Child abusers often fit profiles

By Jan Wesner Childs, Staff writerFeyetteville Observer-Times
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Wednesday, Sept. 25, 1996

The circumstances of their deaths make their brief lives unforgettable:

Justin Reese, 8 years old, strangled Sept. 14. Police have charged his mother with killing him. He lived in Harnett County.

Charlie Nelson Bradshaw, 3, beaten to death Monday. Sheriff’s investigators say his mother killed him. He lived in Cumberland County.

Trevor Nathaniel Melvin, 18 months old, in a coma at Duke University Medical Center after he was allegedly beaten Thursday by his mother’s boyfriend. Police say Tamara Heckenast Melvin, 17, stood by and did nothing to help her son. The child and his mother lived in Spring Lake.

Officials say the cases do not prove there is an increase in child abuse. But they say recent deaths represent only a small portion of the abuse that happens every day. And by the time a child is killed, he may have been abused for years.

According to the state Division of Social Services, 1,436 children were abused or neglected last year in Cumberland County. The statistics are for the fiscal year that ended June 30. More than 400 children were abused or neglected in Harnett County. There were 1,172 children abused or neglected in Robeson County, which ranks first in the state in the number of children abused per capita.

North Carolina ranks sixth in the nation in child abuse, with more than 30,812 children abused or neglected last year.

Causes of abuse

Child advocates and social services workers say there are a number of reasons why people beat, abuse or severely neglect their children.

“Child abusers can be anyone, but certainly there are some profiles of people who are at higher risk,” said Jennifer Tolle, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina.

Tolle said parents who are more likely to abuse their children are young and single, uneducated and have financial problems. She said adults who were abused when they were growing up are six times more likely to abuse their children.

Rosemary Zimmerman, administrator of the child protection and placement section of the Cumberland County Department of Social Services, said the biggest reason parents abuse their children is stress.

“You can have financial stress, you can have marital stress, you can have all kinds of stress,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman and Tolle said drug abuse and lack of knowledge about child development are common causes.

Ron Chisum, who oversees the section of county Social Services that handles child abuse reports, said there has been a dramatic increase in recent years in the number of abuse cases that involved parents who used crack cocaine.

Tolle said some parents don’t know what to expect as their child grows or how to react to changes.

“They just don’t know how to be a parent,” Tolle said. She added that that’s why children less than two years old are at a higher risk for abuse.

Donna Morgan, a program coordinator at the Women’s Center in Fayetteville, said many of the women she meets who have abused their children are venting frustrations about other things. Morgan said a woman who is being abused by her husband or boyfriend might try to get back at him by hitting his child.

“First of all you have a woman who doesn’t feel good about herself to begin with,” Morgan said. “So then she has to find somebody that’s weaker than her” to make her feel powerful.

“The child is not the problem. The abusing of the child is the escape of what the woman is going through with the man. The child abuse is a symptom.”

She said some women she has talked to have had children in an attempt to keep a man from walking out on them. When he does, they are left with a child they resent and don’t want.

Ronnie Parrish, director of child protective services in Harnett County, said there are signs that a parent may be abusing a child. They include hitting a child harshly in public or complaining that the child is a problem or is bad.

Zimmerman said the two recent cases in Cumberland County are not an indication that child abuse is on the rise. She said Hurricane Fran may have brought on more abuse, but that won’t be known for sure until her agency compiles its monthly statistics for September.

Tolle said people who suspect abuse should report it immediately to their county social services department. Zimmerman said the reports are screened and, under state law, any that fit the definition of abuse are investigated within 24 hours.

Parents who are accused of abuse are sent to counseling programs. The child may be removed from the home, and the household is monitored until the problem has been resolved. There are many programs available for people who abuse their children or think they might and voluntarily ask for help.

Aids for parents

Morgan said the Women’s Center offers classes on how to deal with children, and can provide individual counseling with a psychologist. Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina can refer people to help in their town or county. Call 1-800-354-KIDS for more information. The service is confidential.

Tolle said the goal of child advocates is to prevent abuse before it starts. Bringing attention to the problem is one way of solving it. Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina is holding a 40-hour candlelight vigil starting Thursday, in memory of the 40 North Carolina children who died in 1995 because of abuse or neglect. It begins at 5 p.m. and ends at 9 a.m. Saturday. The event is at the south of end Bicentennial Plaza on Edenton Street in Raleigh.

Tolle said it is important for neighbors or relatives who suspect a problem to report it.

“All of these children that have died were unable to speak for themselves,” she said.

