Training educates the public, police on disturbing trend

Law enforcement officers, county attorneys and child advocacy groups took part in a new kind of training Monday dealing with baby shaking syndrome.

A number of Kingman infants have been killed or severely injured in recent years.

During a two-hour class, two registered nurses talked about the types of injuries suffered by children and infants.

They also talked about the characteristics of suspects who are accused of child abuse.

Sharon Johnson, a registered nurse who organized the class with Bonnie Harrison, said most abusers are young fathers or boyfriends of children's mothers.

Female babysitters easily can be suspects in baby-shaking deaths, she added, as can mothers, grandparents, daycare workers or family friends.

Even older siblings can also be at fault, she said.

Fathers, especially new fathers, can find it hard to deal with a crying child.

Parents may think it is just good discipline to shake a baby without realizing the frailty of an infant's neck and bone structure.

Domestic violence, drugs and alcohol and a suspect's own abuse as a child can be important factors in baby shaking syndrome, she said.

Babies as old as 2 are vulnerable to abuse, but even children as old as 4 can be victims.

"The only prevention of baby shaking syndrome is education," Johnson said.

"We haven't seen that type of education in this community."

Johnson and Harrison hope to teach the class at least twice a year to any organization or group that requests it.

Johnson said it is hard to tell whether incidence is increasing, even though diagnosis has improved and awareness increased.

More medical experts are writing about the problem, she added.

A Kingman man, Steven Zuncs, has been charged with first-degree murder and child abuse in the death of his 7-week-old daughter in November.

Paramedics responded to a Kingman apartment for a report of an infant who was not breathing.

The baby died the next day at a Phoenix hospital.

The injuries were consistent with an infant being severely shaken.

Another area man, Scott Wilkinson, was convicted in January of felony child abuse and sentenced to 21 years in prison.

Wilkinson was found guilty in October of assaulting a 4-month-old child, breaking her arm and leaving her blind and mentally retarded.

The incident occurred May 2001.

A third man, John Lee DeBarge Sr., faces new charges of felony first-degree murder and one count of child abuse.

DeBarge was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison by a Mohave County jury during his first trial in July 1991 for the shaking death of a 10-month-old girl in September 1990.

DeBarge's first conviction was overturned and he faces the same charges.

His next hearing is set for March 24, which may set the date for his second murder trial.

Anyone interested in the class can call Johnson and Harrison at 279-3567, 2793636 or 757-1562.