It was all I could do last week to read the details of the torture and abuse inflicted upon Owen Buggey, a 3-year-old Canton, Ohio, boy who died as a result of punishment that would have buckled a man’s knees.
No crummy childhood, no addiction, no sob story of any kind excuses it.
No matter how many hundreds of stories a journalist covers, those are the ones that stick, that haunt and follow you all the days of your life.
In Owen’s case, even people outside of his house of horrors saw what they suspected were incidents of abuse at the hand of his mother’s boyfriend, who is on trial for his death.
At least one neighbor was so concerned, he recorded an incident of Owen being hit.
But in too many cases, people don’t get involved, and even parents boast of what will happen if someone dares to interfere.
Some of the conundrum is generational. Those of us of a certain age see a kid getting a swat at the grocery store, and it reminds us of our own childhoods, when there was no such thing as a “time out.”
We see a screaming toddler spread-eagle on the floor of the food court, and we mutter to ourselves ”...Just give me five minutes...”
We think about how we wouldn’t have dared to act out in public because there was no one to save you. Kids who ignored this soon learned there were only other adults, nodding in agreement that you got what was coming to you.
Because we believe kids require some discipline, this mindset in some cases has led to our being hesitant to get involved in how other people correct their children.
Certainly, there’s discipline, and then there’s what Owen Buggey endured.
No tantrum, no misbehavior by a 3-year-old warrants what Summit County Medical Examiner Lisa Kohler described as a “constellation of injuries,” including a perforated intestine, a missing tooth, head-to-toe bruising, septic shock, and a head injury.
Last week, Owen’s siblings testified in court that they were repeatedly punched and whipped by their mother’s boyfriend.
We wouldn’t tolerate this for a dog.
The story of Owen Buggey is also the story of bad choices, and the kind of chaos and instability so often produced by poverty.
It’s a plot that has become so tragically common we could write a master story and simply change the names and the dates:
Mother has more kids than she can afford or handle.
Mother moves in a man she’s only known for a short time.
Mother works, boyfriend doesn’t.
Boyfriend is left to babysit children he doesn’t know, nor is equipped to handle.
Someone ends up dead. Then come the lies about how it happened.
In Owen’s case his mother refused to seek medical treatment for fear her four children would be taken.
But a complete stranger couldn’t have done any worse.
If you have a feeling, an inner nudge, or you see anything that doesn’t sound, look or feel right, act on it. Call Childhelp, the National Child Abuse hotline, at 800-422-4453.
It is better to be over-cautious and cause some inconvenience than to be ambivalent and let a child die.
Owen Buggey couldn’t defend himself. That’s what we adults are for.