Experts say some children are singled out for abuse while siblings left unscathed



Four children were living in a house in Greenville, Mercer County. Yet only one of them, a 7-year-old boy, was starving to the point that county police said a woman who saw him described him as a skeleton.

Though tragic, the phenomenon in which one or two children experience abuse while others are physically unscathed is not unheard of. Just last month, former Franklin Park couple Douglas and Kristen Barbour pleaded no contest to two counts of endangering the welfare of children, after two Ethiopian children they adopted were removed from their home for health problems. Their two biological children were unharmed.

“We certainly see it,” said Judith Cohen, medical director for the Allegheny General Hospital Center for Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents, speaking generally about child abuse cases in which the abuse is not broadly applied. “I can‘‍t say that it’‍s frequent, but it does happen.” It could be that a child has a different parent or is a particular gender, she said. Or it could be related to behavioral issues, or the child‘‍s physical features.

Police: Boy beaten, starved, ate insects

Police say the alleged abuse happened inside this house in Greenville, Pennsylvania. That's where investigators say they found a 7-year-old boy weighing just 25 pounds, looking like a human skeleton. (Reuters)

“I’‍ve seen all of those used as an excuse for why one child is singled out for particular abuse when others are not,” she said.

It’s referred to sometimes as scapegoating, or the Cinderella phenomenon, said Daphne Young, vice president of communications and prevention education at Childhelp, a national nonprofit based in Phoenix.

“It’s hard to tell what turns on the switch, but once it’s on, it seems that child becomes the scapegoat for all the anxieties in the family,” she said.

As for what exactly happened in Mercer County, that remains unclear.

Mercer County police said that Antonio Rader, now 8, looked like a “Holocaust victim” when authorities arrived at the house in early June. At 24 pounds, he was near death and had been subsisting mostly on small amounts of tuna and eggs, with some peanut butter and bread he was able to sneak away and insects he captured, police said.

His problems went beyond a lack of food, police said. He also was beaten regularly with belts, allowed to shower only occasionally and his teeth were abscessed.

Antonio was removed from the house, received treatment at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and is recovering. Three other children in the house — a 9-year-old brother who police said was underweight and two healthy sisters, ages 4 and 12 — have been placed in foster care.

Three adults lived in the home: Antonio’s mother, Mary C. Rader, 28; Ms. Rader's mother, Deana Beighley, 47; and Mrs. Beighley's husband, Dennis C. Beighley, 58. Each has been charged with multiple counts related to child abuse.

Mercer County detective John J. Piatek said that he believed Mrs. Beighley didn’t like Antonio and that she led the effort to torture her grandson. No attorneys were listed in online court records for the three adults.

The law firm Stranahan Stranahan & Cline of Mercer represented at least one of them during an arraignment last week for at least one of the defendants, but attorneys from that law firm were unavailable Monday.

Although movement could be heard within, no one answered the door Monday at the Beighley residence, a brown house in a quiet residential neighborhood. A teal Dodge Caravan sat outside the house, its windows smashed in, glass covering the curbside.

Kelly Glentzer, 34, who lives on the same block, said neighbors and friends planned to attend the July 30 preliminary hearing for the three adults to show support for the children.

Greenville Area School District officials said Antonio attended kindergarten and first grade at Hempfield Elementary and enrolled in Commonwealth Connections Academy, a cyber charter school, with his siblings in September 2013. While a student at the elementary school, Antonio was “a typical little boy who likes to learn and play,” said Connie Timashenka, former principal there and the district's current curriculum and special education director.

Maurice Flurie, CEO of Commonwealth Connections, said he could not discuss specific cases but spoke generally about contact between students and teachers at the Harrisburg-based cyber charter school. Students can see their teachers via video conference — similar to Skype — during two “live” lessons, but teachers cannot see the students, he said.

Twice monthly teacher-family conversations verify that work is being completed, and if teachers sense someone other than the student is doing the work, the school can consider in-person testing, Mr. Flurie said.

A representative from Mercer County Children & Youth Services said the department cannot discuss specific cases.

Detective Piatek said Antonio’s father, James Rader, had not been involved in the child’s life the past year. In February 2012, Mary Rader filed a protection-from-abuse order against her then-husband, accusing him of threatening to kill her and her four children. Mr. Rader could not be reached Monday.

Online court records show no charges in connection with those allegations.

Antonio has been eating and gaining weight. His paternal grandmother, Debra Rader, 56, of West Salem, said her grandson “ordered everything he could think of on his tray” last month at Children's Hospital.

“It was terrible,” she said of his condition then. “It was really bad — something I'd never, ever want to see again.”


Michael Majchrowicz contributed. Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707. Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1944.


Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here