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Why are Oklahoma's children dying?

By Nolan Clay Modified: March 30, 2009 at 4:01 pm •  Published: March 27, 2009
Think of a crowd the size of a sold-out rock concert at Oklahoma City's Ford Center, plus a few thousand more.

Or, think of the population of a city like Ardmore or Ponca City.

That's how many children died in Oklahoma in the last 30 years — more than 24,000.

The total includes everything — deaths from illness, natural causes, accident, suicide, neglect, abuse, murder and unknown reasons.

“I don't think you overcome something like this,” said one mother, Ella Akeen, whose baby daughter was shaken to death in 2007 in El Reno while she was away.

State officials say there are no quick solutions, particularly for problems like child abuse, but there are things anyone can do.

“People don't realize that something as simple as taking their used toys some place can make a big difference. Or donating their clothes or helping the infant crisis center with formula is helping prevent child abuse. It's all connected,” said Annette Wisk Jacobi, chief of family support and prevention service at the state Health Department.

“Things like when you're in the grocery store and you see a parent at their wits' end ... You want to give them the evil eye. ... It's so much better to go over and say, ‘Gosh, I remember what it was like to have a 2-year-old. Can I help you for a second while you grab that off the shelf?'”

In an effort to find trends, The Oklahoman checked records on hundreds of deaths of victims who will never have an 18th birthday. Reporters talked to relatives and state officials. Reporters also went over state and national reports.

The records reveal all those things your mother warned you about when you were young. Children die crossing the street; they die playing with guns or with matches; they die the most from car accidents.

They die from illness. They wander away from parents and drown in pools, ponds or bathtubs. Some get locked — or left behind — in cars and succumb to the heat. Once, a child strangled on holiday decorations.

As teenagers, they die from drinking too much, drug overdoses and suicides. One died from car fumes after apparently passing out on the front seat.

Too often, they die violently.

Some are murdered by strangers.

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Phone numbers and Web sites :

- Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline — (800) 522-3511

- Heartline Crisis Helpline — (800) SUICIDE

- SAFELINE — (800) 522-SAFE

- TEENLINE — (800) 522-TEEN

- Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs — (405) 530-2800

- Oklahoma SAFE KIDS Coalition — (405) 271-5695

- Oklahoma Health Department — (405) 271-5600

- Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault — (405) 524-0700

- Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth — (405) 606-4900 or

- Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services — (405) 522-3908

- Oklahoma Department of Human Services — (405) 521-3646

Child deaths: 2006-07 :

Child deaths in 2006 and 2007 investigated by Oklahoma's chief medical examiner's office. The medical examiner's office does not review every child's death.

Total 2006 child deaths investigated: 578

Natural causes: 297

Accidents: 155

Unknown: 79

Homicides: 31

Suicides: 16

Total 2007 child deaths investigated: 594

Natural causes: 317

Accidents: 149

Unknown: 83

Homicides: 31

Suicides: 14


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