Capitol quilt display a grim reminder of child abuse's toll - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

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Capitol quilt display a grim reminder of child abuse's toll

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Posted: Sunday, April 3, 2011 9:00 am

Last year, when a National Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Month program was launched at the state Capitol in downtown Phoenix, 51 small empty chairs were lined up across the Senate lawn.

They represented each child who died from severe child abuse in Arizona during 2008.

On Thursday, a quilt with 64 squares representing each child who died from severe child abuse in the state in 2009 will be displayed.

Statistics from 2010 fatalities from severe child abuse have not been totaled yet by Child Protective Services under the Department of Economic Services, but Arizona is mirroring the national trend of seeing more child deaths from such horrific incidents.

Five children die from severe child abuse every day. In Arizona, one child is abused or neglected every hour. In the 2009-10 fiscal year, CPS received more than 33,000 reports involving the alleged maltreatment of 45,000 children, according to the statistics.

“We’re obviously heading in the wrong direction,” said Megan Rose, a spokeswoman for the Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Coalition.

The coalition, which consists of nearly 60 organizations and agencies throughout the state, will host an expo from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at 1700 W. Washington St., Phoenix. A program of speakers will begin at 10:30 a.m., including Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, Arizona Cardinals president Michael Bidwill, author Darla Gooden and Chandler police Chief Sherry Kiyler.

In 2009, half of Chandler’s six homicides were children who died from brutal beatings, ranging in age from 3 weeks to 3 years old. In fact, the coalition was formed last year in response to the death of 3-year-old Schala Vera of Chandler, who died Aug. 31, 2009, after police officers discovered her lying between a toilet and a bathroom sink where she crawled to hide.

Police say Dauntorian Sanders admitted to holding Schala by her ankle as he dangled her over the upstairs bannister area while he beat her with a belt, a common occurrence in the household. He also dropped her on the floor a number of times while beating her, the report stated.

Both Sanders, 26, and Schala’s mother, Susan Witbracht, 29, were charged with first-degree murder in Schala’s death. Their trial is scheduled to begin in October.

“That case galvanized us to do something,” Chandler police Chief Sherry Kiyler said at the time of Schala’s death. “We had to do something. Our goal is to expose it and provide options for those who need help before it’s too late. Hopefully, the numbers will begin to diminish.”

In September 2009, Brian Hopf, 25, of Chandler was charged with first-degree murder in the death of his 3-week-old daughter from skull fractures, broken ribs and injuries consistent with sexual assault, according to court records. Hearings currently are being held to determine whether Hopf is mentally competent to stand trial.

On March 19, Jeremias Aguilar, 23, of Chandler was sentenced to 25 years in prison for killing his girlfriend’s 2 1/2-month-old daughter, Selena Talavera, by slamming her head into a concrete floor in June 2009. Selena, who had a displaced skull fracture and brain swelling, died 12 days later from a large subdural brain hemorrhage.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, whose office prosecuted Aguilar’s case said, “As a civilized community we cannot and will not tolerate adults who harm or kill children with such brutality. There is nothing a child could ever do to remotely justify or excuse this conduct.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6533 or

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