Investigators were dealing with a confusing domestic situation as they tried to determine what exactly happened to 2-year-old Ethan Bigham on March 10, and who inflicted the injuries that led to the toddler’s death four days later.
Ethan was one of nine people staying in the small mobile home at 2039 Hemstreet Road in Marilla, authorities said.
Ethan’s mother lived there with her four children and four other adults. Seventeen-year-old Devon M. VanDerWege was a recent arrival, residing there for less than a month, according to the Erie County Sheriff’s Office.
Now, the trailer is empty and VanDerWege has been charged with second-degree murder, accused of inflicting the blunt force trauma that left Ethan brain-dead. The boy died on Tuesday, after he was removed from life support at Women & Children’s Hospital.
No More Child Abuse. No More Child Murder.
One of 2-year-old Ethan Bigham’s organs went to a little boy in Texas. Another part of him was transplanted into a 55-year-old Buffalo woman.
“At this point that’s what is keeping me going, knowing that my son is a miracle by helping others,” Ethan’s mother Heather Schoepflin said Tuesday.
Just hours earlier she kissed Ethan goodbye before he was wheeled into surgery to harvest his organs and tissue.
Seventeen-year-old babysitter Devon M. Vanderwege is accused of brutally beating the child Friday in the family’s Marilla trailer. He was charged Saturday with first-degree assault by the Erie County Sheriff’s Office. But he may soon face a second-degree murder charge, authorities said.
We Can Prevent Child Abuse and Murder. We Must.
BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The Buffalo woman who is accused of taking her four-year-old daughter from a bus stop Thursday afternoon, prompting an Amber Alert to be issued in the middle of the night, has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges against her.
Mikesha Lawson, 23, was arraigned in Buffalo City Court Saturday morning on charges of custodial interference, unlawful imprisonment, criminal contempt, endangering the welfare of a child, resisting arrest, and obstruction of governmental administration; All misdemeanor charges.
Police say Lawson was in Family Court Thursday when she learned she was going to lose custody of her daughter. We’re told Lawson left the courthouse and hid at her daughter’s bus stop, taking her as she returned from school.
The mother and daughter were both found safe Friday morning.
1 in 5 New York Kids Are Sexually Abused. Help Prevent That
The CDC reports that 1 in 5 children are sexually abused.
9 out of 10 of the perpetrators are never brought to justice and never appear on sex offender registries.
They are protected by New York State laws.
Sign this petition and change that. Protect NY Kids.
A 2-year-old boy has been left brain dead from a beating allegedly inflicted by a 17-year-old baby sitter who was watching the toddler at a Marilla trailer park on Friday, according to authorities, relatives and friends of the boy’s family.
Devon Vanderwege, the baby sitter, has been charged with first-degree assault by the Erie County Sheriff’s Office and is being held at the county holding center without bail. When the child is taken off life support, he could face manslaughter or homicide-related charges, a police official said.
Ethan Bigham, the child, remains on life support until his organs can be donated, according to a cousin of the boy’s mother.
A family friend, who was at Women & Children’s Hospital this past weekend to offer support to the boy’s relatives, described a gruesome aftermath from the attack.
We Can Prevent Child Abuse and Murder. We Must.
RIP William Hossbach
LOCKPORT – Nearly 10 months after the death of his 6-month-old son, a Royalton father was charged Monday with causing the baby’s death.
Dillon Hossbach, 25, pleaded not guilty in Niagara County Court to an indictment accusing him of second-degree murder and first- and second-degree manslaughter.
His infant son, William D. Hossbach, who according to his obituary was called “Liam” by the family, was reported not breathing and unresponsive shortly after 11 a.m. Feb. 21 in Hossbach’s home at 8455 Rochester Road.
Capt. Bruce A. Elliott of the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office said the baby’s death was “trauma-induced,” although he and Deputy District Attorney Holly E. Sloma wouldn’t give details.
