The other night I was watching a British series, CALL THE MIDWIFE. In this episode, there was a horrible incident of child neglect/abuse which greatly impacted the midwives, nuns, and police. All people who were used to misery and sadness. But this was different because it was children.
It brought me back to a morning four decades ago where I was dispatched to an elementary school in our city. I entered the school and was brought to a room where my roommate was already talking to a couple of little children. My roommate, the “Kiddie Cop” for the department, was a good guy. And I only had to take one look at him to see he was really upset about what he was hearing.
As per our protocol, I waited for him to finish before approaching, and then interviewed the children myself. I don’t remember if it was the principal or a school nurse who was there to provide protection for the children involved, but there was a third person in the room as a witness.
I knelt down so I could look the little boy in the eye, he was about eight or nine at the most. His younger sister was in the room as well, sitting rather frozen in a chair by the third person. Clearly she was in shock.
The reason for us talking to the boy separately was so that we could validate the story he was telling independently. It was not a good story. It turned out that the childrens’ teachers had suspected abuse on other occasions, but the children clammed up and wouldn’t say anything. The usual “I just fell, I’m okay” sort of thing. Mind you, this was four decades ago, and a lot of things just didn’t go much past the classroom. Reporting standards were quite different.
On that day, however, there was irrefutable, undeniable evidence of abuse that had to be addressed.
You see, both children had sheetrock embedded in their scalps.
It turned out that they had a puppy, and the puppy had scratched at the door to go out. I never even asked what happened to the dog, but Daddy Dearest (and this was as told to me by the boy) had warned them they were responsible for the dog and its actions. When the dog scratched the door, dad decided to bounce their heads off the wall as a punishment. He did it a lot, and consequently the sheetrock broke and pushed under their scalps.
My roommate and I did the usual investigative steps, gathered photos, and then stopped cold. The children lived just outside the city limits, and thus the crime had been committed outside of our jurisdiction. We only found this out as we were readying a complaint to get an arrest warrant. At this time, in New Mexico, the courts were very rigid about the proper agency pursuing the crime.
We had no option. We had to call the County Sheriff and let them pursue the case. We waited with the kids until the county sent someone to take the case, handed over our notes and departed. We could do nothing.
I still remember, through a haze of anger, how we stood in the lot of the school smoking a cigarette and discussing the fact that we could get to dad and deal with him before the county could get a warrant. It would have been so simple, yet so wrong. And, as it turned out, instead we ate our anger and rage and went back to our jobs.
I never found out what happened with those kids. The boy would be closing in on middle age right now. I have wondered a few times over the years if they were removed from the home, if there was a mom who took them, and how badly they were damaged from the evil presence that was their father.
I am blessed in that while it’s still a strong memory, it isn’t a “trigger” for me like so many other people in the First Responder field who deal with that sort of thing over and over again in a career. For me, it’s a moment of reflection and sadness.
So, to all of you out there reading this, keep an eye peeled for little children who are just a note off, and suffer an unusual amount of random physical damage. You might be the only one standing between them and a sheetrock wall.