October 16, 2012

Screaming Babies End Up Dead. Why?




Two infants die from head trauma. Why?

A mother killed her four-month old son. A year later, pregnant with her fourth child, she killed her six-month old son.1

The reason? She said she did it on both occasions because she was frustrated with the kids crying and she couldn’t deal with the constant crying.1

Although there’s no excusing the mother’s actions I can empathize.


I was eleven years old, my sister was twelve, when my mother’s boy friend Tom moved into our apartment. Soon Olive gave birth to the eldest child of her second family. Her parents, my grandparents, were none too pleased—in fact, her father was livid. A month after my sister’s birth Olive’s mother died.

Her parents had been Olive’s only support network twenty-two years.

By September Olive was pregnant again.  Tom left Olive and traveled ten hours west to his family home.

Olive placed her infant with someone she knew, and her pre-teens with someone else. Then she boarded a bus and followed Tom to his family’s home. While there they were married. They returned east, rented a U-haul trailer. After loading it with what belongings they could they picked up their infant. About ten-thirty in the evening they picked up my older sister and me. We traveled all night, arriving mid-morning at our step-father’s mother’s home.

Olive and Tom located full-time jobs.

A year later Olive and Tom rented an apartment in public housing. The parents slept on a hide-a-bed couch in the living room. Olive became pregnant again—less than two years after the birth of their second child a third one was born. Fifteen months later a fourth child was born.

The result: Olive and Tom each have full-time jobs; four babies born in less than six years; two pre-teens/teens, all sharing a home with little space. Even when they moved to a three-bedroom home, the living arrangement was tight.

The stress must have been overwhelming and agonizing.

Which brings me to crying babies.

I especially remember mealtimes. The decibel strength of adults yelling and babies screaming ofen reached decibles higher than the sound of a jackhammer.

Adults yelling and babies screaming typified the hours Olive and Tom were home.

By the time I was able to remove myself from this home the crying had left an imprint on my brain. I cannot describe the feeling in my head/brain whenever I heard a baby’s cry.

Fast forward to my marriage and the arrival of my two children, one through adoption and one through birth. Fortunately my youngest child was easy-going and I had little other demands on my time.

Nineteen months later my second child was born. For some reason neither I nor the pediatrician could determine why he cried constantly. He was also a non-sleeper. Whenever he did slumber for a few minutes my first child was awake.

For three months he cried. When he finally stopped my daughter began a crying siege (I finally figured out she wanted to be potty trained).

The situation was perfect for me to have the same response as the mother in the news report.

By the time my first child arrived I’d reached a point where the worst effects of baby crying had minimum effect on me. By the time I was immersed with my second child’s crying the head/brain response began returning.

I had no help. No one wanted to help care for my second child because of his incessant crying. Not even my best friend who was like family.

It was a dangerous situation. I was at risk of harming my children. How could I avoid this when their baby crying sent me to the edge of the precipice?

Once I threw something—not at the child, but at the wall on the opposite side of the room. Another time I made certain the baby was safe in his crib and walked around the block.


What led to this mother to harm her two children to the death? Why couldn’t she handle the crying? What tools did she have to deal with the constant crying?

While I cannot condone this mother’s actions I can empathize.


This mother isn’t the only parent—or other—who murdered an infant because of its crying:

  • Police believe murder defendant Steven Shockley killed his girlfriend’s baby on June 2 by “slamming him face first” into a sofa and then punching the infant, Dagan Matthew Gammon, in the back of the head…The 31-year-old, unemployed Shockley apparently was upset because the 5-month-old baby would not stop crying,…2
  • A Florida man is accused of killing his newborn son because the child would not stop crying while he played videogames…Jacob David Hartley, 20, admitted to authorities that he shook the 3-week-old boy…3
  • a Florida mother accused of shaking her 3-month-old son to death after he interrupted her FarmVille game on Facebook, has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder…The 22-year-old was charged in the January death of her baby,4
  • A 13-year-old boy has been accused of killing his (nine-month-old) sister because her crying interrupted a video game he was playing.5


Several of the above cases list video games as a cause of the murderous actions of the perpetrator. However, screaming babies is the central commonality.


The question these cases leave me with is: How can we protect babies at risk?







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