Tell Our Leaders to Prevent Child Abuse
Maternal Home Visiting Programs Help Prevent Abuse
By Melanie Blow
First Published in the Buffalo News
When Denay Foster was sentenced to 20 years in prison for killing her infant daughter, VernayLah Laventure, the defense said Foster was “not equipped mentally to be a young mother.”
What no one said is that communities can choose to equip young mothers, or not to equip them. And when we choose not to, we choose to let children suffer and die.
It is fairly easy to determine whether or not a new mother is “equipped” for motherhood, based on her own childhood and the resources and support in her life. Mothers who aren’t equipped can usually become equipped with intensive help. Maternal home visiting programs like Healthy Families NY help new mothers bond with their babies, overcome the obstacles in their lives and learn to parent non-abusively.
These programs prevent abuse, poor school performance, juvenile delinquency and emergency room visits among children, and they decrease drug use, poverty and welfare utilization among mothers.
All of those are good things, but most of us don’t realize how important preventing abuse from starting is. Fatal abuse is almost always preceded by non-fatal abuse. So preventing abuse from starting will save lives. When mothers like Foster are slightly less brutal in their attacks, they may not kill a child, but cause traumatic brain injury, which will affect the child’s ability to learn, to manage his behavior and to live up to his potential.
Even abuse that doesn’t cause physical damage causes changes to a child’s immune system, brain and endocrine system, making the child more susceptible to physical illness, mental illness, addiction and poverty throughout life.
This means that much of the addiction, crime, violence and even physical illness we see today is related to child abuse, neglect and maltreatment. It doesn’t matter if the abuse stops; once it starts, it’s too late.
Healthy Families NY, along with other maternal home visiting programs, returns significant savings to taxpayers for every dollar invested. Unfortunately, no new dollars have been invested in over a decade, meaning these programs serve fewer and fewer people each year. This puts more and more children at risk.
It’s tragic when a baby in our community dies in the manner VernayLah did. It’s also tragic when we refuse to acknowledge that we continue to ignore tools that are proven to help prevent abuse.
Instead of shaking our heads at the next inevitable death, we need to wake up and fully fund these programs that deserve our attention. The future of our families across Western New York depends upon it, and we cannot let another child – or mother – down.
Prevent Abuse From Starting
COO, Stop Abuse Campaign
A survivor of incest, psychological abuse and a host of other childhood trauma, Melanie now uses her talents to prevent Adverse Childhood Experiences.
Melanie has over a decade of legislative advocacy regarding children’s issues, and she has been published in newspapers, magazines and blogs all across the country.
Melanie has an ACE score of 6.
By Destiny Roberts
“Mommy, will this happen to me? Mommy, he’s my age and CPS did not save him. Just like me. I told Ms. Jones that daddy had a gun and he was going to kill me while I was sleeping. Mommy, is my abuser going to do this to me?”
As I watched the news of this little 8 year boy who was killed while under the watch of Erie County CPS, it wrenched my soul. My greatest fear, as for many parents, is that my son’s abuser would seriously hurt him or even kill him in a fit of rage. How do you assure your son that this will never happen to him when he has expressed his fears to CPS in a county close to Erie County and they repeatedly ignored his cries?
My son’s story is not unique in any way. It’s a like Abdifatah Mohamud’s. It’s like Eain Brooks’. It’s like Jacob Noe’s. Various mandated reporters call in reports repeatedly to CPS after seeing visible signs of bruises on my son’s arms, legs and back after being with his abuser. My son repeatedly reaching out for help, trying to tell how he received those bruises from his abuser. My son being put in dangerous situations- by some fortune has come out of them unscathed. His abuser showing him weapons and leaving them out in the open. My son being left unsupervised and unattended in running vehicles, on playgrounds in unknown and unfamiliar surroundings, and all the while with CPS digging their feet deeper into the sand, refusing to acknowledge that we have a serious problem. The repeated calls showing the escalation of abuse, coupled with the repeated unfounded reports have left medical professionals’ heads spinning- how could this be? A system that is supposed to protect our children from further abuse and neglect is failing them terribly, yet nothing changes. The pleas of medical professionals to help this little boy before something worse happens all fall on deaf ears, and then CPS questions the mandated reporters about why they keep calling in reports.
