Local News

Caretakers Claim Shaken Baby Cases Are Accidents; Experts Say Otherwise

Posted July 20, 2000

— There is still no arrest in a deadly child abuse case in Person County. Investigators say most suspects in these type of cases say the injuries to the baby were an accident. Experts say that is impossible.

Dr. Desmund Runyan, UNC professor of pediatrics, says he sees 12 to 18 kids a week who have been abused.

"We had a youngster who had 22 broken bones from shaking," Runyan says.

Statewide since January, roughly 20 children under two years old have suffered traumatic brain injuries that were intentionally inflicted.

In Person County, asix-month-old boydied Wednesday night at UNC Hospitals. He suffered a severe skull fracture, possibly from being thrown against a wall or table -- a sign of shaken baby syndrome.

"If you stop the skull directly, the brain keeps moving and that's what really does it," Runyan says.

In another case,Howard Hunichen, a preacher, was convicted of beating then 7-month-old Zachary Fortner. The baby now has permanent brain damage. Runyan says he has heard all of the stories before.

"About five percent of American parents report that they did something that sounds like abuse in the last year to their kid in terms of physical abuse," Runyan says. "They threw them up against the wall. They knocked them down, kicked them, punched them, beat them up."

Runyan says child abuse has actually declined nationwide in recent years. In North Carolina, about 30 children a year die from abuse.

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