2 local women arrested on child abuse charges

Staff Report
Saturday, July 13, 1996

Two local women have been charged in unrelated cases with felony child abuse, according to Fayetteville police.

Michelle Loree Dickerson, 22, of Rhine Street, Fort Bragg, was charged Thursday with breaking the leg of her 7-week-old daughter, Sierra, on July 2.

Police investigator C.T. Williams said that orthopedic surgeons at Womack Army Medical Center believe that while Dickerson was changing her daughter’s diaper, she pushed her daughter’s leg out and up, causing the left leg to break near the hip joint.

Womack officials reported the injury to Army social services officials, who in turn contacted the Cumberland County Department of Social Services, Williams said.

Dickerson’s bail was set at $5,000.

In the second case, Thomasina Michelle Avant, 26, of the 1500 block of Shaw Road, was charged Friday with injuring her 4-year-old son, Marquis, on July 3.

Williams said that on that date, Marquis was admitted to Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, suffering from a hemorrhage to the left ear and a cut on the inside of his mouth. A child abuse study was ordered, which revealed that a rib had been broken and had healed. There was no report that the rib had ever been treated.

Further examination of the child showed a partial paralysis to the left side of the face, old scars and both old and new bruises to the trunk of his body.

Avant’s bail was set at $5,000.

March targets child abuse

By David Sinclair, Staff writer
Sunday, Aug. 17, 1997

Letsie Generette couldn’t hold back the tears as she thought of the pain and torture her 4-year-old nephew endured in the last months of his short life.

But the hardest thing for family members to accept is that Cory McLauchlin’s death might have been prevented.

They don’t want that happen to another child.

About 70 people marched in silence from the Department of Social Services building to Rowan Park where a ceremony was held to remember Cory. The rally was called “Justice for Cory.” Marchers want more to be done to protect children.

“I miss him so much,” said Allison Bryant, 26, one of Cory’s cousins who marched. “He was such a sweet child. He was always smiling. I hope what we are doing today will make a difference.”

Cory’s adoptive mother, Eddiesenior Jones McLauchlin, 45, was charged July 4 with beating him to death. There were other signs of abuse, including burns to his hands from scalding water, and bruises on his stomach, back and head.

Just two months earlier, social workers removed Cory’s 8-year-old brother, Michael, from home because of suspected abuse.

But despite warnings from family members, friends and teachers, Cory remained in the home.

“If DSS heard our cries, Cory would probably still be alive today,” Generette said as the march began. “The last thing I told them was that if you don’t do something, Cory will die. And now that precious little boy is gone.”

Chip Modlin, the county’s social services director, said every call about Cory being abused was investigated. He said there was no legal reason to remove him.

“Just because you suspect something is wrong is not enough,” Modlin said. “Cory wanted to stay with his mother. This was unpredictable. It is unfortunate. I hope this will focus more attention on the problem. It is a whole community problem.”

The state is sending a review team to Cumberland County on Wednesday and Thursday to determine whether the county’s child protection system failed in the weeks leading up to Cory’s death.

Tom and Clara Wright, who were Cory’s foster parents for two years, helped lead efforts to get state law changed. A measure, sponsored by Sen. Tony Rand, requires social workers to investigate the welfare of all children in a home where a child is removed because of abuse.

Some people who participated in the march say other children should be removed automatically, until the investigation is complete.

“If you’re not fit to parent one child, you’re certainly not fit to parent other children,” said Lisa Stewart, a teacher at E.E. Miller Elementary School where Michael and Cory attended.

Stewart said she contacted social workers with concerns that Cory was possibly being abused. Others did too.

“It’s sad enough if we didn’t know,” Stewart said. “It is a real tragedy when we all knew.”

During the time that the abuse was occurring, the boy’s adoptive father, Connie McLauchlin, a Fort Bragg soldier, was in Bosnia.

Connie was not at the march. His bother, Rev. Allen McLauchlin, said Connie is still grieving, but is getting stronger emotionally.

Steve and Rosemary Buerger and their daughter Jessica, 4, and Chelsea, 6, marched. They wanted to take a stand for children.

“Every child deserves a fighting chance,” Ms. Buerger said. “Cory didn’t have a fighting chance. We can’t let this happen again.”

Rev. McLauchlin told the people gathered at the park that this is just the beginning of a new movement for children. “Cory was truly a gift from God who touched so many people’s lives,” McLauchlin said. “If Cory were here today, he would tell us not to forget his brother and his father and ‘don’t let this happen to another child. If so, then my dying was not in vain.”