It has been the protocol of CPS to interview my son in the presence of his abuser repeatedly. They could certainly gain access to my son without his abuser being present. My son’s abuser is advised ahead of time when they will show up, giving them ample time to program and instill fear into my son if he does not lie to CPS. The typical tactic of an abuser is to use their power and control by projecting onto an innocent child and telling them if they go to jail, it will be the child’s fault and he would never see his abuser again, so he must lie. This fear has caused so much confusion for my son. He knows what’s happening is wrong, but he fears what will happen if he doesn’t lie. My son is rewarded if he lies for his abuser. Yet when his abuser is not present, when the bruises are documented by medical professionals, my son articulates in detail what he endured and what he was told to say. Despite this, CPS still ignores the warning signs and allows this repeated abuse to happen over and over again. As a result of the ongoing abuse, my son now has been diagnosed with PTSD. A life sentence that could have been prevented had they assisted me in the Family Court system.
My son has been confronted with confusion and betrayal not only by his abuser but by the system. Repeatedly. The caseworkers assigned to my son’s cases have all promised him that their job is to protect him from further abuse and they would help him. These words have left my son hopeful that the abuse would stop. Yet he is forced to endure continual abuse due to the deceit and broken promises by CPS. As parents, we try to teach our children to trust adults such as CPS and yet these adults lie to our children, leaving them feeling all alone, helpless and without hope.
When the public hears of another CPS tragedy, they demand immediate change to protect this from happening to another child. However, when they are confronted with great opposition and little support by public officials and Office of Children and Family Services, the public is left with nowhere to turn. But for us parents, we can never stop our fight because it is our children and we live daily with the fear that this time something much worse will happen.
After Eain Brooks’ death, OCFS issued a scathing report on Erie County. As I read over the report, the same deficits that were in that report had been brought up repeatedly within the county that we are dealing with. I have letters from the County and both the Regional and the Albany Office of OCFS and OCFS stating that the county is following the statutory requirements. It’s apparent that there is lack of communication between the various offices since they do not realize that Albany has sent me documentation from Connections, a documentation program that CPS uses, which tells a different story. CPS has and continues to fall short meeting the statutory requirements of performing safety assessments within the allotted time, contacting collateral sources, applying the applicable law and closing out the cases in the required time. However, they have been allowed to continue on the path of destruction to our children and the families involved due to the lack of accountability, until a tragedy like the ones in Buffalo occurs.
As a parent, I hear “It’s our job to protect our children. What kind of parent would send their child to their abuser, knowing that they are being abused?” To the people making these comments, I can give you countless stories of where CPS has advised families to not send their children back to the abuser and defy a Court Order. These families have found while they were able to protect their children for a very short time, they ended up in jail, lost custody of their children, and were forced to turn their children over to their abusers, where the abuse continues. There are also cases where CPS advises parents to involve the Family Court and then tells the Family Court nothing is going on. They unfound the report, leaving the parent helpless in their quest to protect their child, on CPS’s own advisement.
To gain a clearer understanding why CPS continually marked my son’s reports “unfounded”, I reached out to the various caseworkers, supervisors, administrator, Directors and Commissioners asking what the definition of “credible evidence” was, and the applicable laws they used to base their decisions on. To my amazement, none of them could give me the definition of credible evidence nor point me to the area of the law that they were utilizing to base their decisions on. It was at that time per the recommendation of the Hotline to reach out to the Regional Office with my same questions and they were not able to answer me either. In fact, they ignored me.
Do we really want them to hold these positions and make decisions on our children marking reports as UNFOUNDED when they don’t know answers to our questions?
