Shepard was an unnaturally happy and healthy 11-week-old baby boy. He would smile until something needed to be corrected. He would cry, you would fix it, then he would smile again. He was a special baby to my wife and I after years of infertility, and he had a life ahead with limitless possibilities.
Which is why on April 6, 2015, our world changed forever.
We chose an in-home day-care provider in Oklahoma (where we reside) to watch Shepherd. The woman was highly recommended by a friend and she would only watch teacher’s kids. This meant she would be closed during the Summers and school breaks, which was great for us because I’m a teacher.
On April 6, I left for work early and was able to kiss Shepard and Ali goodbye. I will never forget him looking over for me and smiling. Shepard had only been going to the in-home day care for five days when Ali took him on that Monday. He had his first runny nose that weekend and had woken up that morning with congestion, but he was in good spirits, so we weren’t overly worried.
Ali messaged the day-care provider about using a rock’n’play for sleeping so that Shepard could be on an incline instead of having to lie on his back. Originally she agreed, but when Ali arrived and saw what it was, she couldn’t let him sleep in it.
In fact, this childcare giver confided that she had been cited by the Department of Human Services (DHS) 10 days earlier for allowing another infant to fall asleep in a swing, and that they told her how dangerous both car seats and swings were for babies to sleep in.
On that Monday, as Ali was unpacking her diaper bag, she realized that she had forgotten the bottles so she ran back home. She was very concerned about Shepard getting sick if she were to lay him down flat for his naps. While she was home, she grabbed her Ergo 360 carrier that our childcare giver had used before so she wouldn’t have to put him down if she didn’t want to.
Ali also requested a doctor’s note for the caregiver so she would also have the option to use the rock’n’play. When Ali returned, the childcare giver reported that she had come up with a plan: she would sit the rock’n’play in front of the couch so Shepard could nap in it, so if DHS stopped by to “check on her,” she could just pick him up and answer the door with him.
This ensured she wouldn’t get in trouble. Ali, feeling confident the attention Shepard would be getting would be more than sufficient, left to go to her morning meetings and notified our childcare giver that our doctor was faxing her the note for the rock’n’play at 9:45 a.m.
At 12:51 p.m., the daycare provider called Ali and told her she needed to come quickly. The childcare giver reported that Shepard wasn’t breathing. She had called 911, and a police officer and EMTs had responded.
Ali asked her to give the phone to an EMT, and after speaking with him she knew the situation wasn’t good. Ali called me. In the middle of teaching a class I had to answer the phone to Ali saying I had to go, that Shepard wasn’t breathing.
I ran to the truck and drove way too fast to the day-care provider’s home. When I arrived, they were wheeling my son out of the house on a stretcher. They were still working on him, but told me that they had yet to get his heart going or him breathing on his own.
As I rode in the van in front of the ambulance, I had to prepare myself for life without my son andthe grief that would follow. When we arrived at the hospital, as they wheeled him past me into the ER, I gave him a kiss on the forehead.
He was cold.
As they were working on our son, the attending physician came over and told us that they would try another push of epinephrine and two more rounds of CPR, and then they would have to call it.
Surrounded by doctors and nurses with looks of pity, and police officers, detectives, and DHS officials waiting to interview us, we had to say goodbye to our son, intubated on a stretcher.
Unbeknownst to us, our childcare provider had been educated by DHS for the swing violation where she was specifically counseled about safe sleep practices. The next day, DHS returned due to the serious violation, and she was reminded again of the dangers of putting a child in a swing.
It’s documented in her public file that she specifically inquired about infants napping in their car seats. DHS told her that sleeping in the car seat was a dangerous practice and would increase the chances of SIDS. She was told this just 10 days before she chose to put our child in an unbuckled car seat on the floor, swaddled, where he wiggled down until he lost his airway and suffocated to death.
He was unable to alert anyone to the terrible trouble he was in because the door was closed and there was no monitor to catch his struggle. In addition, our childcare provider was distracted by her friend who had stopped by around lunchtime so she could drop off her 2-year-old while she went and had lunch with other moms.
TWO HOURS passed before she finally checked on Shepard and found him completely blue.
The childcare provider has never been charged with any crime. Shepard’s case is still open and we’re hopeful as a family that justice will find her in this world or the next.
This wasn’t an accident.
She knew that a car seat wasn’t safe for sleep and that two hours is much too long to leave an infant behind a closed door.
Shepard’s death doesn’t have to be in vain. Unsafe sleep surfaces are a REAL danger. We’re looking to focus the attention to safe sleep standards so they can protect Oklahoma’s children from negligent decisions.