The Letter



A woman called me once, a woman I had met only one time at a reading I did in Oregon. I don’t even remember her name now but she had a dream she wanted to share with me. She said Karly Sheehan appeared to her in that dream.

I was in Seattle when the call came, caring for my dying mother. I went into the living room, sat in the white leather chair of my mom’s that I always loved so much, and listened as this woman told me how she’d had this dream in which Karly appeared and told her to tell me that she was with me, that she was glad, I think she even used the word proud, that I had told her story, and that she was watching over the other abused children like her. Karly wanted me to know that she was happy and doing well but that she was also doing good work from life on the other side.

I feel Karly’s presence a lot. I think especially so when I look out across Mobile Bay from Fairhope as I did earlier this week during a very brief visit. I wrote most of Karly’s story there in Fairhope while serving as the writer-in-residence at the Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts. Fairhope was the perfect place to write Karly’s story because e I could walk down to the pier and look across the waters and know that the world was still a place of beauty and love and light. Karly was all of those things. Death did not take that from her. She still is all of those things.

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think of Karly, but it is not the tragedy of her death that lingers with me but the brightness of her spirit.

This morning I woke to find the following note in my email.

It is a plea from a mother whose children have been taken from her, and as you can tell from the note, she feels the children have been put in far worse situations.  She extends an invitation for me to attend an upcoming hearing in Oregon.

One of the DHS workers she mentions was also involved in Karly’s case.

Karly’s Law is making a difference. I know that. I spent time with a police chief talking about that very thing the day before I left Oregon for Atlanta. He outlined for me the many ways he sees Karly’s Law making a difference. But DHS is not without problems. Oregon has tasked DHS  with the priority to put children back with their biological families. There are financial reasons for this push. Florida did the same thing and found out that it didn’t work out well for children. Abuse increased, so did deaths.

What can I do, people ask me that often. I really think one of the best things anyone can do is become a CASA volunteer. Children need an advocate who is not embroiled in the mess that is family. A CASA worker can tell the court things DHS cannot. A CASA worker’s primary concern is always the children. What is best for the children? I am married to a CASA volunteer. Tim was compelled by Karly’s death to become a CASA member. I am most proud of the work he does through that organization on behalf of abused children.

I don’t know if the courts are being biased against the mother in this letter. Perhaps. It’s possible. Courts are run by humans and humans are known to be biased and narrow-minded and mule-headed.

If you had received a letter like this, what might you want to know?



A year ago today, I learned a little bit about Karly’s Law. My then 3 year old son acquired scratches on his bottom while at Head Start and a report was made after he accused my then live-in boyfriend. I took him to the Emergency Room at the demand of a CPS worker. I had to explain my understanding of why they were looking at superficial scratches on my son’s bottom. The accusation made was that my then boyfriend scrubbed my son with a toilet brush. DHS child welfare took my 5 children into custody April 28th, 2014. I have been dealing with them since. DHS put 4 of my children with relatives (paternal grandparents). I have had to make 3 child abuse reports in that time and they have fallen on deaf ears. My now 4 year old son recently showed up to a visit with the tread pattern of a boot on the right side of his face. The story is that his dad went into the room where he was sleeping to plug a night light in and accidently stepped on him. I have been told that he was not taken in for a medical examination and that DHS did not feel this was needed. My son acts as if there is now something wrong with his hearing. Another of my children, who is 1 and has a different dad is living with his paternal grandparents. My 1 year old son has presented at visits on 3 separate occasions since May 14th (when I started getting visits) with a black eye. He has come to many visits with bruising and scratches on his face and head. I have asked my DHS caseworker on multiple occasions which of my children has to be killed for them to listen to me when I tell them that my children are being harmed even though the visual proof is on my children. I have been accused of doing nothing more than trying to cause problems when my concern is about my children. I am lost on what to do and am hoping that you may be of some help. The caseworker that I am dealing with was initially supervised by Elizabeth Castillo. No child should end up like Karly Sheenan and I am afraid that mine may because DHS is biased against me.

Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

1 Comment

AF Roger

about 8 years ago

Well... nobody else has commented for several days, so I'll bite. What would I want to know? I'd want to know what kind of support system/accountability community everybody in this picture has: Mom as well as the paternal grandparents and their extended families. Perhaps the fact that no one has commented suggests that the situation described in the mother's letter is like many deeply involved and complex situations that family units find themselves in today. We have a rather duplicitous response to these complexities also. On the one hand, we find them too difficult to respond to as friends, neighbors, churches and community groups because they may involve violations of the law and violent behaviors that we feel unequipped to deal with--and that we have said are the domain of government agencies that we have chartered to do the job. On the other hand, we rail against government as being bureaucratic, blind, inefficient and somewhere between incompetent and inconsiderate. There is some truth to all of those criticisms, of course, more or less so on a case-by-case basis. At the same time, there are interventions that also save lives, but these rarely, if ever, make news. In a sense, these should not be newsworthy items for two reasons: it should be the outcome 100% of the time, and it should be a necessary activity 0% of the time. In short, we should be making better people, better human beings, all up and down the food chain. Why aren't we doing so? When will we address that? As a husband for almost 44 years, a father for 36 and a man for as many of my nearly 68 years as you want to count, I'm troubled by several unfortunate details in the mother's story that are all too common. Her children apparently have more than one father, but she appears to have been the constant in their lives. Guys, why is this? Second, there was also another man in the picture at one point who apparently is not now. It has a label that I wish did not exist because I wish the status did not exist: "my then live-in boyfriend." Men of America, either commit to being grown up men who are husbands, fathers to children for your entire lives, or stop the play-acting and live on your own.


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