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Failed to Death: Ashya Joseph

8:48 PM, Nov 15, 2012   |    comments
Ashya Joseph
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 PDF Document: fatality joseph  PDF Document: arrest affidavit joseph

Age: 16 mos.
Born: Sept 25, 2006
Died: Jan 28, 2008
Location: Colorado Springs
Suspect in death: Maria Gardner, mother

The caseworker tried to "problem-solve" with Gardner, and came up with a strategy to get a babysitter so Gardner could go to a crisis center to talk with a therapist, a state review found. That night, the therapist called the caseworker and said Gardner had been sent home and did not need hospitalization.

Five nights later, Gardner gathered her five children in her Colorado Springs bedroom, doused them with gasoline and set them on fire.

Four of the children survived, including an 8-year-old boy who could be heard screaming during the 911 call, "Why did you? You killed them. Why did you kill them. I loved them."

Ashya Joseph, who was 16 months old, did not survive the blaze. She died of smoke inhalation and burns to her body on January 28, 2008.

Gardner is now serving 85 years in prison.

A state review of Ashya's death found El Paso County child welfare caseworkers had been alerted to problems in the home six other times. There were allegations of bruises and black eyes and cuts on the eyes of the children. In addition, the father shot a gun at his wife in their yard with all of the children present, and then he killed himself four days later after returning to the home.

That shooting incident, along with the other abuse allegations, did not prompt any intervention, the state review of the death found. Nearly four months after her husband fired the gun, Gardner set her children on fire.

Gardner, in an interview, said she will live in pain for the rest of her life.

"It kills me every day to have to hear my children screaming," Gardner said. "To know I've hurt them so much. For my youngest daughter to not be alive now because of what I've done. Not a day goes by, not one, where I don't think about what I've done."

She said she blamed the caseworker for not intervening.

"They should've taken my children from the home, and, ultimately, I say, put me on at least a 48-hour suicide hold," she said. "Don't just tell me I have to go somewhere for an evaluation."

Shirley Rhodus, the administrator over child welfare for the El Paso County Department of Human Services, defended the county's actions. She said her review of the casework found no mistakes in practice.

"Well, we certainly didn't have information to suggest something so heinous was going to take place," Rhodus said.

What looks clear in hindsight is anything but clear at the initial stages.

"It is much more difficult looking forward than looking backward," Rhodus said.

Read the Fatality Review

Read the Arrest Affidavit

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