Regional

Mom accused of killing baby suffered heavy stress

BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large, South/Central Bureau myersg@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, February 22, 2013    

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SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — Relatives believe the delinquency of her baby's father and hard times triggered the mental breakdown which led to 22-year-old Shaneka McCalla allegedly stabbing her 13-month-old baby to death on Tuesday.

McCalla, for whom the St Elizabeth police have requested a psychiatric evaluation, remained in custody yesterday.

The baby, Sabrina Joseph, McCalla's second child, was pronounced dead at hospital on Tuesday afternoon after being stabbed, apparently with a kitchen knife, at her home in Lewis Town, just outside Brompton in South West St Elizabeth.

When the Jamaica Observer visited yesterday, Agatha Gayle, an elderly grand-aunt with whom McCalla had lived since she was three years old, told how she first became aware of the tragedy when her grandniece came into the house and announced she had killed her baby, affectionately called 'Angel'.

"She come een with her hand on her head and she say 'Mama... Mama mi kill Angel (baby's pet name)," said Gayle, her voice breaking with grief.

Alarmed, Gayle said she cried out, "Move from side a mi!". But then she grabbed her walking stick and hobbled to the back of the house where she found the baby covered in blood, lying face down in an old building which had been converted from an "outside kitchen" to a washroom.

Gayle, who suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes, cried out for help and neighbours quickly converged. The baby, still breathing, was rushed to hospital, to no avail. Gayle, too, had to be taken to the doctor — her blood pressure having risen dangerously.

Yesterday, Gayle made it very clear she thought the negligence of the baby's father drove her grandniece over the edge.

"From di baby born the father don't buy her not even a tin of feedin'... every time mi call im, 'im say yes grandma, weekend; and all now weekend can't come yet," she complained.

Watched by McCalla's four-year-old daughter who sat quietly, wide-eyed, Gayle said her grandniece had become increasingly depressed in recent times apparently because of her dependence on her grandaunt and the unwillingness of her baby's father to give meaningful help. Gayle alleged that all that had been received from time to time from the baby's father was "two pampers".

Gayle said that shortly before the baby's death, a neighbour had seen McCalla sitting under a tree crying. "Him (neighbour) say to her 'what happen to you' and she don't answer... maybe if she did just talk, this wouldn't happen," the grieving grandaunt said.

Gayle suggested that from time to time, down the years, her grandniece had been extremely vulnerable to stress. She recalled that at times the young woman had been known to say "mi feel like mi woulda just heng mi self..." On such occasions, she said, she would strongly rebuke her grandniece but she never imagined the catastrophe to come.

Yesterday, clinical psychologist Dr Kai Morgan said while mother/child infanticide was rare, stress and depression often led to child abuse and in extreme cases to tragedy, such as occurred at Lewis Town.

"Stress-related frustration may cause them (stressed out parents) to shake the child, physically abuse the child, scream at the child," she said.

Morgan said neighbours and relatives should never ignore "warning signs", including drastic changes in behaviour, extreme gloominess and threats. "These should never be taken lightly, there should always be an attempt to get professional help through counselling," she said.

Gayle said while she was aware her grandniece had seen a doctor on occasions, she was not aware she had ever seen a mental health specialist.

Gayle said issues such as that McCalla had never met her father who migrated when she was nine days old and from whom she received very little material support had added to her problems.

"Sometime she say she woulda like fi know her father, is a whole heap a mix-up deh pon her," said Gayle.

McCalla's stepfather, Livingston Watson, who went to the police station after being called to the scene of the tragedy, said his stepdaughter appeared to have lost all sense of reality.

"She nervous like leaf pon tree... mi a sey 'Shaneka, why you do that?', all she say, 'Daddy, mi nuh know, mi nuh know', only dat mi a get from her," said Watson, who along with McCalla's mother lives in Shrewsbury, just a few miles from Lewis Town.

He claimed that McCalla also urged him to make sure the baby was alright and asked the police to allow her to go home so she could suckle her baby.

"So you see, she nuh know what she do," Watson said.

He also rejected suggestions that McCalla was a "wicked" or uncaring mother. "Shaneka love her baby, love her kids dem," he said. "Is just something go wrong wid her," he said. He, too, suggested that the alleged delinquency of the child's father played a contributing role.

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