It has happened AGAIN. For the third time in as many years, a child in our community has died at the hands of a parent - the person who is supposed to love them the best, the person every child blindly trusts and loves, the person charged with protecting them.
In 2006, it was Michelle Fontanez, a 13-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted and strangled by her stepfather. The Florida Department of Children and Families admitted it "failed" Michelle by not monitoring the family, despite repeated reports of abuse. A shake-up at the agency accomplished nothing but damage control and a vow that not another child would be harmed.
Then, just last spring, a beautiful, beaming, 3-year-old little boy named Zahid Jones was brutally beaten to death by his mother's boyfriend. Like most people in our community, I couldn't read the newspaper accounts without crying. Zahid was the same age as my oldest nephew, and he was so little, and his mother's boyfriend was so big and so angry and so much stronger...and, what gets me the most is, Zahid was old enough to know what was happening, and old enough to be terrified as he was enduring the beating that would ultimately take his precious life. I'm crying even now, imagining how scared he must have been, and how abandoned and alone he must have felt.
As with the Fontanez case, DCF admitted it failed Zahid Jones by not continuing to monitor the family, and not verifying that Zahid's mother was complying with the judge's orders to prohibit her boyfriend from being in the house with her children. Zahid died because his mother defied the judge's orders, and her boyfriend didn't like it when Zahid cried. Zahid's paternal grandmother - bless her soul - rightly raised such a ruckus in the community that every social welfare agency, every community stakeholder, and our local media all vowed "never again. No more."
So, then, the news from Cape Coral on Monday is especially disturbing. It has happened again: on Monday 6-year-old Joshua Jenkins died from a vicious beating delivered by his 250-lb. stepfather. The boy weighed 50 lbs. Apparently, Joshua wet the bed. For this grievous offense, Joshua endured a beating that resulted in severe internal bleeding (losing 3 liters of blood in his abdominal area), a lacerated liver, a hemorrhaged forehead and left temple and bite marks. Upon his arrest, the stepfather claimed he was "playing too rough" with the child. Last I checked, "play" does not result in bite marks, hemorrhages and a lacerated liver. And now, for the third time, the DCF has admitted it "failed" Joshua by failing to continue monitoring the family, despite repeated reports of abuse. Even more outrageous is the fact that DCF and our esteemed family court judges have allowed the mother to maintain custody of the 6-MONTH-old child she made with the animal who murdered her 6-YEAR-old son.
As Peegie and I listened to the news on Tuesday, all I could do is cry. Like the two other children before him, I imagine how scared he must have been, and how alone he felt, and how he probably couldn't understand why this terrible thing was happening to him.
I feel so helpless, even though I know it will take all of us - as a community - to put a stop to this horrifying child abuse. The only thing I could do in that moment was pick up my son, hold him close, smother him with kisses and promise him that I would never, ever let anything bad happen to him.
I told Zane I would NEVER spank him or hurt him for crying or wetting the bed. I promised to be patient with him, and to work with him to figure things out...even if it means washing his sheets every hour, or buying a new mattress, or holding him close while he wails and cries, or whatever...Peegie promised him that he can cry and cry and cry and cry, and it is WAY OKAY...that we will love him and hold him, and that he can trust us.
Every night, before I go to sleep, I pray. I always start by thanking God for the blessings in my life, especially Peegie, Zane, and my family. I pray for strength and patience, and I thank God for the challenges He presents to me wherein I can learn strength and patience. In the last two days, I have also prayed that God will keep Michelle, Zahid and Joshua close to Him. And I pray that we will not tolerate losing another child at the hands of their parents.
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