The first week of June always brings Karly Sheehan to mind.
It is hard to believe that ten years have passed since Karly was tortured to death on June 3, 2005 after her mother left her in the care of an angry man.
That man is dead now, too.
Shawn Field spent the last 10 years of his life in prison, just up the road from where I now write. He died an unpleasant death, alone. His parents sent him a card, told him they wouldn’t be able to join him for his last birthday, they were off to a sunny vacation.
In fact, his parents hadn’t visited Shawn for several years. I suppose it was too hard on them. I don’t know what I would have done had I been in their situation, had a child of mine grown up to torture to death a child the way Shawn did.
No parent expects to raise a murderer.
Shawn, of course, never admitted to what he did. He swore he didn’t kill Karly, even though there was plenty of physical evidence to the contrary. Truth never was a friend of Shawn’s.
Shawn’s death doesn’t in any way diminish the pain he inflicted upon Karly. People write me all the time to say they don’t understand how a man could do the things he did to such a small child. I always write them back and tell them I don’t understand it either.
I hope I never understand such evil.
I thought of Karly, of Shawn, of evil while reading the news stories about the death of Vice-President Joe Biden’s son, Beau.
Beau Biden was everything Shawn Field was not. Beau Biden was a man of integrity and devotion. A good father. A faithful public servant. A battle-tested veteran.
He was also a prosecutor for one of the most historic child abuse cases in our nation’s history.
I had not known that before Beau Biden died of cancer this past week. My heart aches for his family, for his father and brother, who have known too much grief already, and for his wife and children, who now must face life without the man who was the center of their lives. I know something of that kind of grief, too. It’s a life-long grief.
The Washington Post recounted the story. Biden had the opportunity to step into his father’s Senate seat. An opportunity he passed on because of this child abuse case he was prosecuting:
In 2010, the time was never better for Beau Biden to make a run for the U.S. Senate. He was performing well as Delaware’s attorney general; his father, Joe Biden, had left Capitol Hill in 2008 to join President Obama in the White House; a family friend had been keeping the seat warm for the young man.
But Biden declined.
“I have a duty to fulfill as attorney general, and the immediate need to focus on a case of great consequence,” Biden, then 40, said in a statement at the time. “And that is what I must do. … Therefore I cannot and will not run for the United States Senate.”
Exactly what case was that?
Earl Bradley — a pediatrician who perpetrated what some called “one of the worst cases of child sexual abuse” by sexually assaulting dozens, if not hundreds, of his young patients.
The numbers were staggering. More than 1,400 patients filed claims against Bradley, who was convicted in 2011 of raping or abusing 86 patients over 11 years. The average age of the victims was just 3 years old, and one alleged victim was just 3 months old.
Bradley was convicted and sentenced by a judge to spend the rest of his miserable life behind bars.
Like Shawn Field, Bradley was described as a physically imposing man — 6 feet tall, 225 pounds. His office was Disney-themed, and abuse occurred in a “Pinocchio room” and a “Little Mermaid room.” Bradley taped the crimes — the footage ran to 13 hours. As the Associated Press explained in 2010: “Bradley allegedly had a ‘violently enraged expression on his face’ as he yelled to a 2-year-old patient to perform sexual acts on him. That particular video was described by the investigating officer in court documents as ‘one of the most violent and brutal attacks on a child of any age’ that he had ever seen.”
Friends who know me well know that I have worked as a reporter on some heinous sex abuse cases involving children. One was so horrific the prosecutor on the case quit his job and went back to his family’s contracting business. He never wanted to step foot in a courtroom again, never again wanted to have to prosecute the evil men or women who abuse children. He was a good-hearted man. Seeing the crimes inflicted upon children was too much for him.
It was a lot for me to deal with, too. I prayed, begged God to remove from my mind the images that were put forth in court on that particular case. I asked God for that grace again while writing Karly’s story, while seeing in living color and autopsy photos the harm done to Karly Sheehan.
God answered those prayers.
Beau Biden never got the chance to run for another political office. He spent his last years as a vocal advocate on behalf of abused children. Who else will speak for them if not us? Biden suggested:
“We have seen the progress that can be made when society commits to shining a bright light on a crime like domestic violence, and we are seeing the beginning of what can be accomplished if we continue shining that bright light on child abuse. As adults, we have a legal and moral obligation to stand up and speak out for children who are being abused – they cannot speak for themselves.”
Biden penned these words in the last year of his life.
If you have read the Karly Sheehan story, then you know how speaking up on behalf of abused children can save the life of that child.
If you think of Karly on June 3, 2015, say a prayer for the Biden family, will you? And write a note of encouragement to anyone you know working on behalf of abused children – prosecutors, social workers, teachers, doctors, neighbors, foster parents, CASA volunteers, and yes, even politicians. Trust me, they need our encouragement.
They come face-to-face with great evil on a daily basis.