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Jewish World Review August 9, 2001 / 20 Menachem-Av, 5761

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

If you would like to help the children -- GRAND ISLAND, Neb. -- The reason for reporting on the saddening cases of child torture in Hall County, in central Nebraska, is not because such things go on only here.

The reason is the opposite of that. The reason is that the torture and forced confinement of children has become such a widespread and awful problem in the United States that even here -- even in the quiet middle of the country -- it is appallingly easy to find. And unless we as a nation become more serious about addressing it, the consequences -- for the children, and for the rest of us -- are almost too troubling to fully comprehend.

The case of the Henry children -- the 8-year-old boy allegedly tortured with an electrified cattle prod by Jamie G. Henry, his stepfather; the 5-year-old girl allegedly tortured with the prod; the 2-year-old girl removed from the house after Henry and his wife, Billie D. Henry, were arrested -- is working its way through the courts.

So, too, is the case of Robert G. Burkhardt Jr., accused of cruelly punishing the 6-year-old son of his girlfriend by binding his ankles and by burning the child's back with lighted cigarettes, and by beating the boy. The boy and his 4-year-old sister, according to child protective services workers, had never been taken to a dentist; their teeth were "rotted to the nubs of their gums." After being rescued from the house, the boy had to have 12 teeth surgically removed; the girl had to have 5 teeth removed.

Hall County Sheriff's Sgt. Rich McKinny, who rescued the Henry children, said: "The saddest thing is that they never knew there was any other way of living. They thought that this was how children were treated. I just hope they can find out that there is a better way for children to live."

We will follow these cases through the courts. Already there are signs that the adults may be treated leniently; Jamie G. Henry had six felony charges involving the beating and binding of the children dropped by Hall County prosecutors in exchange for a no contest plea on the cattle-prod charges. He was required to post no bail after being arrested -- the prosecutors asked for none, and the judge ordered none -- and Henry walked out of the courthouse. His rights, and the rights of his wife, and of Robert G. Burkhardt Jr., are being well looked after.

But the children have nothing -- they never have. Now they are in state-ordered foster care. Whatever happens to the adults, the children could use some help, quickly.

Carrie Sheldon, of the Hall County office of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, has provided us with the children's clothing sizes. She said they have never really had toys, or educational playthings.

She has promised to personally deliver to the children anything you may choose to send. Here is the information:

- The 8-year-old Henry boy -- the child tortured with the prod -- wears a size 9/10 in boys' clothing. He likes cars and trucks, and electronic games.

- The 5-year-old Henry girl wears size 5T or 6T clothes. She likes baby dolls and baby bottles.

- The almost-3-year-old Henry girl, infested with lice and removed with the others, wears size 4T clothes. She likes blocks and toys to help her learn.

- The 6-year-old Burkhardt boy -- the child who was tied up and burned with cigarettes -- wears size 4 clothes. He likes electronic games.

- The 4-year-old Burkhardt girl wears size 4 clothes, and likes Barbie and other dolls.

- The 20-month-old Burkhardt girl wears size 2T or 3T clothes, and likes "Blue's Clues."

The address to which you can send items to the children is: Carrie Sheldon, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, 205 W. First St., Grand Island, NE 68801.

"They're not used to getting a lot in their lives," Sheldon told us. "After what they've been through, for them to have some nice clothes and things to play with . . . it would be like Christmas for them. I would just like to be there, to see their eyes."

I told her I would be happy to print the information. She asked if I thought the people who read the column might respond.

I told her that if you didn't come through when people needed you, it would be the first time.

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

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