Local woman's cause leads to shaken baby vigils
By KATHERINE SNOW SMITH
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2001
Eight years ago, Janet Goree was just another doting grandmother. Now this Clearwater woman is organizing a national vigil promoting awareness of Shaken Baby Syndrome on Saturday on the steps of the capitol in Washington, D.C.
Similar candlelight ceremonies will take place the same night in Clearwater and Tampa.
Her granddaughter, Kimberlin, was shaken by her father when she was 6 weeks old. She had her six-week checkup that day and was crying a lot because of the shots. The crying pushed her father over the edge, Goree said.
Kimberlin lived three more years after she was shaken but lost the use of 65 percent of her brain, was blind, was fed with a tube and never sat up on her own. Since her death five years ago, Goree has dedicated herself to educating people about the tragedy of shaken baby syndrome. She addresses about 20 audiences a month.
"I am very excited about the quality of the program we are putting on and the opportunity to show the nation the scope of this problem," Goree said. "I am also experiencing anger. Anger because in the last two weeks two more babies have been violently shaken in our state."
The shaking of babies crosses all lines of income, race and education. Those who do it, usually the father or mother's boyfriend, are not habitual child abusers. Still, they shake a helpless baby hard enough to slam his or her soft brain against the jagged inner surface of the skull. Kimber's father pleaded guilty to a criminal charge but later denied using excessive force.
Goree hopes the vigils will educate parents and caregivers as well as show the need for more funding to prevent shaken baby syndrome. She has raised $10,000 to stage the vigil and is expecting 500 to 1,000 people at the Capitol.
The speakers will include children's advocates and parents of victims, including Debbie Eappen, whose British nanny Louise Woodward was convicted of manslaughter in the death of Eappen's son, Mattie. The local vigils also will feature children reading the words that the victims of shaken baby syndrome would say if they could. At the Clearwater vigil, a student from St. Petersburg High School's child abuse prevention group will read what Goree wrote for her granddaughter.
"She'll say: "I had my shots, and I don't feel well. Daddy, why are you getting so mad? Daddy, you're scaring me,' " Goree said. "Then, when it leads up to when she was shaken, they'll blow out Kimber's candle. It should be very powerful."
After Kimber died, Goree quit her job as a mid-level manager and dedicated herself to preventing more babies from being victims of shaken baby syndrome. She works with the Exchange Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse in St. Petersburg but every year struggles to get grants and other funding to finance her work. She needs about $50,000 a year to run her program. Once again she is out of money and hopes the vigil will draw attention to the need to fund programs such as hers.
"Mostly I am overcome with sadness that I even have to be doing this," Goree said. "That my beautiful granddaughter is dead. That eight years after she was shaken, my family is still suffering the aftershocks. That there are thousands of families living with this same pain every single day of their lives."
The local vigils are from 7 to 8 p.m. Saturday. The Clearwater vigil will be at the Family Service Center, 2960 Roosevelt Blvd. Call 727-522-6465 for information. The Tampa vigil will be at the Baby Bungalow, 3106 W Azeele St. Call 813-356-1293 for information.
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