Meanwhile, I’m stuck trying to answer this one
“Mommy, am I going to die?”
No More Murdered Children. No More Abused Children
The Story of Surviving Myself
By Andrew Willis
A 2015 speech at the Stand Up For Passion event in NYC.
It was a great job. Jetsetting around the world, managing integrated marketing communications for global brands like Citi, IBM and HP. The cliche, “It’s Hong Kong, it must be Monday” and stopover weekends in attractive cities my reality.
I returned home to a beautiful 6,000 square foot stone house in Connecticut, my wife and two children. An ideal life. Work hard. Play hard. Good friends. Great family. Two vacations a year; sailing in the summer, skiing in winter. Church on Sundays.
Then I woke up.
Staring into the bright clinical lights of the Very Intensive Care Unit in a hospital far from home. I’d swallowed 300 Tylenol PM and wished the world goodbye. Almost a week before.
Leather straps hung off my bed by my feet and arms where they secured me.
My veins had coursed with crystal meth. My arms… bruised and punctured. My goodbyes said, not heard.
I had never even smoked weed until I was over 50. Taking drugs was my way of medicating away the pain and humiliation of remembering my youth. Still today much of my childhood years are cloaked under the shrouds of secrecy that protect our sanity but drive our depression.
Why? I had to know why this happened to me. Was it just my bad choices or was something else at play. I guess I went in search of excuses – but I found answers. I found I was not the only one. In fact I was no different to about a quarter of people. One in four of you in this room is hiding a secret from childhood.
My search for the answer, combined with the love of my two boys, family and friends has kept me alive.
My search initially led me to the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study). A massive study of childhood trauma and its impact on health carried out by Kaiser Permanente with the CDC.
The answer at first overwhelming. The answer it affects us all.
The epicenter of the problem- abuse and neglect of children.
The higher your ACE score-the more types of abuse, neglect and household dysfunction you lived through as a child- the worse your health outcomes throughout your life.
My ACE score is 5. That explained a lot of my life. A life I enjoyed, but full of the stress of secrets. Secrets require lies. And lies spread, a bit like flies.
Someone with a score of one is twice as likely to be an alcoholic, twice as likely to suffer from chronic depression, and one-and-a-half times as likely to experience serious financial problems.
Someone with an ACE score of 4 is a staggering 40 times more likely to use intravenous drugs. And 114% more likely to have 50 or more sexual partners throughout their lives. More than 1 in every 10 of us attempt suicide every year.
When your score reaches six, statistically you can kiss 20 years of your life goodbye
A score of 9, well they are often the cases reported on shows like Criminal Minds.
The ACE research made me realize I wasn’t the only one. I was harmed by the boarding school teacher who took me into his bed at night when I was ten. An older boy who had raped me shortly before. An entire culture who thought kids needed to be beaten until they bled. All these things I lived through as a boy made me who I was. The soldier I was. The businessman I was. The husband I was. The father I was. Woven by invisible thread to the meth, 300 tylenol, promiscuous sex through to the bright lights glaring in my eyes and the nurse beside me noting that I had woken up.
Abuse is a public health problem. America’s biggest public health problem but one we don’t like to discuss. After all who wants to talk about incest and children murdered?
We’re all responsible for our behaviors, but not our histories. Neurologists show how ACE’s affect children, and the adults they become. Science. Not rhetoric.
Science affecting us all. Documented suffering on a universal scale. Costing American taxpayers a trillion dollars every year. More money than I can imagine.
$1 trillion has twelve zeros. It is over $200 billion more than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Australia . It’s more than the combined GDPs of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland.
Abuse and neglect are predictable and preventable. Prevention that stops massive human suffering and saves enormous sums of taxpayer’s money.
Changes in public policy protect children from most ACE’s.
The Stop Abuse Campaign is focused on helping communities make the health and safety of children their first priority. We achieve this through educating the public, legislators and public officials about state and local government policy changes that protect a child victim’s first right; not to be a victim at all.
