Call it a gut feeling, but I knew something seriously wrong had happened. As I listened to the initial reports coming over the police scanner in my office, something in the deep recesses of my mind told me this was far more serious than it appeared.
It started off with the typical call for an ambulance to respond to a residence here in Mountain Home. No big deal since that same call comes in repeatedly every single day.
However, when dispatch reported that a child was injured, it quickly gained my interest, and I ended up focusing a lot more attention as additional calls continued to come in. That's when things went from bad to worse.
What started off as a call for one ambulance suddenly became two. A few minutes later, dispatch was calling for every available EMT to respond to that same address.
I remember saying out loud that something bad had happened. Others in the office didn't feel the same way and thought I was just overreacting.
Turns out, I was right.
It wasn't until the following day that I learned that the child had died from his injuries. Over the next few days, it became clear that this was no accident as first reported. Someone had inflicted those injuries, and the one subsequently charged with that crime remains in prison.
As I covered the trial, I realized that all my years of experience and training didn't fully prepare me for the emotional turmoil I had to experience as parents, family and friends testified in court. Some tried to defend the suspect while others quickly condemned him.
What was especially hard for me was having to deal with the raw emotion in the courtroom. Although journalists are supposed to remain emotionally detached from these cases, I don't believe any amount of training allows you to not be affected in some profound way.
When I was a child, I was thankful that I grew up in a household where my brother and I knew we were not only loved but were safe from the horrors of the world. While our parents didn't make a whole lot of money, they ensured that we had food on our table every day and were able to buy us the gifts that we treasured.
I didn't know it at the time, but our parents were also shielding us from a terrible truth — that one of our grandparents wasn't always the sweet individual that we had assumed he was. It turned out that our grandfather was an abusive individual who readily took out his anger on my grandmother as well as my mother and my two uncles.
When I was old enough, my mother was ready to tell me some of the details, and I learned just how bad her life had been at one point. The physical abuse and torment had ripped her family apart.
I remember my mom telling me one story in which her younger brother was knocked out of his chair at the family's dining room table. He fell because my grandfather had backhanded him in a fit of anger.
It got so bad that her older brother had directly confronted their father and threatened to pack his bags and leave, taking my mother and other brother with him. Things got to the point that my mother and her brothers ended up living in foster homes until they were old enough to move out on their own.
My father, on the other hand, had what appeared to be a more stable life. However, it wasn't without its share of incidents that still make me cringe.
He shared with me one in particular where he and my aunt were left unattended in a car during the middle of winter while my grandfather ran into a local bar for a drink or two.
Unfortunately, incidents like these are not uncommon in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are nearly 700,000 children in this country that are the victims of abuse and neglect.
In 2015 alone, nearly 1,700 children died from this type of maltreatment.
None of these cases are limited to major metropolitan cities. It happens far too often in small communities, including Mountain Home.
Incidents occur in all economic and social groups with no regard for status. However, there are some risk factors.
Statistically, it's relatively easy to predict which children are most at risk. If they live in an unstable household where the parents are struggling with poverty or divorce without receiving any type of outside help, it could lead to abuse. It only gets worse if the parents are also abusing alcohol or drugs.
Another factor is whether the parents themselves were abused when they were children. Often, the cycle of abuse will go from one generation to the next.
I've dealt with at least one child abuse case over the past seven years in which a young boy was reportedly beaten by a man who was likely beaten by his own father. It's because no one was there to help break this cycle of violence.
In honor of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, the Mountain Home News is sharing with our readers some very useful information on this issue. It's our hope that it will help some families out there come to terms with this form of abuse and to ensure they get the help and support they need. Because it should never hurt to be a child.
— Brian S. Orban