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Jewish World Review May 16, 2002 / 5 Sivan, 5762

Bob Greene

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Charles is joined in
death by another boy | He became sad and upset when he did not receive a phone call on his 6th birthday.

That is one theory about what happened to Charles Green -- one theory about what began the series of events that led to the boy's death. His stepmother, Shalonda Green, 27, has been charged with first-degree murder; police in Des Moines, Iowa, say the stepmother, who weighed 280 pounds, kicked the 6-year-old to death.

A family member has said Shalonda Green became angry because Charles kept losing control of his bowels. And one possibility police are looking into -- alleged by someone in the house--is that Charles' loss of control happened on his birthday, when he had hoped to receive a phone call from his mother in Illinois, and the call did not come.

But no one in authority -- not the police in Iowa, not social workers in Illinois -- is really even certain who the boy considered to be his mother. His biological mother lost custody of Charles when he was 2; Illinois Department of Children and Family Services officials say that in her home Charles was cut, bruised, scalded and bitten. He was put in the care of an aunt in Illinois, with whom he lived for three years, and he was said to have called her "Mom." Could that have been the phone call he was waiting for?

There is no way to know, because Charles is dead. But if he was longing for a phone call, that only points out the fragility of a child who is shipped from place to place like a package. In his six years, he lived with his mother; with the aunt; at the Hephzibah Children's Association in Oak Park; and then was sent to Iowa, where he would die less than five months after arriving. Should it be so surprising that he may have dreamed of some stability?

Evidently, all he received was punishment -- at the beginning of his life, and at the end. The reason we have been reporting on the cruel and unusual punishment of children by the adults in charge of them -- the kind of punishment that, were it ordered by a court, would be a violation of the U.S. Constitution -- is not because it is so rare, but because it is so common. And the children have no way to appeal.

Shalonda Green and her husband -- Tumma Green, Charles' father -- may be trying to blame the boy's death on his own behavior, but other relatives of the child are not buying it, and law enforcement officials aren't, either. Des Moines Police Sgt. Bruce Elrod, in speaking to reporters about Charles, said: "The evidence shows that this child was kicked to death. There is nothing that this child could have done to deserve that, and there is no one involved in this investigation that thinks differently than that."

Polk County prosecutor John Sarcone, speaking of Shalonda Green, told us: "I don't know why she did what she did. Maybe she didn't like him."

And the cruel and unusual punishment continues. Last weekend -- at Blank Children's Hospital in Des Moines, the same hospital where Charles died -- another boy, David Szczgielski, 4, was pronounced dead after being brought in with severe brain damage. Police say he was beaten by his mother's boyfriend, Jason Neal, 29.

It is unclear why the boy was being punished. Police say he was beaten into unconsciousness with a paddle made from a kitchen cutting board. They said the child's brain was swollen so badly that certain parts of it were unrecognizable on a CAT scan.

Sgt. Elrod -- the police officer who spoke to reporters about Charles Green -- issued a distraught and unusual statement after David Szczgielski was pronounced dead:

"I will be unable to give any further information or conduct any additional interviews in connection with this case. My capability to be objective was destroyed the moment I saw the hospital photos of this child's injuries. All any of us can do now is offer our most earnest prayers for the jurors who will have to listen to the details of how little David died. May G-d grant them the strength to be fair."

Sometimes the anguish catches up with you. Sometimes all of this becomes too much to bear. But the punishment -- the punishment no child should ever have to know about, much less endure -- goes on. Sometimes there seems to be no end.

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

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