Today I stumbled on a news story that hit very close to home. The Tampa Bay Times reported that Shakayla Denson drowned her 4-year-old daughter in a river. Several reports have suggested the little girl, Je’Hyrah Daniels had autism. Authorities located a GoFundMe set up by the mother last fall. On the GoFundMe page, the mother requested money to help pay for therapy and equipment following her daughter’s diagnosis of autism. Too often I read of stories of children with autism eloping and drowning. However, a story of a parent forcefully drowning a child in public is rare.
According to the witnesses, they saw the Shakayla forcefully remove the little girl from the car. The little girl was screaming and crying. Witnesses then watched the mother drag her daughter to the river. Shakayla picked up her daughter and walked into the river. At this point, the witnesses say Shakayla began to scream. She walked out into the river until it reached her shoulders, and she let go of her daughter.
Witnesses watched the mother turn around and walk out of the water. They said they saw the little girls head and hands rise above the water and then disappear. Police detained the mother about a 1/2 mile from where she parked her car.
After Shakayla was detained, investigators learned she had stolen the Nissan Altima found at the scene earlier that afternoon. A witness watched Shakayla push her daughter into the back seat of the car. The witness attempted to stop her from stealing the call. However, the mother struck the witness with the car and drove off. Thankfully, the witness did not get injured.
Authorities charged Shakayla with First Degree Murder, aggravated child abuse, and grand theft auto. Authorities were unable to provide any details about the mental health of the mother.
Investigators did share that CPS previously opened a case on the mother for failure to supervise her child adequately. However, the case had been closed July 31, 2018, with no finding of maltreatment.
What shocks me the most about this story is the callousness of the mother. She took a screaming, scared little girl by the arm into a river. I cannot imagine how terrified the little girl must have been. If Je’Hyrah did have autism, the entire sensory experience could have been more than she could handle.
My thoughts are running wild trying to imagine under what circumstance a mother could do this to a child. Parenting a child with a disability poses challenges and increased stress. These stresses can impact the overall well-being and mental health of the caregiver. Once the caregiver reaches burn-out, there is an increased likelihood of violence.
The descriptions given by witnesses highlight a mother in distress. We don’t know the full details of the motive behind the killing. Hopefully, authorities will uncover why the mother did this to her child. She’s facing a lengthy prison term if found guilty. Florida is a death penalty state, but there has been no word if prosecutors will seek the death penalty.
If you are a caregiver of a child with a disability and are feeling burnt out, please seek professional help. The Centers for Disease control recommends caregivers:
- Be realistic about what your child can and cannot do.
- If you are frustrated, give yourself a time-out to calm down and refocus!
- Ask people who you trust to help you.
- Focus on the positive.
- Make time for yourself.
- Talk to a healthcare professional like your doctor or a therapist if you don’t know how to handle your child’s behavior.
If you have concerns that a child is being abused or neglected, please make sure to call the Childhelp National Abuse Helpline at (800) 4-A-Child.
As I learn more details about the story, I will post updates.