One empty chair for each child abuse death - East Valley Tribune: News

One empty chair for each child abuse death

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Posted: Tuesday, April 6, 2010 3:47 pm | Updated: 3:26 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

On the lawn of the Arizona state capitol Tuesday, there were 51 empty chairs symbolizing heartbreak, sadness and senseless tragedy.

Child abuse event to remember Chandler girl

On the lawn of the Arizona state capitol Tuesday, there were 51 empty chairs symbolizing heartbreak, sadness and senseless tragedy.

Each represented a child who died in 2008 from maltreatment including neglect and severe child abuse, a crime that’s on the rise, according to representatives from the Child Abuse and Awareness Coalition that formed to bring awareness to the problem and educate abusers and victims of help and options available.

Child abuse event to remember Chandler girl

As part of National Child Abuse Awareness Month, about 200 people from government agencies, nonprofit groups including Bikers Against Child Abuse, hospital personnel and law enforcement agencies attended the program initiated by the Chandler Police Department to remember children who died at the hands of their abusers. Half of Chandler’s six homicides last year were from severe child abuse with the ages of the victims ranging from 3 weeks old to 3 years old.

Overall, Child Protective Services received more than 33,000 reports of child neglect or abuse last year, which ranks Arizona 31st in the number of reported cases, according to CPS.

Three-year-old Schala Vera of Chandler was one of them. Police said she died on Aug. 31 after her mother’s boyfriend, Dauntorian Sanders, 23, beat her with a belt and dropped her on the floor several times. Some beatings came as he dangled Schala by her ankle above the second-floor stair bannister area, according to a Chandler police report. Police said they discovered Schala lying unresponsive on the bathroom floor between the toilet and vanity where she tried to hide from the beatings. Schala’s mother, Susan Wichbracht, 27, who said she witnessed the beating on the day of Schala’s death, told police she beat her daughter on occasion. Sanders and Wichbracht each have been charged with first-degree murder. They are scheduled to appear for a hearing in Maricopa County Superior Court on April 15.

“That case galvanized us to do something,” Chandler police Chief Sherry Kiyler said. “We had to do something. Our goal is to expose it and provide options for those who need help before it’s too late. Hopefully, the numbers will begin to diminish.”

A team of four ER nurses from Mercy Gilbert Medical Center who tried to revive Schala said hers was the worst abuse case they had seen. The nurses attended Tuesday’s ceremony where Gov. Jan Brewer, Kiyler and Childhelp officials Sara O’Meara, Yvonne Fedderson and Paul Pensone spoke of how a child is abused every 10 seconds in the United States.

“Unfortunately, the number of child abuse cases we are seeing is increasing and they’re getting more severe,” said Kepra Jack, an ER nurse at Mercy Gilbert, who was on shift when Schala was brought in. “I think Schala’s case has hit us all, and it hasn’t gone away. This day is about educating people about the problem and letting them know what resources are available. There’s a misnomer out there that if you seek help for abusing your child, your child will be taken away. If people need help, they need to seek help.

“There’s all kinds of resources available and many of them are free. We’re living in tough socio-economic times and it’s supposed to get worse. People are stressed anyway, and if they have problems coping at home, it only makes the problem worse.”

Brewer, who lit five candles to remember the number of children who die from abuse each day in the U.S., said, “We all have a special duty to ensure the safety of all children in Arizona and in the country. This requires neighborhoods and communities to be on alert. Most importantly, if you suspect abuse, report it.”

A girl who was a victim of sexual abuse from her stepfather for four years before she reported him when she was 14, spoke during the awareness event.

“It’s OK to tell,” she said. “It shouldn’t be happening.”

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