This headline had me up most of the night, steaming with anger and crying for my brother. The time has come where I can’t stay silent any longer. While we’ve told our stories to multiple news outlets (locally WCAX & WVNY/WFFF and nationally through NBC News), I’ve reached the point where I want to scream it from the rooftops in hopes someone will hear me and help us find justice for my brother.
I should start by saying, it hasn’t been a good year for children in Vermont, specifically those under Department of Children and Families (DCF) care. In February, Dezirae Sheldon, 2 of Rutland, died from head trauma she allegedly suffered at the hands of her step father. This was AFTER she was returned to that home with two broken legs that were allegedly caused by her mother. This little girl’s story breaks my heart – as does any story of a child who is abused by the very people who should be protecting her.
In April, Peighton Geraw, 14 months old of Winooski, was allegedly murdered by his mother. A DCF worker had been in the home an hour before emergency medical services were called. There was an uproar that two kids died within two weeks whom DCF should have been taking care of. There have been several other cases of child homicide in Vermont this year but for my own sanity, I can’t get into them here right now.
Here’s the thing. To me, DCF is set up fail. Not only are they “woefully understaffed” but they receive so little support from our state, our government and our residents. A child dies at the hands of their parents and everyone points a finger at DCF. No one looks at the fact that DCF can’t just pull a child out of a home. That’s up to the courts – who ultimately made the decision to return Dezirae to an abusive situation that ultimately cost her her life. And for all we know, the DCF worker in Peighton’s case was petitioning the court for his removal – but an hour is just not enough time to get that done. DCF has all the responsibility, none of the power and now shoulders all of the blame.
My experience with DCF couldn’t be more different. The support they gave my family as we brought Mark home, through a year of fostering, being present at his adoption, coming to his funeral and still checking in with our family is something I will forever be grateful for. What’s failing our kids is the legal system.
There have been no trial dates set for any of the people accused of killing any of these children. Including my brother. If you read his autopsy, the cause of death is homicide. No one has even been charged in his death, even though only his biological parents were present (by their own admission) when the abuse that ultimately took his life occurred. As a matter of fact, his biological mother has had at least three more children after him (all were removed from her care and parental rights terminated) and from what I understand, Mark was not the first child removed from his biological parents “care.”
We met with AG Bill Sorrell in March to discuss whether or not we had enough information for a case. The problem wasn’t proving that Mark’s injuries happened or caused his death, but WHO perpetrated those actions. He was kind and concerned. He listened to our stories, looked at our pictures and explained they were doing all they could to build a case. He promised to keep us in the loop. We left allowing ourselves to feel some hope that justice would be served for our little Markie. But in July, the AG had the victim’s advocate working our case (he couldn’t call us himself or arrange another meeting?!) break the news that because they couldn’t prove WHICH parent actually caused the injuries (even though not only did he have a TBI from being shaken, he had other healing wounds from breaks to his clavicle and leg)they couldn’t proceed with a case. So lemme get this straight. Someone shook this 5 week old baby so hard it caused a skull fracture, waited 72 hours to get medical attention, signed a DNR and ordered him extubated and THEN fled the state? How is that not BOTH parents’ responsibility? How are they not both at fault? But that’s not how Vermont law works. Only one can be charged with the abuse and death while the other is considered an accessory. And there is no law allowing both parents to be charged and allow a jury to decide which parent did what.
It’s disgusting. And disturbing. And now, even though he couldn’t help us, AG Sorrel is going to defend DCF, which is his job. HOWEVER, if he can find a case against them and reason that this man should get a payout, I don’t even know what I will do! First off, where was this father when his daughter’s legs were broken? Where was this dad when that poor girl was returned to that home? Where has he been since her death in February? And now he comes forward and Bill Sorrell thinks he might have s a case against the state? And what will he get from this case? MONEY! Not justice – that will hopefully be awarded when Dezirae’s step father finally has his day in court. It sure won’t bring her back – just like getting charges filed against Markie’s bio parents won’t bring him back. But the message being sent now is that DCF shouldn’t get involved either because they have everything to lose and nothing to gain.
We have a duty to find justice for these kids. But if our government can’t help and our legal system won’t help – what other options do we have?! I don’t know if anyone has the answer. I know I don’t. I know I have rage and an immense amount of sadness. What I need is hope. Hope that we can stop these monsters from killing their own children. Hope that justice will eventually be served. But that hope is fading for me and I don’t know where to find more. For now, all I can do is get this anger out of me and let myself believe that hope will find its way back to me. I apologize for the disjointed nature of this post. I’m sure I have left out details and missed some facts but if I didn’t find a way to assuage this anger, it’s not healthy. So here are the inner workings of my brain laid out before you in all their glory. XO