This is the first time in my memory that a key reporter (Brandon Stahl) from a major newspaper (Star Tribune) has taken the time and energy to thoroughly investigate child abuse. The greatest sadness in all this may be that a baby must die for the public to care enough to read about it. As a volunteer guardian ad-Litem and CASAMN board member, I’ve come to know many children that have lived horrific lives and some that have tried to escape by killing themselves (one four year old, and a seven year old foster boy that hung himself and left a note).
Lois Jurgens tortured and killed her three year old adopted son Dennis Jergens over time and in a most brutal fashion. She was the adoptive mother of six children and she tortured them all over long periods of time. She was eventually convicted and sentenced for murder – but not before adopting five other children (after Dennis’s was tortured to death).
Prior to the adoption of Dennis, Lois had been hospitalized three times for mental illness and there were Mayo Clinic psychiatrist records strongly recommending against Lois becoming an adoptive parent because she was a potential paranoid schizophrenic.
She had been turned down by a number of Catholic adoption agencies, but Ramsey County (like many counties) was having trouble finding adoptive homes for abandoned and abused children. Within a year of the adoption, Dennis was admitted to the Ramsey County hospital with burns on his penis and bruises all over his two year old body.
Five years after Dennis’ death, Lois and her husband moved to Kentucky and adopted five more children (states still don’t share information in many cases).
Brandon Stahl has written clearly and accurately about four year old Eric Dean’s short tortured life and the institutional failures that lead to his death. How fifteen reports were made to the under–trained/understaffed/under-resourced county workers ignored all of them.
There will be blaming and hand-wringing by the county administrators until this story goes away, and then we can expect a long silence until the next horrific and completely avoidable child death occurs in our state.
There are four counties in MN that screen out 90% of child abuse cases and the rest of the state screens out 71%.
In my own child protection volunteer work, the state of Wisconsin had a court order forbidding a man to be around young boys because of what he did to them.
This man had spent 2/3 of his adult life in prison for crimes he had committed upon young boys when he was given custody of his four year old son. That boy, his son, was tied to a bed and left alone for days at a time without food or water, sexually abused, and beaten from head to toe. When I met this boy, his whole body was covered with bruises (he was seven years old).
This boy’s four year, tortured, near death experience was the direct result of a county not having the most simple safeguards in place.
The court order was a public document, the prison record for crimes against children were available in any background check – how much more blatant could this oversight have been?
I have come to believe that the fault lies in our aversion to the topic and the absence of discussion about child abuse that has made it so prolific in our nation. Six million children are now reported annually in this nation and very few of those reports are responded to and fewer still are tracked and monitored.
There is very little difference in the circumstances that killed Dennis Jergens, and the circumstances that almost killed my guardian ad-Litem case child, and now, those circumstances have killed Eric Dean.
The horror of abusive child death are the sign of a damaged social safety net. If our young and most vulnerable can’t be looked after, we are surely a misguided community.
We also know that the long lasting results of child abuse will fill our prisons, damage out education system, and have made life unsafe and unhappy in many of our communities.
Thank you Brandon Stahl for your excellent work. Please continue until a few more of us wake up to help these children from our institutional neglect and put in place safeguards that will improve the lives of abused and neglected children.
Eric’s toddler room teacher at Kingdom Kids day care
Reported bite marks, bruising in Jan. 2012
Eric’s day-care provider who filed several abuse reports
Eric’s maternal grandmother