Sometime in the late afternoon or early evening of December 8, 2017, four-year-old Kendall Chick lost her life.
We now know that what caused her death was sustained, brutal child abuse by Shawna Gatto, the fiancée of Kendall’s grandfather, Stephen Hood. At the trial, which I was present for much of, we learned that police found splatters of Kendall’s blood all over the house and a dent in the sheetrock where Kendall’s little head was slammed into a wall. We learned that when Stephen asked about his granddaughter’s multiple bruises and injuries, Shawna made up stories about a clumsy child, a “drug baby” who couldn’t get out of her own way and “tripped over air,” who picked at scabs and was “a bleeder.” Gatto also took steps to hide Kendall from public view, for fear that her abuse would be discovered.
Maine’s Chief Medical Examiner Mark Flomenbaum testified at the trial that Kendall’s fatal wound was a combination of about 15 to 20 previous injuries along with a lacerated pancreas, associated with some sort of trauma about 12 hours prior to her death. It was very clear that this was not the sort of injury a 4-year-old child, even a clumsy one, could inflict upon themselves falling over or running into something. It was abuse, plain and simple.
Last week, Maine Superior Court Justice Bill Stokes found Gatto guilty of the crime of depraved indifference murder, which, according to Maine murder statue, means she “engage[d] in conduct that manifests a depraved indifference to the value of human life and that in fact cause[d] the death of another human being.” In rendering his verdict, Justice Stokes noted Gatto’s repeated, callous attempts to conceal her abuse of Kendall and the sheer amount of trauma to Kendall’s body as evidence of Gatto’s depraved indifference for Kendall’s life.
The trial was brutal, and rehashing these details now is painful, but this verdict is an important step toward accountability for Kendall’s killer. Unfortunately, we will never be able to bring Kendall back or undo the pain and torture that she suffered.
The very least we in Maine government can do is reaffirm our commitment to protecting children and take steps to ensure that this never happens again.
Kendall’s death was, at its core, a failure of Maine’s child welfare system.
Kendall, who was born addicted to drugs, was placed with Gatto and Hood, two people recovering from drug addiction, when she was taken from her mother, who was also battling addiction. Despite these circumstances, DHHS only checked in on Kendall once during the three years she lived there.
Had they visited, they may have seen the blood spatter, bruises and cuts that police found after her death. Another visit from DHHS could have saved Kendall’s life. That visit didn’t happen, and she died.
Logan Marr, a 2-year-old child, died in the care of a former DHHS worker in 2002, and since then, through seven DHHS commissioners and four administrations, we’ve had a lot of promises and good intentions, but children are still dying. To fix this, we need an honest, vigorous examination of the state’s child welfare system, and we need real reform.
This will take a coordinated effort from DHHS, the Legislature, the courts and law enforcement. I have a bill in to start this process, by creating a Legislative Commission to investigate issues at DHHS and propose legislation to make changes. I am hopeful that this can be a step toward improving our efforts to protect Maine children.
If you have any ideas, questions or concerns, please feel free to contact my office at 287-1515 or firstname.lastname@example.org. I work for you, and my line is always open.