THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo
The youngest of them died without a name.
No one but his parents knew he existed until his body, wrapped in a towel and a garbage bag, was found in a freezer inside an East Toledo home.
Alex Michael Cervantes, who was only days old, died after being submerged in water and strangled. He was one of 10 children in the Toledo metropolitan area who were killed in 2012, the most child deaths since 1995, according to homicide data from the Lucas County Coroner’s Office.
Since 1985, the Lucas County Coroner’s Office has ruled the deaths of 145 children — anyone younger than 18 — as homicides.
The most common causes of death were shootings, abuse, beatings, shaken-baby syndrome, and blunt-force injury.
“How do we confront this as a community? How do we confront evil?” asked Dean Sparks, director of Lucas County Children Services.
Of the 10 children who were homicide victims in the Toledo area in 2012, nine died in domestic-related incidents. The other, Keondra Hooks, died as a result of street violence.
In 2011, three children in Toledo died as a result of street violence. And although all the incidents seem troubling to the community, Keondra’s death particularly rattled area residents.
Mayor Mike Bell, standing in front of a crowded funeral home in North Toledo, promised that the 1-year-old girl, who was shot in the head allegedly by gang members, did not die in vain.
“There is a new day coming, and it is all about love,” Mayor Bell said during the service. And people wanted to believe him.
That shooting — which also wounded Keondra’s 2-year-old sister, Leondra Hooks, while they slept on the living room floor of the apartment where they lived — seemed unfathomable.
Prayer vigils and memorial services were held for days. Teddy bears, other toys, and votive candles covered the single concrete step at the front door of the children’s Kent Street apartment for weeks.
People couldn’t understand understand how anyone could kill a child.
“Whenever a child dies, it shakes our world — it takes a little piece of our hearts away. … If an innocent baby can be shot through an apartment door, what does that mean about the safety of all of us?” Mr. Sparks said.
There were children killed before Keondra: Emma Zehnpfennig, 2, died in Bowling Green of traumatic head injuries on March 1; Noland Letellier, 6 months, died of traumatic head injuries after being assaulted in a Nebraska Avenue home on March 30; the Cervantes baby, and Carter Steinmiller, 3 months, who died of severe head trauma in Bowling Green on May 5.
And more children were killed after Keondra.
Jorge Duran III, 3, was shot by his father in a Lake Township rampage that also killed his mother and wounded three others Oct. 16.
Toledo captured national headlines in November when three children were found dead inside a vehicle, along with their grandmother and uncle, all killed by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Even the most seasoned of police officers stopped and had to wonder if what happened on Harvest Lane was real.
“Look at the grandmother who killed the three kids. How can you explain that? What’s going through her mind to do something like that?” Toledo police Chief Derrick Diggs asked. “Until I got to the scene of that incident, I really wasn’t quite sure what I was hearing was true. But I had to go over there myself and see it personally. And unless I saw it personally, I would never have believed it. So I can’t explain that. I can’t explain what was in her mind.”
Dead inside the car, parked in an unattached garage at 5142 Harvest Ln., were Sandy Ford, 56, Andy Ford, 32, Paige Hayes, 10, Logan Hayes, 7, and Madalyn Hayes, 5.
And late in the year, there was Avery Glynn Bacon, 6 months.
Avery died Dec. 18 at C.S. Mott Children’s Medical Center at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, after he was thrown against a hard surface inside his mother’s West Toledo apartment.
His mother, Amanda Bacon, 25, is in the Lucas County jail charged with murder.
The baby’s father, Jeremy Glynn, 26, said he knew his son was gone and so he prayed.
“I prayed, ‘God, just take him home. Please.’ ” Glynn recalled.
“ … I didn’t pray a lot before [Avery died]. Subconsciously I believed in God, but consciously — I don’t believe in pearly gates, but I know that boy is up there with God. I know it.”
Glynn said he never knew Ms. Bacon to be abusive or violent toward their son — or her older son. Lucas County Children Services officials have said they have not had any involvement with Ms. Bacon.
Most of the parents who were accused in 2012 of assaulting or killing their children had no prior contact with children services, Mr. Sparks said.
Glynn, who broke down several times during an interview, said his son’s death showed him “a remarkableness in humans that I didn’t even think existed in humans anymore.”
He and Mr. Sparks shared the same message: a plea for parents to stop hurting their children.
“Please, please, please, seek help,” Glynn said to frustrated parents. “Give it [the child] to a hospital, a doctor, a cop, do anything. Don’t hurt that baby. It deserves life. Everybody deserves life, especially a baby, and to take that is not their decision.”
Mr. Sparks said the challenge — for agencies and the community — is to figure out how to prevent deaths of children.
“We have to figure out what to do before the parents hurt the kids and how do we support parents and neighborhoods and communities, because it all wraps together,” Mr. Sparks said.
Contact Taylor Dungjen at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @taylordungjen