How a law meant to curb infanticide was used to abandon teens
CBC, Out in the Open · Dec 01, 2017
In 2008, Gary Staton dropped off nine of his 10 kids after his wife, RebelJane died. RebelJane's aunt Phyllis McCaul ended up taking seven of Staton's kids. Some are pictured above in a photo taken in 2017. (Supplied by Phyllis McCaul)
It was a law originally meant to stop infanticide. But in 2008, it was used to drop off a total of 35 older children.
Nebraska had just passed its version of a Safe Haven Law, meant to decriminalize infant abandonment. The law makes it so parents who can't care for a baby, don't do anything desperate. With a Safe Haven Law, parents can legally and anonymously give up their baby.
All states in the U.S. have a version of a Safe Haven Law now, but Nebraska's was different: there was no age restriction. All other states capped the age at a few days to 30 days old.
"I think there's a misperception that we just inadvertently left an age cap out. But the reality was we wanted to save lives of older kids who might be at risk," said Amanda McGill Johnson, a Nebraska state senator at the time.
"We'd seen nationally a mother who drowned her kids in a bathtub because she was depressed. And, so, in our minds, why should only infant life be protected?"
Most kids between 10 and 17
What happened next stunned the former state senator. It wasn't infants, but kids and teens being abandoned, many at hospital emergency wards. Most were between the ages of 10 and 17.
Laura Peet-Erkes worked on the front lines as a social worker at one of those hospitals, Creighton University in Omaha. She said one or two kids got dropped off every week. She can't remember getting any infants.
"Some of the kids were dropped off and walked in by their parents who gave us an extensive history about everything that they'd been dealing with ... [T]here were other parents who literally dropped their kids off and drove away," she said.
"It was a challenge for us to figure out, 'Who is this kid?' 'Where did they come from?' ... [S]ome of them were so confused about what was going on [asking] 'Why did my mom leave?' 'What's going to happen to me next?'"
The fact that older children were being dropped off put a national spotlight on the issue of struggling families, particularly those with children who had mental health and behavioural issues, and in some cases, who were a danger to themselves and others.
It became national news - that a law originally meant to curb infanticide was being used to abandon older kids. But it was no surprise to Laura and other healthcare professionals who saw desperate parents show up at emergency wards before and attempt to admit their kids.
'I needed to save the kids'
Most of the children and their parents were not identified in the media. One of the few exceptions was Gary Staton. His case was slightly different.
Gary dropped off nine of his 10 children (his eldest was already 18) because he said he felt overwhelmed. His wife, RebelJane, died of a brain aneurysm the previous year. Phyllis McCaul was RebelJane's aunt. The then 58-year-old had already raised five of her own children but ended up taking in seven of Staton's kids, ages one to 14.
All 10 kids from the Staton family in 2007, one year before the Nebraska Safe Haven Law came into effect and most of them were dropped off by their father. (Supplied by Phyllis McCaul)
"I told Rebel that the family would take care of her children and that it was OK for her to die. And then she did. So I felt like I needed to save the kids, like I promised," said Phyllis.
Phyllis says she had to put up a fight to get all seven of the children because she was an older woman, and threatened to take none of them unless all seven came with her.
Ten years later, Phyllis says all of the children are fine and taller than her now.
She also says she thought it was important to take them to the state capitol building, to help them understand why their dad dropped them off and what the law was all about.
"I said, 'Right there, right inside those doors, you guys, that Safe Haven Law was made. And what happened to you guys was wrong. And they all met in there and changed it. So you guys made history. So be proud of the fact that you survived this.' So for about a week, they told everybody they made history."
Four months after the law took effect, Nebraska added an age cap of 30 days.
Former state senator Amanda McGill Johnson says she gets sensitive when people refer to what happened as a "debacle".
Two baby boxes opened in Edmonton hospitals on 2013. Alberta is just the second province to provide the newborn safe havens in an attempt to prevent unsafe abandonment. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)
"The law had unintended consequences than what we had originally anticipated but I think ultimately those consequences became a good thing for our state" because it highlighted the lack of support for families struggling with mental health issues.
Though child abandonment is illegal in Canada, a few hospitals in Vancouver and Edmonton have drop-off areas where people can leave infants without repercussions. In addition, the Safe Haven Laws were talked about this year in Canada after an infant was found near a busy road in Halifax.
The Associated Press, Published Wednesday, September 14, 2016
WARNING: This story contains disturbing details.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The mother of a 10-year-old New Mexico girl found dead and dismembered told police she sought men online and at work to sexually assault her daughter, according to warrants obtained by the Albuquerque Journal.
