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. Nineteen children perished that fateful spring day in 1995 when terrorist Tim McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City federal building. Many, many more than that die in drive-by shootings. Gang violence is a problem. Others, particularly the youngest victims, die from neglect or intentional abuse at the hands of parents, stepparents, daycare owners or someone they trusted. Last year, a baby died when he was eaten by a puppy. Police said the mother was asleep. In January, four children along with their mother were strangled to death in their El Reno apartment. The children's bodies were left in the bathtub. The mother's live-in boyfriend is charged with five counts of first-degree murder. One national group, the Every Child Matters Education Fund, reported last year Oklahoma was the worst state in the nation for child abuse deaths but state officials dispute that. They insist comparisons are unfair because Oklahoma classifies certain types of deaths as from abuse and neglect that other states don't. Another group, Children's Rights, is suing on behalf of nine foster children to force reforms of the state's child welfare system. The advocacy group says the foster care system in Oklahoma is in severe disarray and jeopardizing rather than protecting foster children. Critics of the state Department of Human Services blame them directly for some deaths, saying social workers have failed to save children from abusive parents. Officials there, though, say they feel it, too, when someone dies. “Everyone is affected when anyone is lost, regardless of the cause,” said DHS Director Howard Hendrick. “Children have classmates, teachers, parents, pastors, siblings, grandparents, social workers, doctors and counselors. All ... involved in the lives of children are affected because we care. We want to make things better for everyone. We pray and we work. We hope it is enough. Usually it is. Sometimes it is not.”
NewsOK.com has disabled the comments for this article.
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