Authorities are investigating whether Camilia Terry (pictured above), the Cleveland woman charged with aggravated murder in the death of her 3-year-old son, left a comment on an adoption article saying she didn’t know how to deal with the toddler.
Police have charged Terry, 20, with aggravated murder in the death of her toddler son Emilliano Terry (pictured below).
According to an autopsy, the boy died of blunt force trauma to the head, and his skull was fractured.
Underneath a 2006 Yahoo article about putting a child up for adoption is a comment by someone who posted their name as “Camilia Terry.” It reads:
I HAVE A THREE YEAR OLD TODDLER I WANT TO PUT UP FOR ADOPTION WHEN I WAS PREGNANT WITH HIM I WAS GOING TO GO THROUGH IT BUT PEOPLE KEPT CONVINCING ME TO DO OTHER WISE HE HAS PROBLEMS THAT I DONT KNOW HOW TO DEAL WITH AND PREFER FOR HIM TO BE WITH A FAMILY WHO CAN HANDLE IT AND THE FATHER NEVER BEING AROUND NEVER HELPED HARD TO FIND TODDLER ADOPTION AGENCYS
According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, police are examining Terry’s social media posts.
“We are very aware of all of them,” said City Police Commander Ed Tomba.
It’s unclear whether Terry actually posted this note. It could be a cruel hoax that’s typical of anonymous Internet posters these days. However, we do know for a fact that Terry, who at the age of 20 had three children ages 5 months to 5 years old, had reached out to her area social services agency for help.
We also know that with a 5 year old, Terry likely first became a Mother at the age of 14 or 15. Up until just nine months ago, Terry, was in the custody of child welfare authorities.
What we need to know now is what steps should have been taken to prevent this young woman from reaching the edge and then, according to the police, diving over by allegedly murdering her own child?
Why did no one hear this young woman pleading for help?
According to police, Terry said that her son went missing while she was at a local park with all three of her children. The FBI became involved and found the toddler’s scent at the park. Police claim that Terry’s story slowly began to change and unravel.
Terry is innocent until proven guilty and should expect the same due process any of us would want if we were accused of a heinous crime. Her lawyer, John Powers, said there should be no “rush to judgment. She is devastated and heartbroken.”
Her grandfather, Lonnie Terry, said he had doubts about her guilt. “I’m pretty sure she is not capable of murder,” he told the Plain Dealer.
Rather than trying the case outside of court, we must ask what efforts were made to help Terry with her kids when she called social services asking for help.
The Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services would only say that the case remains open, but if the agency got a call that this young woman was struggling with her three kids, someone should have been dispatched immediately.
It may have taken all Terry had to make that call.
Sarah Deschamps, a family support specialist with Teen Parent Connection, an Illinois agency that serves 500 young mothers per year, said her agency would have initiated immediate and intensive support services had they gotten a call from a mother who said she needed help. That could include home visitation programs and connecting them with mental health experts. They would also immediately tell the mother what to do if they felt themselves reaching the boiling point.
“We would help her make a safety plan. If you are starting to feel overwhelmed what is your first step? Putting baby in a crib and walking away or going outside and taking a walk or calling a friend and saying I’m really frustrated,” said Deschamps.
Teaching young mothers about child development so they understand their baby’s behavior is an important service they provide. They also screen the mothers for postpartum depression.
Setting up a system to support young mothers is one of the group’s priorities.
“Having support when the baby is crying and won’t stop or throwing tantrums is extremely important. Having someone to take the baby is crucial,” said Deschamps “People who have social support and have one or two lifelines fare so much better than the people who don’t.”
A big question is where were the other influences in this young woman’s life?
Shawn Dotson, Emilliano’s father, said Camilia kept him out of her son’s life.
“I guess she felt as if she couldn’t be involved with me, I couldn’t be involved with him,” he said.
“There’s a deep part of me who feels that it is partially my fault. So, I mean, it eats me up, you know,” Dotson said. “I mean, every kid needs a Father, you know. If he had his father in his life or round him, I’m, like, 99.9 percent sure that wouldn’t have happened. He’d be secure. He’d be safe with me.”
Dotson is young himself and says he thought his son was living out of state until he went missing, but there were ways he could have kept in contact with his son. Once he established his paternity, he could have had court ordered visitation.
Dotson’s mother said Terry’s struggles seemed normal. WPTV writes:
Neither Dotson or his family members ever saw anything in Camilia that made them think she would be capable of hurting the boy.
‘She was just a young girl,’ said Porsha Dotson, Shawn’s mother. ‘So, you know, every young girl goes through their ‘I don’t want a baby’ or ‘I had a baby by this guy. I’m young.’ But talking with her and visiting with her when she was over at my house, no, I had no clue.’
With the overwhelming amount of teen pregnancy in the African-American community, is it possible that we’ve just become desensitized to the cries for help that young women give off? Although the teen pregnancy rate is on the decline in this country, 48 percent of non-Hispanic black girls will become pregnant at least once before the age of 20, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. That percentage is twice the national average and shows how widespread the epidemic of teen pregnancy remains in our community.
“I don’t want a baby,” is also a cry saying, “I’m not prepared to take care of a baby.”
Deschamps said that for family and friends of young mothers, being available, empathetic and non-judgmental are of the utmost importance.
“It is important to offer breaks and make sure parents take care of themselves. With young moms people think if the grandmother watches the baby you are a bad parent,” said Deschamps.
When they have young women without a strong support network, the agency may be the one reaching out.
“We will do a lot of reaching out and checking-in and making sure family friends are aware. We have to make people around the mother understand the parent may be struggling and to watch out for signs of withdrawal, depression or frustration,” said Deschamps.
Porsha Dotson said Camilia also rebuffed her offer to raise Emilliano.
At a vigil for Emilliano, a pastor made the crowd make a promise, according to the Plain Dealer:
One pastor asked the members of the crowd to turn to each other and say, ‘This will never happen again!’ and make promises to help each other in times of trouble to keep similar tragedies from happening.
That’s a great goal, but it’s easier said than done. That means we have to be willing to speak to the stranger. It means we may have to step out of our comfort zone and ask our neighbor an uncomfortable question. It may mean being nosy.
Terry’s grandfather admitted to not seeing his granddaughter for four years.
It’s unclear why but maybe he could have been a resource. Terry’s foster parents were still involved in her life, according to reports, but what this young woman needed was a parent role model and a life coach. She needed someone to give her advice and help on how to deal with the difficult situation she found herself in.
She also needed someone to help her plot a path to the future. As police sort out exactly what happened to poor little Emilliano, there also must be some soul searching in the community at-large. What signs did we miss? Are we too nonchalant about teen pregnancy? Why are young women often left with the burden of raising children alone?
Even if the parents are no longer together, it’s important that Fathers and their families stay involved in the life of the child.
Now, Dotson and his family are left planning to bury the little boy he never got to know.
“I want to make sure we give him a proper burial so we’ll know that he is finally at rest, because he never had rest. It was just sad,” said Porsha Dotson.