A small choir sang “I’ll Fly Away.” It was Cory’s favorite song.

Spring Lake couple charged with abuse in beating of child

By Pat Reese, Staff writer
Friday, Sept. 20, 1996

SPRING LAKE -- An 18-month-old child who was severely beaten was in critical condition Thursday night at Duke University Medical Center in Durham.

Steven Jeremy Franklin, 18, and the child’s mother, Tamara Heckenast Melvin, 17, who live at the 210 Mobile Home Park, have been charged with felony child abuse. They are in the Cumberland County Jail, with bail set at $25,000 each.

Sheriff Moose Butler said Franklin beat Trevor Nathaniel Melvin on Wednesday at their mobile home. Trevor’s mother was present, so she and Franklin were charged. Franklin is Melvin’s boyfriend.

Trevor suffered injuries on the front, back and side of his head and bruises on his stomach, buttocks, arms and legs, according to warrants. Tests show he is bleeding from the brain.

Butler said the child was taken by ambulance to Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg. He was flown to Duke on Wednesday night and was placed on life support.

Butler said Trevor has been in a coma “apparently since the time of the injuries.”

Franklin is not the father of the child, according to Butler, who described the beating as “an incomprehensible act of violence against a child.”

“It’s another tragic case of a child being abused by a parent,” Butler said. “What hope do children have when their parents care so little for their well-being?”

The sheriff would say little else about the assault.

“The case is still under investigation,” he said. “We do not have some of the medical documents we need to talk about that.”

Franklin was in the news in July 1995 when a 34-year-old social worker was charged with having sex with him when he was 17.

The worker was the coordinator of the Department of Social Services’ independent living units.

She had placed Franklin in a group home on Ramsey Street at the time of the alleged affair. Her trial is pending.

Police say abuse spanned years

By Lora Hines, Staff writer
Wednesday, Mar. 3, 1999

Investigators say they are piecing together the story of a teen-ager’s beatings and torture

Scars from years of abuse cover Charles Jackson’s body.

The slash marks on his back, chest, arms and legs come from an extension cord that police say Charles’ mother used to whip him almost every day. Red scars from second- and third-degree burns on his side came from a hair dryer that his mother used to burn him three years ago, according to police.

His mother, Bonnie Colvin Jackson, “was really careful about not putting any bruises on his hands, face or any place that was visible,” said Fayetteville police investigator Brian Gainey. “He told us that he wore long shirts and pants year-round to hide the bruises.

“Have you ever seen the movie ‘Roots?’ When you see what the slaves look like after they’ve been whipped, multiply that by 10.”

Charles told police that his mother bound his hands with handcuffs or pantyhose and whipped him every day since he was 13. Or she hit him with her hands, police said.

Jackson, who is 39, faces 84 counts of child abuse, false imprisonment and assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury. She is being held in the Cumberland County Jail with her bail set at $58,000.

Police said they are still trying to find out if anyone knew what was going on at the Jacksons’ home. Jackson never had been charged with abusing her children before January, according to court records. She has never abused her younger son, Brandon, who is 8, according to the Cumberland County Department of Social Services.

After a beating with an extension cord on Jan. 12, Charles, who is 17, decided that he couldn’t take any more, Gainey said. “There was never any idea that it was going to end,” the investigator said.

Four days later, Charles ran away from his home at 5040 Onslow Drive, off Murchison Road, with just the clothes he was wearing, Gainey said.

A trooper from the state Highway Patrol found Charles walking along Interstate 95 in Robeson County. The trooper took Charles to the Robeson County Sheriff’s Department, and deputies took him to a shelter after he told them that he was 18, Gainey said.

Shelter employees called Social Services and police after Charles told them that he was 17. “When I first met him, I thought that this was going to take several days of interviews to build up a rapport,” Gainey said. “But he just started to repeat everything that had happened and told us where we could find everything.”

An extension cord

The youth also told investigators that they would find his blood on his bedroom walls, court records said.

Gainey got a warrant to search the house on Jan. 20. He found one large green extension cord, according to the warrant. The police arrested Jackson at the house.

Jackson “showed no remorse,” Gainey said to Cumberland County magistrates after her arrest. “She was packing clothes and items.”

Investigators found handcuffs buried under the house on Feb. 17. Charles told Gainey that he hid them there about two weeks before he ran away to stop his mother from beating him.

“She just switched up to pantyhose,” the investigator said.

Jackson first beat Charles in March 1993 when they lived in Harnett County, according to police records. She hit him with a board.

Police said they know the explanation for the beating, but Gainey declined to comment about it. He also refused to discuss what Jackson has told police about the beatings.

