Mother Charged In Death of 4-Year-Old With Cerebral Palsy: The headline I woke up to this morning was shocking. Little Amber Elizabeth Moses, who was bedridden, needed a feeding tube to sustain her. She lived with her mother, Alexandria Thurman Laureen Schurr, 21, in Buchanan County, Missouri. According to news reports, police found Amber dead on October 10 after being called to her home. The autopsy reports revealed that she died after her airway got obstructed, possibly from her own vomit. Schurr has been charged with involuntary manslaughter.
From what I’ve read, court documents show that between October 9 and October 10 Schurr did not check on her daughter for 20 hours, even after hearing her vomit and cough. The mother may have left the house for a period of time; police are not sure where she was. “She had heard the child vomiting and failed to go back and check on the little girl and, with the child’s condition, she was unable to care for herself,” said Captain Matt Rock of the St. Joseph Police Department. Records also indicate that Schurr did not give her daughter her medication for several days before her death.
This is totally heartbreaking, and a grave reminder of the level of responsibility involved in raising a child with special needs. I know that well: my son, Max, also has cerebral palsy, due to a stroke he suffered at birth. He has a milder form of CP, but still requires diligent care. He has trouble chewing and swallowing, and cannot be left alone as he eats in case of choking. He’s had seizures, and needs to be given anti-seizure meds twice a day. We have to hold him tight as he walks down stairs because he’s unsteady; I am always afraid he’s going to tumble down. Caring for a medically-fragile child like Amber requires even more attention and dedication.
Me, I’ve got what it takes to be a special needs mom (more or less). I’m definitely not perfect, but I’m super-responsible, resourceful and pretty patient. I had Max in my 30s, so I was mature by then, too (more or less). This mom is very young, with two other children. One neighbor said Schurr and her husband went out frequently, leaving the kids at home with a grandmother. As she told a reporter, “You shouldn’t be a parent if you don’t know how to take care of your kids. You just shouldn’t. And you’re a kid yourself and you want to party.”
There’s no qualifying exam to be a parent, for sure. Parents of kids with special needs have to master a whole other level of responsibility, and as the news reveals from time to time, some are horribly negligent. Last spring, a mom of a teen with CP plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter after her daughter starved to death; at 14 years old, Makayla Norman weighed 28 pounds. A couple of years ago in Philadelphia another girl with CP, Danieal Kelly, was found dead at home, starved, with maggot-infested wounds. Statistics reported by The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show that children with disabilities are at least 1.5 times more likely to experience neglect or abuse.
Major factors beyond human frailty play a role, including a failure of oversight by child-welfare authorities and caregivers, along with the lack of support for parents of kids with special needs. Up until age 3, my son was eligible for therapies through our state’s Early Intervention program. But there were no official support groups for me during a time in my life when I was at my most stressed and depressed, other than a private one I found. Although we’ve had financial challenges (often, our insurance company doesn’t pay for the extra therapy Max needs), ultimately we’re OK. A parent who can’t handle the responsibility of a child’s special needs and who has financial stress as well may very well crack—and take that anxiety out on her child.
Mostly, I felt fury as I stared at this mother’s mug shot; how is it humanly possible to ignore your child like that? It would be wrong for any mother to abandon a child for 20 hours; it is beyond belief to do that to one who is at particular risk for choking and so, so vulnerable. But the details on Schurr have yet to emerge, and part of me wondered what support she was getting in her life, if any.
People have sometimes told me that God gives children with special needs to special parents. They couldn’t be more wrong. My son is lucky to have me, just as I am lucky to have him. Amber Elizabeth Moses was not so lucky. Today I’m mourning this child’s death and hoping that the parents of this world who cannot handle having a child with special needs read about what happen to her—and get the help they need.
Image: Buchanan County police
Read more from Ellen at Love That Max
More to read from 1000 Perplexing Things About Parenthood:
Adults Who Bully Kids With Special Needs: How Low Can You Go?
Motherhood IS The Most Important Job When You Have A Kid With Special Needs
What To Teach Your Children About Kids With Special Needs