Michelle Martens told police that she had set up encounters with at least three men to sexually assault her daughter, the Albuquerque Journal reported. The child's death sparked vigils and outcry across the state.
Canadian Press, (various newspapers across Canada, including the Toronto Star) Aug. 16, 2006.
ISLE LA MOTTE, Vt. A Montreal mother recovering from alleged self-inflicted wounds will be charged in the coming days with murdering her 8-year-old son, whose body was found in Lake Champlain, a Vermont state attorney said today.
I am going to prepare a charge of first-degree murder, Grand Isle States Attorney David Miller said in a telephone interview. Read More ..
Australian Associated Press
December 05, 2008
A WOMAN who killed her infant son by jumping with him from the eighth floor of a city apartment block has walked free after being convicted of manslaughter.
Yeeda Topham, 40, of Roleystone near Perth, had pleaded guilty in the West Australian Supreme Court to a charge of unlawfully killing 21-month-old James Topham on November 5 last year. Read More ..
Fire Officials Claim Fire Intentionally Set
NBC4-TV, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.
LOS ANGELES, USA -- Murder charges are expected to be filed against a woman whose infant son's body was found in a washing machine after firefighters doused what they say was an intentionally set fire, authorities said Tuesday.
Latunga Starks, 32, was taken into custody last night, according to the Sheriff's Department Web site.
Los Angeles Police Department Lt. Dennis Shirey identified the mother and her nearly 3-month-old son, Michael Kelvin Thompson.
The Toronto Star, By Peter Small, Courts Bureau, March 01, 2008
Xuan (Linda) Peng has been found guilty of second-degree murder in the drowning death of her 4-year-old autistic daughter Scarlett in a bathtub in the family home.
A Superior Court jury returned its verdict Saturday morning after two days of deliberations.
Scarlett Chen was discovered unconscious by her distraught father David Chen in the tub on the second floor of the family's townhouse on Rosebank Dr., near Markham Rd. and Sheppard Ave. E. on July 12, 2004.
Peng told police that she had put their daughter down for a nap in the adjoining bedroom, and had no idea she had climbed into the bathtub, which the woman had filled with water to clean some kitchen utensils.
However, seven months later, homicide detectives charged the 36-year-old Chinese immigrant with first-degree murder. The charges were later reduced to second-degree murder. Read More ..
Associated Press, Globe and Mail, Tuesday, May. 13, 2003, Page A15
TYLER, TEX. -- A woman accused of fatally beating two of her sons with rocks spent Mother's Day sobbing and muttering in a jail cell.
Deanna LaJune Laney, 38, remained on suicide watch yesterday at Smith County Jail, where she was held in lieu of a $3-million (U.S.) bond on capital-murder and aggravated-assault charges.
Ms. Laney is accused of killing Joshua Laney, 8, and Luke Laney, 6, and injuring their 14-month-old brother, Aaron. The toddler remained in critical condition yesterday at a Dallas Hospital.
In a call to emergency workers early Saturday, Ms. Laney reported that she had just "bashed their heads in with a rock," Sheriff J. B. Smith said. Read More ..
Investigation into the Death of Zachary Andrew Turner (18 July 2002 to 18 August 2003)
Zachary Turner, a 13 months old baby, died at the hands of his fugitive mother, Dr. Shirley Turner, who killed him and then committed suicide on August 18, 2003.
Turner was facing extradition to the United States to stand trial for the 2001 murder of Dr. Andrew Bagby, Zachary's father.
28-year-old Dr. Andrew Bagby was found shot to death in Keystone State Park, 55 kilometres northeast of Pittsburgh, PA, U.S.A.
Turner fled to Newfoundland, Canada where Zachary was born. She was out on bail against the wishes of U.S. authorities at the time of Zachary's death. Read More ..
Canada's largest national newspaper
The Globe and Mail
October 6, 2006
Toronto - As a female friend of Frances Elaine Campione put it, this after Ms. Campione was charged on Wednesday with murder in the death of her two young children, "That mother needs a hug."
In that line, widely repeated in Toronto and national media outlets, is a telling clue to what is so wrong with much of what happens both in the nation's family courts and in its child-protection system -- the pervasive view of the female of the species as constantly nurturing (except, you know, when she allegedly kills) and as in need of constant nurture (hugs all 'round, no matter what).