We’re working with the community in Erie County, turning the child murder capitol of New York into one of the safest places in America to grow up.
We start with strong local leadership. Educate them about ACE’s and how to prevent them. Coordinated community responses the most effective.
- Preventing domestic violence, in the homes and in the family courts, happens by using an evidence based solution. The Quincy Solution. Stops Domestic Violence.
- Helping struggling mothers rather than persecuting them for the crime of youth pregnancy, through evidence based maternal home visiting programs achieves incredible, well documented results. And it leaves you wondering why states like New York are cutting funding today?
- If it takes a village to raise a child that means those villages must change old fashioned beliefs and stigmas that maintain the status quo.
- Now I’m sure many of you would be shocked if a registered sex offender moved into the house next door but the reality is 9 out of 10 sex offenders are not registered. Not prosecuted. Protected by archaic laws called statutes of limitations that protect rapists not children.
The sad truth is Adverse Childhood Experiences affect children at pandemic rates. And the aftermath affects us all. ACE’s can be prevented through public policy.
And that’s why I have dropped the corporate world of high pay and even better bonuses. Why I work for nothing, eating at friend’s houses and worrying about paying the rent.
The only way I can continue to live my life. The only way I can continue to drive the right of a child to grow up free of abuse and neglect is if you dig deep in your pockets tonight and donate what you can.
Donate $7, one dollar for every speaker tonight. Or donate an awful lot more because tonight’s speakers deserve your donation and right now deserve your applause.
Thank you for being here. Thanks for listening, And thanks for your generosity. With your help we will stop abuse and neglect.
Protect Children. Prevent Trauma.
It's Our ChoiceWe already spend money dealing with child abuse. Why not prevent it?
On February 9, 2016 the Stop Abuse Campaign got to submit the following testimony to the New York State legislator in support of them growing the funding for Maternal Home Visiting. Currently, fewer than 10% of the parents who want this service have access to them.
Good morning, and thank you for inviting me to come here today and talk about why NY must grow its investment in Maternal Home Visiting by at least 4.5 million.
I’m with Stop Abuse Campaign. We protect children by preventing trauma. Specifically, we prevent the life-altering trauma caused by child abuse, neglect and maltreatment.
Everyone knows child abuse is bad. When the framework for child protective services was built everyone knew child abuse was bad, but no one realized how bad. The Adverse Childhood Experience study from the Centers for Disease control proves that all child abuse, neglect or maltreatment causes permanent harm to children, even if it stops shortly after it starts. This research wasn’t the first to prove that child maltreatment increases things like crime, mental illness and drug addiction but it was the first to prove it increased things like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. In other words, all child maltreatment is a matter of life and death. That means preventing it should be seen as urgent, not optional. We protect children by preventing trauma.
Last year Flint Michigan made decisions that predictably caused lead poisoning in thousands of children. Lead functions much like an Adverse Childhood Experience- it reduces a child’s academic performance, it causes permanent health problems throughout their lives, and it increases their likelihood of being criminals as adults. As deplorable as the situation in Flint is, once it was discovered it became a huge news story, a huge embarrassment, and a career killer. But allowing children’s minds, bodies and futures to be poisoned through preventable maltreatment is considered business as usual in NY. And New York has harmed more children in the 21 years it didn’t invest in Maternal Home Visiting than Flint has with their lead fiasco.
NY justifies not investing in Maternal Home Visiting by saying we can’t afford it. But somehow, we can afford its consequences. We don’t like spending money on Child Protective Services, but we do it. It costs less to enroll a family for a year in most types of Maternal Home Visiting programs than a single CPS investigation costs. We don’t like spending money on special education costs, but we do it. Children enrolled in Maternal Home Visiting programs are much less likely to need these services. We lament the toll opiates are taking on New York right now, but there is no talk of preventing this by investing in Maternal Home Visiting. We complain about the financial toll crime takes on our economy, but we don’t fight it by investing in Maternal Home Visiting.
