A Father of a Different Sort

A Father of a Different Sort June 17, 2012

Those Father’s Day commercials are difficult to watch. The ones in which dads happily take sons fishing or sportingly play catch with their daughters.

Where does a child go to get a dad like that?

Undoubtedly that’s a question Xzayvion Riley must have wondered as the eight-year-old endured the blows that would take his life. The boy’s battered body had over 50 bruises, cuts and bite marks. He’d suffered vicious beatings, reportedly as his two siblings looked on in horror and fear.

The abuse was allegedly delivered by Xzayvion’s own father and mother. Michael Robertson, 46, and Lavaughn Riley, 32, have been arrested in connection to their young son’s death. Biological parents are responsible for eighty percent of all child abuse deaths.


The neighbors said what neighbors always say when a young child is beaten to death: If only we had known, we would have called somebody. We would have done something.


It was the same thing neighbors in Centralia, Washington said when 2-year-old Koralynn Fister was pronounced dead in late May. Koralynn had been raped repeatedly. Her mother’s live-in boyfriend was arrested and charged with the young girl’s death.

Neighbors in the trailer park where Koralynn lived with her mom and sisters, reported that they often heard Koralynn crying loudly. “I was tempted, so tempted to call the Sheriff’s office and tell them,” said neighbor Ella Morgan. “I’m so sorry I didn’t call somebody. A kid don’t cry all the time and this kid cried all the time. I mean, she cried into a big scream.”


Despite overhearing what must have been cries of sheer terror and pain, Koralynn’s neighbors did not call the police. Perhaps Xzayvion Riley did not scream like a toddler being raped as he endured blow after wicked blow from the hands of his father. Maybe he clenched his jaw, his hands and swore to the Barefooted Jesus that he would not holler for help even as his own mother chomped down on his belly in a cursed form of cruelty.


After the boy was declared dead, neighbors said they would remember Xzayvion as the well-behaved and sweet child who sat on the steps outside his family’s apartment. It’s worth noting that abused children are often well-behaved in their home surroundings. One misstep could cost them their very lives. They live in fear of that.


It was Xzayvion Riley’s and Koralynn Fister’s misfortune to be born in a nation that has the highest rate of child abuse fatalities in the industrialized world. It was their misfortune to be raised in homes devoid of a Hallmark-brand father, or mother. It was their misfortune to live in cities where onlookers view children as another person’s property. It was their misfortune to live in neighborhoods where everybody minds their own business when what they ought to be doing is calling the police, the Children’s Advocacy Center, and the Children’s Welfare Department or any one of the numerous help lines available for reporting child abuse. They could have simply called 1-800-Children and intervened on Xzayvion’s behalf.


Surely that is what the eight-year-old boy was praying would happen during those last brutal hours of his brief life. That someone, anyone, a complete stranger even, or a good-hearted neighbor would be bold enough, would care enough to get involved, to save a young child’s life, his life.


Karen Spears Zacharias is author of  Baton Rouge’s One Book One Community Read,  A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder. She can be reached at karenzach.com or via Twitter @karenzach.


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  • Oh Lord, Father God, have mercy on those other children.

  • Sharon O

    my words are not adequate at this moment. the tragedy and loss. please shall we all get brave and call even if we are wrong>?

  • holly

    My husband and I took our littlest guy for a walk around town last week, in the evening time.

    We heard a child screaming – that pitch and fervor that sets your blood cold. At first, we thought – someone is just throwing a fit. We have nine kids, and some of ours can curdle your bloodstream when they don’t get what they want. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

    But…we picked up our pace and walked toward the cry, which did not lessen. We walked several blocks before we came to the house where the child was crying. We didn’t see anyone, but still the cry. So I charged off through the back yard. It’s sort of scary to do that – was I prepared to confront whatever i might find? What if an adult was abusing a child and threatened me? What would I do?

    Well, I didn’t care much. I am a mama – and I was in overdrive. Protect. The. Child. Just do it.

    So, I went to a privacy fence, and looked through the slats. There was a little two year old girl – pony tails in her black hair and tears streaming down her filthy face. She was trapped inside an old, dry, swimming pool; crying “mama, mama, mama!” over and over again.

    She hiccupped and looked at me….I talked to her gently. I called over to a neighbor who was sitting on her deck about 20 feet away, talking on her cell phone. I asked her if she knew anything about the little girl, where her mama was, etc.

    The lady hadn’t even heard the child scream!!! She said, “We don’t encourage them to come over here.”

    I said, “But she is a toddler, she is trapped, she is alone. The doors are shut, the shades are pulled, and she has been screaming for a long time!”

    The neighbor said, “I will go and knock on their door.” (My husband was standing guard with our baby – he would have been there in a heartbeat if anyone had needed him. I just took off across the yard first. TRY AND STOP ME!!!)

    To end the story, the neighbor roused the mother, who came out and scooped up the child and tried to ignore me. I said to her (from behind the fence,) “What happened?”

    She wouldn’t look at me – it appeared she had been sleeping – but said, “Yeah, she’s okay. She gets in there all of the time and can’t get out.”

    She was loving to the little one, so I felt like the child would be okay. I watched for signs – you know, angry mother, diaper that hadn’t been chanced for half a day, bruises, etc., but there weren’t any. Baby wanted mama, wasn’t fearful of her, etc.

    I believed the mom – believed that the little girl probably sneaked out, etc. I have little houdinis myself – they require constant vigilence and they can get out of almost any door – and they will shut it behind them, even. I gave her the benefit of the doubt…I hope for mercy with my own little ones as well. And yet – we make a point to walk past the house to check. Also – my husband is a former social worker and our neighbor is a cop. If we see trouble we won’t hesitate to report them.

    What troubled me most, though, was as I walked away from the house, I saw neighbors out all over the place. They were watching me and what I would do. One woman even intercepted me further in our walk to ask what had happened. She said she heard the child cry. And yet, no one went over to check!!!! What if it wasn’t abuse, but what if the child had fallen in a pool WITH water? What if she were trapped in a swingset with her foot twisted? What if it were 100 degrees as it is today, and the little one was out for hours without water??? Serious suffering, and no one in this small town would go over and check why the baby was crying?

    It’s too important to not check on children. I’d rather be embarrassed or yelled at – as long as the child is safe.