For the record, Ms. Campione was arrested two days ago after she phoned 911 to report that there were two dead children inside her Barrie, Ont., apartment, and shortly after, didn't police arrive to find the bodies of her own little girls, one-year-old Sophia and three-year-old Serena.
She and her estranged husband Leo were reportedly in the throes of a nasty custody battle, with Mr. Campione accused of assaulting his wife and the older child, and Ms. Campione allegedly alarmed, and/or depressed, at the prospect of losing that fight.
And The Globe has confirmed that involved with the family was the Children's Aid Society of Simcoe County. At the moment, the nature of that involvement is unknown -- except as it has been reported by neighbours who saw social workers at the apartment and say that, for a time recently, the girls lived with their paternal grandparents.
Wednesday, May. 22, 2002
KINGSTON, Ont. (CP) -- An Ontario woman who was sentenced to 16 years in prison in one of Canada's stiffest penalties for child abuse will be released on full parole after serving less than half her term.
Lorelei Turner, 38, and her husband Steven were convicted of manslaughter in July 1995 for beating and starving their three-year-old son John to death in a case that horrified Canadians who followed the trial.
But on Wednesday, a panel of the National Parole Board in this eastern Ontario city ruled Turner will be released but placed on probation until July 2011.
Until then, she must remain within 25 kilometres of her residence, is not allowed unsupervised contact with anyone under 16, and must continue to receive counselling.
"The board would have looked at the risk and obviously found a low risk to reoffend," Carol Sparling of the National Parole Board said Wednesday.
The Associated Press, U.S.A., November 4, 2014
NEWPORT, Ore. -- A woman who said she threw her 6-year-old son off a historic bridge on the Oregon coast was arrested after the boy's body was found in the bay, police said.
Police and firefighters in the coastal city of Newport, Lincoln County deputies and the Coast Guard searched the bay with boats and a helicopter after Jillian Meredith McCabe, 34, of Seal Rock called 911 at 6:25 p.m. Monday to report throwing her son off the Yaquina Bay Bridge.
The boy's body was found at 10:23 p.m. in the bay after it was spotted near the Embarcadero Resort, police said.
Days after buying another woman Valentine's Day flowers, a Sydney father came home to find a trail of blood leading him to the bodies of his two young children lying next to their mother, a court has been told.
Australian Associated Press
Aug 24 2009
The woman had given the couple's three-year-old daughter and four-year-old son rat poison and an unidentified pink liquid before smothering them and killing them, court papers said.
She then tried to take her own life, the NSW Supreme Court was told.
Doctors agree the mother, from Canley Heights in Sydney's west, was suffering from "major depression" when she poisoned her children on February 19 last year.
She has pleaded not guilty to the two murders by reason of mental illness.
As her judge-alone trial began, the mother's lawyer told Justice Clifton Hoeben his client didn't think life was worth living after learning about her husband's affair.
ST. STEPHEN, N.B. - A New Brunswick judge says a woman who burned and dismembered her newborn son is criminally responsible for her actions.
Becky Sue Morrow earlier pleaded guilty to offering an indignity to a dead body and disposing of a newborn with the intent of concealing a delivery.
Judge David Walker ruled Friday that the 27-year-old woman may have been suffering from a mental disorder when she delivered the baby but that that was not the case when the baby's body was burned and its remains hidden.
It is not known if the baby was alive at the time of birth.
At a hearing last month, the court heard contrasting reports from the two psychiatrists. One said Ms. Morrow was in a "disassociated" mental state when the crime occurred. The other said she clearly planned her actions and understood the consequences.
The Toronto Star, April 3 2013
A woman has been sentenced to 27 months in prison in connection to the death of her nine-week-old son in a bizarre case where the infant boy's body has yet to be recovered.
Both parents Ricky Ray Doodhnaught, 32, and Nadia Ayyad, 24, have been implicated in the case that dates back to November 2011 when Children's Aid workers along with York Regional Police attempted to seize two children under a court order from a Vaughan home.
Associated Press, USA, published in Toronto Star, Oct. 24, 2019
LAS VEGAS USA- A Las Vegas woman who waged a court custody battle for her 6-year-old son set the boy afire earlier this month, igniting a house fire that killed them both, police and arson investigators found. Gasoline was detected on first-grader Gavin Palmer’s clothing, and the deaths of the boy and his mother, Renai Palmer, were investigated as a rare arson murder-suicide, Las Vegas police homicide Lt. Ray Spencer told the Las Vegas Review-Journal for a Wednesday report. The Clark County coroner’s office said Thursday the cause and manner of the two deaths remained under investigation.