Child Abuse, Neglect Deaths Rise: Bartholomew County reports three neglect deaths in 2021

INDIANAPOLIS — Sixty children died of abuse and neglect in 2021, a report by the Indiana Department of Child Services has revealed. That’s an increase from 50 in 2020.

The agency examined 271 child deaths suspected of abuse or neglect, but 22% were due to abuse by caregivers.

Of these, 22 were due to abuse and 38 to neglect. In 40 (67%) of the 60 deaths, the victim was 3 years old or younger.

“This finding demonstrates a consistent trend (nationally and in Indiana) that young children are at highest risk of abuse or neglect,” the press release said.

Allen County had the highest number of child deaths (11) in the state from abuse or neglect.

Three deaths from child neglect have been reported in Bartholomew County. These included:

– Lealyn Tuttle, 8, died of acute fentanyl and diphenhydramine poisoning in March 2021 while visiting his father’s home on the east side of Columbus, according to court documents filed in the case. Travis E. Tuttle, 36, the father, is charged in Bartholomew Superior Court 1 with a Level 1 felony of neglect of a loved one resulting in death and possession of a narcotic, a Level 6 felony. The second-grader from Clifty Creek was found dead on the living room floor, and detectives found a razor blade along with aluminum foil containing white powder residue. Tuttle’s phone showed photos of the boy with foil on his upper and lower teeth and gums while he feigned wearing jewelry over his teeth.

– Emma Sweet, 2, died over Thanksgiving weekend in 2021 and her father, Jeremy Sweet, 40, was accused of neglecting a dependent which led to her death. He was arrested after the little girl’s body was recovered from the East Fork White River by searchers who combed the area after her disappearance. Emma’s body was recovered downstream from where duck hunters had found Sweet in his submerged truck days earlier. Sweet faces a level 1 charge of neglecting a loved one, resulting in death, and a level 6 charge of possession of a hypodermic syringe.

— The third case involved an infant who suffocated under unsafe sleeping conditions. There was no open Department of Child Services involvement in the case and no charges were filed in the case.

Fifteen of the 60 victims (25%) included in the report were previous victims of reasonable abuse or neglect, meaning law enforcement and child protection agencies had prior knowledge of the families and children. Two of those 15 only had history in other states, not Indiana.

“The death of a child is a great loss to families and communities,” said DCS Director Terry Stigdon. “We must be able to learn from this report and make meaningful and lasting changes to raise awareness of the risk factors leading to these tragedies.”

Improper sleep arrangements, including co-sleeping, continue to be a major contributor to infant deaths. Other common risk factors listed in the report were substance abuse, failure to supervise a child (especially near water), and driving while intoxicated.

The victim’s birth parents were often held responsible for the child deaths described in this report, accounting for 53 (73%) of the 73 alleged perpetrators. In some cases, multiple perpetrators are held responsible for the death of the same child. In some cases, caregiver stressors have been found to play a role in a child’s death. Substance abuse, insufficient income and unemployment were frequently cited as stressors among caregivers.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle (indianacapitalchronicle.com/) is an independent, nonprofit news organization covering state government, politics and elections. The Republic’s editorial team contributed to this story.

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