Look for Annie, Abuse

by David P. Rundle

This opinion article ran in The Wichita Eagle on Sun, Apr. 23, 2006 and is reprinted here with the author’s permission.

Her name was Annie — Annie Marshall. She was 14 and lived in Florida with her mother, Kathryn Joan Allen, and with Allen’s boyfriend and some siblings.

Annie had cerebral palsy and vision problems. At some point, Allen decided to put Annie in a room and not feed her anymore. When she died, she weighed 57 pounds.

I read her story on the Internet on April 1, 1995. The doctor who did the autopsy called it the most heinous and hideous thing he had been involved in.

I kept thinking about Annie in that room, not being able to get up to relieve herself, feeling hungry and unloved, and it hit me in the gut.

Every two or three months, I’d phone the Florida district attorney to see where the case was. For years, it was in limbo. Then Allen cut a deal and got five years for the most heinous and hideous thing the doctor had ever been involved with.

I knew I could do no more about it either as a writer or an activist. Allen walked in my view. But it was an isolated case.

But there are no isolated cases.

In 2004, Paul “Danny” Banko was admitted to a St. Louis hospital. The then-16-year-old — who has cerebral palsy, seizures and is mentally disabled — weighed 40 pounds at the time. Last year, his mom, Lori Baugher, was convicted in Michigan of third-degree child abuse. She recently received three years of probation.

There are no isolated cases.

Late last month, cops in Pensacola, Fla., rescued 27-year-old Tony Turner from a mobile home where they say his mother, Debbie Fay McGeorge, allegedly had left him for dead. Turner has cerebral palsy. The investigation continues.

There are no isolated cases.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported on April 5 that 34-year-old Nyakiambi Whitten was fatally stabbed, allegedly by her mom, Betty Whitten, who then tried to drive herself and the body over a bridge near Chicago. An Illinois court has just deemed the mother unfit for trial at this time.

There are no isolated cases. I see four dots here, four dots that need to be connected. I also think — this is my gut — we have more dots out there. I do not think there is a conspiracy or movement. Although Peter Singer, a bioethics professor at Princeton University, does believe parents of disabled babies ought to be allowed to kill them — humanely, of course, up to a certain age.

I cannot explain why mothers would kill or try to kill their children, especially by starving them. I hope I never understand their “reasoning.”

What I think I can do is try to explain something of what the victims felt during their ordeals. They were angry. I don’t mean angry with their parents. They were angry with themselves and their bodies.

If you have cerebral palsy, you sense that your body has betrayed you and those you love. You feel guilty for causing so many problems. You may drool, wet or soil yourself. You are not worthy of love.

My family has never fed these feelings. I have felt them nonetheless.

I knew my mother’s love until she died. I still know the love of many people. Did Annie and Nyakiambi ever know love? Will Danny and Tony?

We need to connect not only dots but people. Get involved. If you suspect abuse of anyone, report it. Annie is in the shadows. Look for her.

David P. Rundle, a freelance journalist in Wichita, has cerebral palsy and epilepsy.