Sitter shook, hit baby girl, deputies say

The child is in critical condition, and a middle school teacher's aide is arrested.

Published May 30, 2007

TAMPA - The baby girl wouldn't stop crying while her mother was away working. So, her babysitter shook her violently four to five times, according to sheriff's deputies.

Then the babysitter, Aurelio Gonzalez, a 28-year-old teacher's aide at Tampa's Liberty Middle School, waited 10 minutes.

The baby continued to wail.

This time, Gonzalez closed his fist and hit the infant on her head four to five times, according to an arrest report.

Gonzalez must have recognized something was wrong because that's when he called authorities to his apartment at 2038 Bearss Ave., No. 513,

At first, he told them the baby - the daughter of a friend - fell from his arms while he was standing in the kitchen.

The child's brain was swelling and bleeding, authorities said.

At St. Joseph's Children's Hospital, the baby was still in critical condition on Tuesday, a day after Monday's 4:30 p.m. incident, according to Hillsborough sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter. The Sheriff's Office does not release the names of abuse victims.

Gonzalez eventually told deputies he'd caused the injuries by shaking and striking the baby, officials said. They booked him into Orient Road Jail early Tuesday on aggravated child abuse charges. He is being held without bail.

The news came as a shock to employees of Liberty Middle School, where Gonzalez has been employed as an aide to an autistic child since November. He had no prior arrest record in Florida, and he passed the school district's criminal background check.

Though his application indicates he had prior arrests in his home state of New Jersey for criminal mischief, driving under the influence and driving with a suspended license, school officials cleared him for employment that didn't involve driving.

At the school, Gonzalez, who also goes by JuJo, according to records, was responsible for helping keep the Liberty student safe as he went throughout his day, said Hillsborough County schools spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.

He would meet the child at his bus, help with his personal hygiene and make sure he had the tools he needed to navigate the logistics of the daily school day.

"He was awesome with the students," Cobbe said. "They said they never had any problems."

After learning about the charges against Gonzalez, the school district notified him that he would be required to report to the office of professional standards. Cobbe said he will likely be suspended without pay pending the outcome of his legal matters.

School officials contacted the parents of the student Gonzalez worked with about the criminal charges. They were also trying to notify parents of three other students who might have had contact with him.

Prior to working at Liberty, Gonzalez worked as a private tutor, according to his school application. His highest level of education is a high school diploma or GED equivalent, records show.

According to dontshakeababy.com, more than 1,200 children were treated for shaken baby syndrome last year. Of those victims, 20 percent died as a result of their injuries, and the rest are at risk for lifelong complications relating to the abuse.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or 813 226-3383.