Silent witness

What was my little girl trying to tell me?

Published by: Laura Hinton and Jacki Leroux
Published on: 8 September 2011

You'd be hard-pressed to work out exactly who was giggling more, me or my daughter Kacy. She was chuckling hysterically, as my boyfriend Ben blew raspberries on her belly, and I was laughing along with them.
Next, squeals of delight erupted as he flung my two-year-old into the air, catching her in his muscular arms.
‘Let's play hide and seek,' he cheered.
Kacy's face lit up excitedly. ‘Yes!' she squealed. It was her favourite game.
Ben popped a kiss on my forehead, then darted off after her.
Standing there, grinning, I couldn't believe my luck. Not only had I just started working at a hotel, but I'd bagged a new bloke, and Kacy loved him.
And it had all happened so quickly. Me and Ben had only met a month earlier, and moved in together already.
‘I used to be a marine,' he'd told me. That explained his stocky build and bulging muscles. Not my type at all... or so I'd thought. The thing was, behind that big man stuff, he was a genuine, sensitive guy.
He was brilliant with Kacy. She was a shy girl, but Ben made her laugh, brought her out of her shell.
So, as I got ready for work now, I didn't have to think about leaving them together.
‘Don't worry about us,' assured Ben, as he checked behind the curtains and sofa. ‘Once I've found her, it's bedtime.'
‘Bye, Kacy,' I called.
‘Bye, Mummy,' she shouted back.
‘Bingo! She's under her bed,' he chuckled.
It was tough not being the one putting her to bed, especially as I was also taking a business administration course. My time was so precious with her as it was.
Still, I was always there in the mornings to get her up and dressed, and
always in pink - her favourite colour.
A couple of weeks later though, as I pulled her into a powder pink sundress, I noticed a bruise on her left leg.
‘What's that, honey?' I asked, inspecting the purple mark.
She tried wiggling free. ‘Want to play.'
‘That's probably how you did it,' I tutted gently. ‘You're always banging into things, tearing about the place.'
Still, I got Ben to check the mark, too. ‘That's where she toppled off the slide in the park the other day,' he said.
A week later though, while bathing Kacy, I spotted a greenish brown bruise on her tummy.
‘Where did that come from?' I asked, kissing it gently.
‘Ben stepped on me,' she said, rubbing her tummy. Her big brown eyes looked up at me innocently.
Hands shaking, I dried her off and got her into her pyjamas, my mind racing. Surely, she'd got the wrong end of the stick. I confronted him the minute I'd put her to bed.
‘Oh God... I was tickling her tummy with my toes the other day, and she jumped up quick and bashed herself,' he gasped. ‘Maybe I was too rough? I hadn't meant to hurt her. I feel terrible.'
Now it made sense. ‘It's fine,' I told him. ‘An innocent mistake. Just be more careful in future - she's not one of your tough marine mates, you know.'
Yet, over the next few weeks, more bruises appeared on Kacy's arms and legs, and her behaviour grew strange. Suddenly, she was really clingy, crying whenever I left to go to work.
‘Don't leave, Mummy,' she begged, wrapping her arms around me.
‘I'll be home soon,' I soothed. ‘And Ben's here.'
‘Come on, let's play hide and seek,' he encouraged her. But she just shook her head, started biting her nails.
Concerned, I booked an appointment with the doctor. I wanted to speak to him about the bruises I'd noticed, too. I couldn't believe it for a second, but what if Ben really was hurting my girl? I needed a second opinion.
‘You needn't worry,' he reassured me when I told the doctor about her being clingy. ‘Kacy's suffering from separation anxiety. It's perfectly normal, lots of kids go through it.'
Of course, that was it. I was working at the hotel, then studying in the evenings. I felt guilty, but was doing it so Kacy would get the best start in life. And I was saving hard for her third birthday in a month's time, too.
‘But what about the bruising?' I asked.
‘Ah, that's easily explained too, unfortunately,' he said. ‘I'm afraid Kacy has diabetes, it can cause excessive bruising.'
It was a shock to hear the diagnosis, but at least it finally explained the marks.
‘She'll need daily insulin injections,' the doctor added. ‘It's probably best someone close to you learns how to give them to her as well.'
Ben sprung to mind first, he'd know how to put her at ease. Then again, he probably wouldn't want to see her upset like that. Maybe my mum Dena, 44, and her boyfriend Richard, 49, would help?
Mum had called recently, offering a hand but, with Ben around, I'd hardly needed her.
She was only too happy to help, though. ‘Of course, I'd love to,' she said when I asked. ‘I don't see enough of my granddaughter.'
Over the next few months, they took care of Kacy. Gradually, she had more energy, was happier, and her bruises cleared up, too.
‘I love Nanna and Poppa,' she'd announce every five minutes.
‘Because they spoil you!' I'd tease, ruffling her chocolate brown hair. ‘They're forever buying you books about princesses kissing frogs, aren't they?'
Her little face turned comically serious. ‘Kissing's yucky.'
Ben still did his share of babysitting duties as well. And soon, he learned how to give Kacy her drugs, and she was back in his care again.
Yes, Kacy really seemed to have turned a corner. Although, she still kicked up a fuss when I said goodbye to her.
Six months into our relationship, I was heading out to work, and she was in floods of tears.
‘Don't go, Mummy,' she sobbed, clawing at my top as I held her. I could feel her trembling.
‘Why's she being like this again?' I worried to Ben.
‘When she's with your mum and Richard, she's too distracted to know you're not there,' he said.
