Nursery Crimes

The case of the battered Avondale quadruplets includes horrific injuries, a misdiagnosis, a mystery witness, a mentally ill mother, a crude police report, missions of mercy rebuffed. Expect it all to get sorted out in a criminal court.

Most often, according to medical journals, an adult will hold an infant by his or her chest and shake violently back and forth. Babies' neck muscles are undeveloped, which exacerbates the damage to the fragile brain tissue. How the perpetrator holds the baby during the shaking sequence often causes broken ribs and other fractures.

The intense shaking causes the baby's head to swing in a whiplash action, which often is sufficient to cause serious intracranial injury or death. But infants often don't exhibit any external signs of the damage inside their heads.

What could possibly possess a parent to brutalize a helpless child? Mental-health experts say more parents think about hurting their kids than would ever admit it.

But it's quite another thing to actually do it.
One mother recalls her then-infant daughters sometimes drove her to the brink.

"You forget they are little people just being themselves," she says, "and you think they try to get under your skin. You're on edge, one shake from becoming an abuser, and you don't know how to cope. You feel so alone. But you just can't go off and take that next step--smash your babies."

Friends and family of Whittle and Perez insist the police have it wrong, that the couple never would have taken that next step.

But the horrors inside that tiny apartment on South Greenleaf Lane in Avondale--population 25,000--happened on the parents' watch. That's why authorities have Whittle and Perez in their sights, and why the couple's arrests seem likely, sooner or later.

Social workers told investigators they knew from the beginning that the Whittle/Perez household was high-risk.

One caseworker said Whittle's mother, Anita Whittle, had worried in mid-February that once she moved into her own place, "Ms. [Elizabeth] Whittle would not be able to handle the pressure of taking care of the quadruplets on her own."

Elizabeth Whittle told the same social worker, according to the police report, "that when [Elizabeth] got to[o] stress[ed], she would lock herself into the bathroom, and hold one of the babies real close to her."

But one theme that emerges in the Avondale police report is the failed good-faith efforts numerous social-service agencies made on behalf of Whittle and Perez.

Those efforts began even before the quads were born.
Mercy Homecare "high risk" case manager Amy Van Ness told Detective Shore and two members of the County Attorney's Office that she'd first visited the home in early December--about a month before the births.

"[Van Ness] stated that Ms. Whittle was diagnosed with clinical depression, and her 6-year-old daughter Ericka had Down syndrome," Shore's report says. ". . . Social worker [Van Ness] also stated that Ms. Whittle wanted to get back on her medicine from ComCare for her depression."

(CPS records say Whittle had been diagnosed as seriously mentally ill, but stopped taking anti-psychotic medication before the quads were born.)

Shore's report says, "Whittle told Van Ness she was feeling tired and depress[ed]. Van Ness said they spoke in great length of getting back on her medicine after the birth. . . .

"Ms. Van Ness stated that, after the birth[s], Ms. Whittle refused any help that was offered to her. Ms. Van Ness said the assistance was offered because of Ms. Whittle's [mental] condition and with the arrival of the quadruplets, her office felt there may be problems of stress once the children were brought home."

Van Ness told Shore that she tried to give Whittle and Perez the names of public and private agencies that could provide them food and baby supplies. But she had difficulty even contacting Whittle after the quads were born:

". . . Other family members would answer the telephone and state that Ms. Whittle was sleeping, during the daytime. . . . All of the help was refused when offered. Ms. Whittle did allow Van Ness to enroll her into a program called 'Nuestra Familia,' but she would not contact the caseworker or return calls."

In a separate interview, Mercy Homecare nurse Wynale Haynes told investigators how difficult Whittle and Perez made it for her even to see the babies.

Haynes said that, during a February 3 home visit, "she spoke to Ms. Whittle about continu[ing] to follow up with health care for herself and her children. Ms. Haynes advised that, during this conversation, Ms. Whittle looked tired. . . . Ms. Haynes advised that, after the first visit with Whittle, she called [a doctor's] office to see if appointments have been kept. She was advised that the appointments had not been."

In February, Whittle's mother, Anita, told Haynes she soon would be moving out of the Whittle/Perez apartment, and she worried that her daughter would be unable to care for the quads:

"Grandmother Whittle advised that she was concern[ed] about leaving her daughter's home and going back to her own residence. Grandmother Whittle explain[ed] her concern that Ms. Whittle would not be able to handle the pressure of taking care of the quadruplets on her own," the Avondale police report says.

Mercy Homecare closed its file on the Whittle/Perez case in early March, Amy Van Ness told the investigators, because "all of the resources had been exhausted. Ms. Van Ness said that she did have concerns about having the case closed, since she felt she had no cooperation from Ms. Whittle or Mr. Perez, and also for the missed doctors' appointments."

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