confirm the time she would pick up Celeste.

He said: 'I'm not bringing her back. You need to go to the house and get the card off your door," Mercer said.

After several phone calls, Mercer talked with the Louisiana Department of Social Services worker who left the card. The woman told Mercer that she and a platonic male friend with whom she was living were accused of sexually abusing Celeste. The allegations, which Mercer characterized as "completely and literally absurd," hit hard.

"I couldn't believe (it) in a million years," Mercer said.

Social Services spokesman Trey Williams would not comment about the investigation involving Mercer or say if the department had completed background checks on Lowe or Murray before placing Celeste in their care.

"This case does involve a criminal investigation by law enforcement and we are cooperating in that investigation as well as conducting our own investigation," said Williams.

However, a Ouachita sheriff's report reveals that at some point over that September weekend, Lowe took Celeste to a Shreveport pediatric clinic where she told staff members the bump on her head was caused by her mother hitting her. It was during that medical visit Celeste also told workers of behavior by her mother and the friend that indicated possible sexual abuse. The clinic called a Monroe-based child welfare specialist who notified the Ouachita Parish sheriff's office.

On Sept. 28, Celeste was examined at the Center for Children and Families in Monroe. In addition to again disclosing possible sexual abuse, Celeste also said "she doesn't like staying with her mom and enjoys staying with dad and Cat," the report states.

Mercer suspects Lowe and Murray coerced Celeste into telling authorities she was being physically and sexually abused.

"They had enough time to coach her — to convince her," Mercer said.

Warning signs

Catherine L. Lorich Anderson Murray was married at least twice before she started a relationship with Lowe. In 2001, she divorced her first husband Rory W. Anderson and gained sole custody of the couple's two children. She would later petition to strip Anderson of his visitation rights. Her request was granted in September, according to Bossier Parish District Court records.

In 2002, she married Daniel James Murray, but the couple parted in November 2003. Catherine Murray eventually sought a divorce in February 2010.

In June 2009, she was accused of three counts of cruelty to animals. Bossier Parish sheriff's deputies say Murray left three pit bull dogs at an abandoned Benton home leaving them without food or water for days. She pleaded guilty to one count of animals at large.

Mercer, who was unaware of Murray's background, says the relationship between the three adults was friendly.

"The best thing for her was to be with her mother and have a relationship with her father," Mercer said of her reasoning in letting Celeste spend more time with her dad.

But already there were signs something might be wrong. In early 2010, Celeste's pre-school teacher asked Mercer if everything was OK at home. The then-4-year-old wasn't herself and had acted up in class, the teacher told Mercer.

In May, Murray suggested Celeste spend the summer in Bossier Parish so her father could get to know her better. Mercer would see her every other weekend.

During that time, Mercer noticed a burn on Celeste's forearm. When she asked about it, Celeste and Murray told her the same story — the burn happened when Celeste brushed up against a flat iron in the bathroom while brushing her teeth.

In August, Celeste had bruises on her collar bone and around her neck. Again, the injuries were explained — this time caused by another child who was pushing Celeste on a swing.

When Celeste came back home to live in West Monroe that month, she wasn't herself. Normally gregarious, Celeste was timid. She seemed jumpy and nervous, and would cry uncontrollably when scolded.

Mercer was concerned but didn't realize Celeste may have been being abused.

"Thinking about it now, she had her own little way of telling me something wasn't right," Mercer quietly said.