We see the statistics again and again showing that young males are the most likely killers of young children. And yet we refuse to believe it. We keep insisting that every child needs a "father"--as if some young sperm shooter who dated a girl for a month is ready to take on the responsibilities of child raising. Or that he even cares. So we give these dudes visitation and custody rights in return for paying child support (sometimes). We see what happens again and again--children dying or permanently injured or disabled--but nothing ever changes.
Police here make inroads in fight against child abuse
Lancaster New Era
Updated Oct 22, 2012 08:06
Originally Published Oct 21, 2012 22:23
By BRETT HAMBRIGHT
"Nobody wants to believe that an adult would hurt a child," Lancaster city Detective Aaron Harnish told a large audience last week at a local conference.
"But these are crimes that happen every day."
However, Harnish and other experts explained at the two-day conference in downtown Lancaster, advancements in detection here have made it harder for offenders to hide.
"It's a matter of the expertise and investigative ability," said Randall L. Miller, a veteran prosecutor hired by Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman to handle child-abuse cases.
And those advancements have helped bring justice to more abused kids, local investigators say.
"This may well have contributed to an increase in recordable cases," Stedman said.
Local experts say doctors have discovered more telltale signs of child abuse and relayed those indicators to police.
Already this year, local police have referred more than 40 cases of suspected criminal child abuse to the district attorney's office. Three of those cases were child homicides — the highest number for a single year in decades, according to newspaper records.
Just last week, Stedman announced that the death of 6-week-old Andrew Moyer Jr. of Columbia was caused by nonaccidental injuries.
Last year, Stedman approved charges in 280 cases of child abuse, including sex crimes and physical beatings. That was a jump of 110 charges from 2010.
On average, one child younger than age 5 is killed in Lancaster County each year in an incident of abuse. Serious injuries from beatings are more common, according to court and newspaper records.
Local investigators have seen it all: from shaking to burning to punching to kicking.
"There is never a good reason for child abuse," Stedman said.
So why does it happen so often?
The most common motive here: anger — "directed to the child simply because the child is acting like a normal child, by crying or being irritable," Stedman said.
Immaturity also is a prevalent factor, according to investigators. Many local offenders are young men — often, young fathers or caregivers to the victims.
In the 17 known child-beating homicides here since 1994, 13 of the charged offenders were in their teens or 20s. Eleven were men. (No charges have been filed in Moyer's death.)
In the county's two other cases of child homicide this year, fathers in their 20s were charged.
The demographics are similar in severe-injury beating cases, statistics show.
Three-year-old Belle Roeting is fighting for her life at Hershey Medical Center. Police charged her foster father, 23-year-old Joshua Martin, with a series of horrific beatings last month.
Along with age and maturity, a family's means also comes into play, Miller and Harnish explained at the conference.
"Many of these families are indigents," Miller told a crowd of more than 100 area police, lawyers and medical professionals. "Unfortunately, it's all about money."
When a child is hospitalized after a serious criminal act, doctors often find prior injuries — old bone fractures or dried areas of aged blood. Often, experts explained, those injuries were from prior beatings.
At the conference, Harnish and Miller discussed methods that help Lancaster County stay ahead of the curve in investigating abuse.
Tip one: Get the facts upfront.
"If one is going to slip through, if you're going to miss an instance of abuse," Harnish said, "it's going to be at the initial call for help."
Harnish encouraged officers to respond to all 911 calls for a baby or young child who has become unresponsive, even if it appears to be a natural or accidental cause.
Tip two: Ask questions — but don't always believe the answers.
"Rarely will (an abuser) tell you that they shook or injured the child," said Miller, who has tried more than 10 child-homicide cases. "Rarely do you get the truth."
The child's parents, along with other occupants of the house, should be interviewed.
"Many times, people don't want to believe that their loved one has done something like this," Stedman said. "But they need to put the welfare of the child first."
Tip three: Take pictures of the child's surroundings.
In April 2010, investigators were stumped when 4-year-old Alexandrea Moskal died at a local hospital. Her body showed no signs of trauma or physical abuse.
A photo taken by an officer at her house in Denver, as it turned out, told the story.
The photo showed a jar of jelly beans by the child's bed, Miller explained.
When the girl's father, Brian Moskal, was questioned about the jar, Miller said, it led to a confession: Moskal had concealed methadone inside the beans and had given them to his daughter to stop her from being fussy.
An autopsy determined the girl died from toxic levels of the drug.
Tip four: Catch up with a suspect's friends.
In the tragic case of baby Keith Brubaker, it led to a first-degree murder conviction.
Pamela Wagner, an 18-year-old West Lampeter mother, was charged with beating her son in the spring of 1994. Her defense team conceded that she caused the injuries but cited mental illness, specifically depression.
Weeks before trial, police tracked down letters that Wagner had written from prison to a close friend.
"I can't wait to get out, so I can party," Wagner wrote, according to Harnish.
And, like that, the depression defense was debunked.
Wagner is serving a life sentence.