‘I love you, I stay with you?' Kacy insisted.
‘It's okay, I'll look after her,' assured Ben.
‘Okay, I'll see you both later, then,' I sighed.
But a couple of hours later, I got a call at the hotel. It was Ben.
‘Kacy's blood sugar's really high,' he panicked over the phone. ‘She's biting her tongue, like she's having a seizure.'
‘Oh God, take her to hospital,' I ordered. ‘I'll meet you there.'
On the drive over, I was a total mess. Had we given her the wrong medication? Had I done something wrong? I met Ben, who was white faced, in reception. ‘Is-is she okay?' I urged.
‘I'll take you to her,' he said, grabbing my hand.
But peering into her bed, I gasped. That wasn't my little girl, she looked so fragile.
‘Your daughter's unconscious, but breathing by herself,' the doctor explained.
‘Was it a diabetic seizure?' I asked him.
He shook his head, looking from me to Ben, confused.
‘Kacy fell into the bathtub after climbing on to her potty,' Ben said. ‘You know what she's clumsy.'
‘Why lie to me?!'
‘I-I panicked.'
The doctor explained: ‘Scans show Kacy's skull has shifted. She needs immediate surgery to relieve the bleeding on her brain.'
‘How'd she hit her head so hard that her entire skull moved?' I gasped. ‘Please... just do everything you can.'
I couldn't take it all in, nothing made sense - my baby in hospital, Ben lying to me. He stayed behind to meet my parents, as me and Kacy were airlifted to Portland Hospital.
My poor girl had two back-to-back operations. Yet her condition continued to deteriorate.
‘Come on, baby - you have to get better, for your birthday,' I willed.
I felt so helpless and my mind was a mess. Not only was I struggling to make sense of Kacy being in hospital, I couldn't understand why Ben had lied.
Sitting by Kacy's bedside, a niggling feeling ate away at me - had my bloke told me the whole truth about what had happened?
Worryingly, I wasn't the only person thinking that - the police did, too...
‘You know the cops think I had something to do with this,' Ben told me, as we sat beside Kacy's bed three days later.
The room was silent, apart from the click and hiss of her breathing apparatus. I took a deep breath.
‘Did you?' I asked. A part of me didn't want to know - this was Ben, my perfect man.
‘Well,' he said, clearing his throat. ‘I guess we were play fighting, too. She bounced on the bed. I think she hit her head...'
A lump rose in my throat. ‘We were just playing,' he repeated.
‘Just...' my words caught in my throat.
Kacy was two, this wasn't like wrestling one of his marine buddies, she was a fragile little girl. Ben weighed 17st and she weighed just 2st.
Anger, confusion, fear, so many emotions raged through me. But all I could do right now was be there for Kacy - I'd deal with my boyfriend later.
My little girl wasn't getting any better, though. Doctors told me that even if she pulled through, she'd be a paraplegic - unable to even eat without a feeding tube. That was no life for her.
So, five days after she'd been rushed into hospital, I made the heart-wrenching decision to turn off my baby girl's life support. We'd never play hide and seek again, I'd never hear her giggle as I read a story about a princess kissing a frog...
Looking at her in her hospital bed, chocolate brown hair framing her beautiful face, I couldn't bring myself to say goodbye, though.
‘I'll see you again in Heaven,' I sobbed instead. She slipped away a week before her third birthday.
I was a total mess. I'd lost my little girl and had no idea if it had been at the hands of my dream man.
Police, though, were certain it had been. Hours after I'd said goodbye to Kacy, they told me he'd been arrested for her murder by abuse and first-degree assault.
I never knew that you could go so fast from loving someone to hating them.
Still, I didn't find out what a monster he was until his three-day trial at Jackson County Court. In a videoed confession to police, he admitted wrestling with my tiny girl, laying her on the floor and using Ultimate Wrestling moves.
I shuddered as, in my mind's eye, I saw him leap into the air, then land on Kacy the way wrestlers do.
He'd crushed her lungs, given her internal bleeding. She'd vomited and had a fit, but he hadn't finished with her. Ben had then picked her up by an arm and a leg and hurled her on to her bed with such force she'd bounced head-first into the bedroom wall.
‘It was all fun for me,' he admitted. To cover his tracks, he'd stripped off her vomit-covered dress, and changed her clothes before taking her to hospital.
I couldn't believe the man who'd once made my daughter giggle had ended up wrestling her to death.
Kacy's odd behaviour over the last few months slowly made sense... she'd been trying to tell me about Ben.
I had no idea if he'd hurt her before, but the bruises seemed to indicate he had. After all, they'd disappeared when Mum was looking after her.
Yet I'd believed him all those times he'd called Kacy clumsy, he'd even consoled me while concealing his sickening crime. I felt so guilty.
He got what he deserved in the end, though. Benjamin James George, 30, was sentenced to life for Kacy's murder, and will have to serve a minimum of 25 years.
Now, not a day goes by when I don't regret letting that evil man into my home.
‘Why couldn't my life have been taken instead?' I cry to Mum. ‘Why didn't he hurt me instead of her? I just wish that it would have been me.'
Some people may judge me, think I could have spotted the signs. Whatever they say can't be worse than the torment I inflict on myself every day.
What if Kacy was screaming for me and I didn't answer? I beat myself up every single day because I couldn't save my daughter.
Michelle Lunsford, 25, Medford, Oregon, USA