Charles declined to comment about the case. His mother told jail employees that she wanted to discuss it, but her lawyer, LaFonda Jones, rejected the idea. Jones declined to comment.

In January 1995, Jackson burned Charles with a hair dryer when the family lived on Italy Street, police records say. In November 1995, the family moved to Onslow Drive, and Jackson started beating Charles with an extension cord, police said. Jackson sometimes wouldn’t let Charles eat for days, according to court documents.

Jackson bought ointments so he could treat his wounds, but she never took him to a doctor, Gainey said.

Charles hasn’t gone to school in about a year, mainly because he didn’t want anyone to see the scars on his body, Gainey said. He was supposed to attend E.E. Smith High School, but Principal Lonnie McAllister said he didn’t know who Charles is.

Sara Piland, a spokesman for the Cumberland County schools, said she couldn’t disclose information about where Charles last attended school.

‘A prisoner’

“Basically, he was a prisoner in his own house,” Gainey said. “When he was home, he would be tied up.”

Jackson, who has no employment history, stayed at home, too.

Brandon didn’t go to school, neighbors said. But he was treated much differently, Gainey said. Brandon had toys to play with and his room was decorated similar to that of any boy his age, he said.

“Charles had nothing,” Gainey said. “His room was a room of horrors. It’s pretty much bare. He had a cot. He didn’t really have a bed. There were no sheets and no blankets. There are pieces of iron in there. It looks like pieces from an older bed frame.”

Charles told Gainey that his mother forced him to spend hours handcuffed or tied in her closet. He slept in the closet the last two years, according to court documents. Jackson hung him in there by handcuffing his hands over his head to a wooden bar, Gainey said.

“Lately, she was nice to him,” he said. “She would tie his hands in front of him instead of behind him. That’s what he described as nice.”

One of the few things that Charles was allowed to do was play video games with Brandon, Gainey said.

“He doesn’t describe getting any apologies from her,” he said.

Father has custody

Jackson’s single-story home has been vacant since her arrest. A plastic basketball goal and a lawn chair are lying in the front yard. A plastic wading pool can be seen through an open door to an outdoor storage room.

Charles’ father, Charles M. Jackson, has custody of his sons.

Cumberland County Juvenile Court will decide who will get custody of the boys and will decide what kind of counseling and treatment they will get, said Chip Modlin, director of Social Services.

Gainey said he is trying to find out why no one detected that anything was wrong at the Jackson house.

Charles’ father tried to visit the boys, but his mother ran him off most of the time, Gainey said. Neighbors Ermanese Thomas and her daughter, Latisha, said they thought Jackson was strange, but they didn’t know Charles was being beaten.

“The last time I saw him in school was at Reid Ross in the seventh grade,” said Latisha, who is 18. “I knew they weren’t going to school. We all would be standing on the corner waiting for the bus, and he would be walking to the store.”

Thomas said Jackson would send Charles to their home across the street to use the telephone. “But she’d make him come straight back home,” Thomas said.

Latisha said the only times Charles would go outside were to walk to the store. “She was always making him walk to the store,” Latisha said. “He’d walk to the store at 10 o’clock at night or early in the morning. I used to work at Winn-Dixie, and he would come to my line. He would say, ‘Hello, how are you doing?’

“He used to come over and talk to me, but she would come outside and call him right back,” Latisha said.

Latisha said Jackson also stopped her from going across the street to talk to Charles. Jackson would force her sons to get into their car and they would drive off, she said.

“I just thought that she didn’t care about him,” Latisha said.

Gainey described Charles as a shy and polite boy. “There’s very little as far as emotion. I ask a question, and he gives an answer.”

Unlike Charles, Brandon played outside with neighbor boys and rode his bike up and down the street, Latisha said. “He was always having fun, and the older boy was always sad and lonely.

“There was no screaming or nothing going on that you could hear. I guess whenever she said do it, he did it.”

Still, Latisha said she couldn’t understand why Charles let his mother hurt him and why he didn’t tell.

Charles is about 5 feet 8 and weighs between 140 and 150 pounds, police said. Latisha said she thought Charles is big enough to fight back. His mother is shorter, but she is bigger than Charles.

Investigator Gainey agreed that Charles probably is taller than his mother. But years of beatings psychologically abused Charles, too, Gainey said. He said he doesn’t know why Charles couldn’t leave, but he tried many times.

“Maybe he didn’t want to tell on his mama,” Thomas said.

Despite what police say they believe has happened to Charles, they think he can recover.