The one time we’re willing to spend lavishly, without complaint, while investigating crime is when a child is murdered. On average, we spend over a million dollars investigating and prosecuting each of these murders. In Erie County alone 13 children have been murdered in 5 years. The rate of child abuse in Erie County is more than double the state average. At a million dollars a murder that’s enough money to enroll over 300 families in Maternal Home Visiting program. A program we argue we can’t afford.
Every year, about 250 of New York’s children die directly from child abuse or neglect. The $250 million spent investigating their deaths could have paid for the enrollment of about 81,000 children.
In October, I went to Vernay-lah Laventure’s funeral. She was a four-month-old baby who was beaten to death by her mother. She was buried with a little white satin cap on her head. It hid how her skull was shattered when her mother beat her to death. Her mother was desperate, had a moment of intense desperation, and killed her daughter. This could have been prevented through Maternal Home Visiting and we should all feel the responsibility for her murder.
In January, I met some mothers in Healthy Families NY. One of them talked about how her baby was born with serious complications. She was alone, and had no idea how to help him. Her home visitor told her to read to him. Three other babies were in the same wing of the ICU with this baby, and hers was the only one who survived.
This mother has survived a lot of child abuse- I don’t know her exact ACE score, but it’s high. She has spent a lot of time as a psychiatric in-patient. And she has already had one heart attack and one stroke. Those are consequences of her abuse that cannot be undone. No prompt CPS response, no trauma-informed school, nothing we know how to do could do a good job at stopping those consequences from happening to her. But with the support of Maternal Home Visiting, she’s been able to break the cycle and ensure her sons have better, healthier lives.
New York has two choices. We can maintain the status quo, a system full of broken mothers who break their children. Or we can invest in healing them, growing their potential, as mothers and as all-around humans. With that choice, we save children. We save money. We create a smarter, healthier, kinder generation. Or this legislature can vote to deprive these children of what they deserve and spend lavishly on the consequences. It’s your choice.
Click Here to Prevent Abuse
We Must Prevent AbuseWe are shocked by stories of abuse but do little to prevent it
First Published in the Albany Times Union
Every metropolitan area in New York state has recently reported stories of children slain, raped, battered and abandoned. Research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention proves all child abuse forever mars children’s lives. The root of most violence, from bullying to mass shootings, is lack of empathy. The seeds of empathy are rooted in us as babies, but they can be beaten or raped out of us, they can be choked from horror or wither from neglect.
We have known how to prevent most child abuse for the last 40 years. Giving new parents the skills and support to fix their own lives and to nurture their babies works and pays huge dividends. Maternal Home Visiting programs that support new mothers, like Healthy Families New York, focus on protecting children rather than focusing on punishing criminals, when it’s too late and much more costly.
Currently, a fraction of eligible mothers are getting Maternal Home Visits. Look at Healthy Families New York, which sees just 3 percent of all Medicaid births statewide. This implies we don’t care about children’s pain until it becomes a headline. New York’s legislators must increase funding for programs like Healthy Families New York so that 100 percent of eligible mothers have access to them. This investment will demonstrate that supporting mothers in the beginning of their child’s life can help to prevent future abuse and neglect and transform communities.
Of course we are outraged when children are murdered, abandoned, disfigured or raped, but until we are doing everything we can to prevent abuse from starting, we cannot be surprised the damaged are violent when the powerful don’t protect them.
COO Stop Abuse Campaign
Play Your Part in Preventing Child Abuse
Author’s Note- this was the first time in my life I had the publication of an opinion piece delayed by a fact-checker. The woman at the Times Union simply couldn’t believe that, as a state, we tacitly sentence 94% of children whose abuse we can prevent to lives of pain, loss and wasted potential. No decent person should be happy with this fact. And the rest of the nation doesn’t do much better than New York. Please, do what you can to help Stop Abuse Campaign fix this and save kids from so much suffering.