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Jewish World Review May 15, 2002 / 4 Sivan, 5762

Bob Greene

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The lies they try to
tell about Charles | It already appears as if Charles Green, 6, will be the one on trial.

Not literally -- the boy is charged with no crime. He is dead.

The person charged with a crime -- first-degree murder -- is his stepmother, Shalonda Green, 27. Police and prosecutors in Des Moines, Iowa, say that she kicked the child to death. The 6-year-old boy was slight of build; Shalonda Green, authorities say, weighed 280 pounds.

Charles was sent to live with his father -- Tumma Green -- and Tumma's wife, Shalonda, last fall. He had been living in foster care in Illinois, but officials of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Iowa Department of Human Services agreed that the child would do well with Shalonda and Tumma Green, and recommended to a judge that he be sent to live with them.

Thus, the boy was packed up and sent to his death. He didn't survive five months in Iowa.

Which brings us to the idea that Charles will, in a sense, soon be on trial.

He can no longer speak for himself. And already he is being depicted as a frustrating boy who had severe behavioral problems -- a violent child who refused to speak, a boy who defecated on himself to draw attention, a child with attention-deficit disorder and a confrontational attitude with other children. This picture of the boy is the one drawn by Shalonda and Tumma Green -- their implication is that this is the kind of boy who was handed over to them by authorities in Illinois.

But if any of those things about the late Charles Green are true, it appears they are traits he developed after Shalonda and Tumma Green took him into their house. If anything did happen to change Charles' personality, it evidently happened after he arrived in Iowa and began living under their roof -- and if Shalonda Green wants to argue otherwise, there are people in Illinois who can testify she is simply wrong.

Charles' life started in turmoil; when he was 2 he was removed from the home of his mother, where authorities said he had suffered cuts, welts, bruises, scaldings and bites. He was placed in the foster care of an aunt in Illinois, in whose home he lived, reportedly safely, for three years. For Charles' last year in Illinois, before being sent to Tumma and Shalonda Green in Iowa, he lived at the Hephzibah Children's Association in Oak Park. The director of Hephzibah, Mary Anne Brown, told us this about Charles:

"Among the staff here, he was probably the favorite child. He had a very engaging personality. There was a fabulous sparkle in his eyes."

Was he developmentally disabled, as Tumma and Charles Green have said?

"No," Brown said. "He was very anxious to learn, and picked up things very quickly."

Did he have attention-deficit disorder, as they have said?


Was he violent with other children, as Tumma and Charles Green said?

"No. He had a lot of friends."

Did he defecate on himself to draw attention?

"No. There were no soiling or wetting problems."

Was he silent -- did he refuse to communicate with people?

"Definitely not. He was a funny, lively boy who loved to ask questions and made you laugh. He smiled a lot."

Was he confrontational?

"No -- he was just a very kind child. He loved to dress up as a fireman."

The behaviors that Tumma and Shalonda Green say defined the boy evidently are not behaviors that he exhibited before he was sent to live with them. But, of course, he will not be available to speak to a judge and jury about that. So in all likelihood he will be described in court as a child so difficult to handle that Shalonda Green just snapped under the pressure.

After Charles died, a memorial service was held for him back in Illinois. Mary Anne Brown said Charles' kindergarten teacher spoke at the service.

"She said she loved him and would never forget him," Brown told us. "She said he was very, very kind to his classmates. She said that he always wanted to help them and protect them."

But -- at the end of his six years, just as at the beginning -- there was no one to protect him. We will continue our report tomorrow.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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