“He knows what happened is not normal,” Gainey said. “He knows right from wrong, and that’s a good sign.”

Latisha said she recently saw Charles for the first time in weeks at Fayetteville Technical Community College. He was registering for classes, she said.

“It was the first time I actually saw him smiling,” Latisha said.

Police charge woman with child abuse

Staff Report Crime Report - Cumberland
Saturday, May. 22, 1999

HOPE MILLS -- Hope Mills police say they charged a 34-year-old Fayetteville woman with three counts of child abuse because she left three children unattended in a locked car.

Pamela L. Deason, of the 2200 block of Kerfield Court, left her 7-year-old daughter and 2-year-old twins, whom she was baby-sitting, in a car for about 20 minutes while she and her 13-year-old daughter went to a tanning salon, said Capt. Tonzie Collins.

Deason was released from custody on $500 bond, according to records at the Cumberland County Magistrate’s Office. The children were not injured.

Deason left the car running while she was inside the salon, Collins said. The car windows were rolled up and the doors were locked, Collins said. The air conditioner was not turned on, he said.

Doctor: Infant’s losses profound

By Marc Barnes - Staff writer
Thursday, Aug. 6, 1998

When Ashley Price, then 8 months old, was violently shaken and her head slammed into a hard surface, the loss was profound.

Neurosurgeon Bruce Jaufmann testified in a court hearing Wednesday about the extraordinary measures doctors at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center and UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill took to save the baby’s life.

At the end, she was left with a massive injury to the left side of her brain.

Jaufmann said this is what she lost: Her speech. Her understanding of language. Her ability to move, to feel a touch on the opposite side of her body. Her vision. Her ability to understand emotion, to understand a joke, to laugh at it. Her ability to understand her surroundings.

“It was probably the ultimate in a violent act that someone can commit on someone else,” Jaufmann testified.

On that day, Feb. 24, 1997, Price was being cared for by Melissa Strickland, now 26. Wednesday, Strickland pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury and felony child abuse.

She will likely be sentenced today when court reconvenes at 9 a.m.

Strickland is facing a minimum of 15 to 27 months to a maximum of 31 to 47 months for each of the two crimes. Those sentences can be suspended, with probation or other sanctions.

Under the plea bargain, Strickland pleaded guilty to a less serious assault charge than the one she originally faced. The prosecution and the defense will be free to argue on the sentence she is to receive. Strickland will face no further or future criminal prosecutions in connection with the assault on the child.

Assistant District Attorney Elaine Kelley said Ashley’s parents, Ken Price and Amanda Tew, had placed the child with Strickland about three months beforehand. Everything seemed to be all right, as Strickland had a 14-month-old child of her own at home.

But on that day, Strickland called for an ambulance, saying Ashley had fallen and was not breathing. When rescue workers arrived, the child was already beginning to show a physical response to a head injury.

Kelley said Strickland gave inconsistent statements, saying at first that the child had rolled off a couch and hit her head on a coffee table, then saying she had rolled off a bed.

Jaufmann testified during the plea hearing that by the time he saw Ashley in the emergency room at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, it was clear that she had a severe, life-threatening brain injury, which he said is nearly always fatal in an adult.

Jaufmann testified that he removed part of her skull to keep the swelling brain from compressing her brain stem, which would have caused a coma and death.

Problems with her lungs, caused by the trauma to her brain, prompted Ashley to be sent to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill.

An examination showed that her skull was fractured in several places, appearing like a piece of glass that had been cracked. Jaufmann testified that it appeared that the child had been struck on each side of her head.

And in cases where child abuse is suspected, X-rays are taken of the entire body. Fractures were found in Ashley’s right lower leg, in four ribs, in her forearm and in a knuckle, according to testimony.

Jaufmann testified after surgery, he spoke to family members and to Strickland.

“I asked if anyone knew what happened,” he said. “(Strickland) told me she fell off a couch, and basically I said that she didn’t, that it was obviously a very severe trauma that you could never get by falling off a couch.”

Dr. Joshua Alexander, a specialist in providing care to children with disabilities, said Ashley is severely impaired, which will not likely change for the rest of her life.

He said the child, whom he last saw in May at the age of almost 2 years, has problems rolling over, can’t sit up, eat, bathe or communicate.

Alexander warned that when she reaches the age of 20, it is doubtful that she will be independent. He said she will require expensive care for even the most basic needs for the rest of her life, a life that will likely be shortened because of complications from her injuries.

“It is hard for me to envision her leading a normal life,” Alexander testified.


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