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Jewish World Review August 3, 2001 / 14 Menachem-Av, 5761

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

'No, Mom, it's over
here, in the corner' -- GRAND ISLAND, Neb. -- The Hall County sheriff's deputy who was sent to the house where two children had allegedly been tortured with an electrified cattle prod was Sgt. Rich McKinny.

"I wasn't aware of exactly what was supposed to be going on there," Sgt. McKinny told us. "I was told there was suspected child abuse, and that I was to provide protection for the Human Services worker."

Jamie G. Henry, 24, ended up being arrested and charged with using the cattle prod -- meant to shock 2,000-pound bulls into obedience -- to discipline his 8-year-old stepson and his 5-year-old daughter. As we reported Sunday, Henry also was accused of beating the children, and of tying the little boy up and locking him outside at night. Prosecutors said Henry's wife, Billie D. Henry, 25, knew about the torture, and handed the cattle prod to her husband.

When Sgt. McKinny and the children's protective worker first arrived at the house, Mrs. Henry was there with the boy and girl who were alleged to have been tortured, and with another, 2-year-old, daughter. Jamie Henry was not home.

"The house was a complete shambles," Sgt. McKinny said. "It's a tragedy, the way those children were living."

What appalled him most, though -- what he still thinks about -- is what happened when the allegations about the cattle prod were brought up.

The children apparently had confided in a teacher about being disciplined with the electrified prod. The protective services worker asked Mrs. Henry about it.

"She said that, yes, she knew about the prod, but that she had gotten rid of it," Sgt. McKinny said. "She said that she had run the battery all the way down, and that she had removed the cattle prod from the home. She said she had taken it out of there, so the children could not be hurt anymore."

At that point, Sgt. McKinny said, the 8-year-old boy spoke up.

"The little boy said, `No, Mom, it's over here, in the corner,'" Sgt. McKinny said. "And he went over there, and lifted up a pile of clothes. The cattle prod had been hidden underneath the clothes, so that we couldn't find it.

"The boy picked the cattle prod up and brought it over and handed it to me. He was such a nice, friendly boy. It was like he was trying to be helpful. His mother had said something had been thrown out, and he knew that wasn't true, so he was trying to help out by showing me the prod."

Sgt. McKinny would later take the prod back to headquarters and test it: "I didn't want to do it in front of the children. I thought it might upset them." The batteries, he said, had not been run down -- they still provided power to the twin prongs, enough to shock a steer into submission.

In the Henry home, Sgt. McKinny said, Mrs. Henry shouted at the children almost the entire time he and the protective services worker were there. "Ordering them around, bawling them out," he said. "You would think that, with us there, she wouldn't do it. I can't even imagine how the children were treated when only they and the parents were there."

What haunts him, he said, is this:

"We tell kids who are being tortured or locked up to tell someone, and help will come. And then this boy sits there and watches his mother lie to us.

"He had to know. He had to know that his mom was looking us in the face and lying."

Hall County Sheriff's Lt. Jim Castleberry, lead investigator, told us that he is certain why Mrs. Henry would say that the cattle prod had been drained of power and removed from the house:

"Loyalty to her husband," he said. "Mrs. Henry had no reaction at all when the boy found the prod. I believe she knew it was there all along."

Mr. and Mrs. Henry were arrested; the children were taken into protective custody. What happened when Mr. and Mrs. Henry went to court may be the most infuriating aspect of this terrible story. We will report on that Monday.

For now, though, we will close with what Sgt. McKinny noticed when he first walked into the house.

He was in uniform. And the little boy -- the little boy who had the courage to ask someone for help -- walked quietly up to him.

"He extended his arm up to me," Sgt. McKinny said. "And he shook my hand."

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

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