All of my family members, friends and teachers knew what was happening to me, but no one cared enough to speak up or stop the abuse from continuing.
In the wee hours of April 11th, 1965, three-year-old Dennis Craig (Puckett) Jurgens was tortured to death. He was murdered by Lois Jurgens, his intensely angry, adoptive mother, known for her short, volatile temper.
During his short life, Dennis was forced to endure unimaginable sadistic and corporal punishments. It’s hard to imagine the pain he endured. When Lois was charged with Dennis’ murder, it became clear everyone in her close circle knew of her violent abuse.
Yet no one, from her husband and family, to her neighbors and adoption placement counselors, did anything to stop the torture of the sweet little boy.
When I read this harrowing story of abuse, which killed the helpless little boy, I realized I could’ve been a similar statistic.
On the cusp of my 2nd birthday, my entire life took a tragic turn. My mother arrived home from the hospital with my brand new baby brother.
Truthfully, my narcissistic mother, who was eventually diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), never wanted to have children. Instead, she dreamed of living the life of a trophy wife focused only on making my older father happy.
Her dreams were shattered when my Irish Catholic dad pressured her to have a child to carry on the family name.
Although my dad longed for a son, he cajoled my mom into having “just one child” by making a solemn promise if the baby was a boy, she wouldn’t be required to bear anymore children. Ever.
Unfortunately, when I was born, prenatal ultrasound tests had yet to be discovered and was not yet available to the general population. My parents didn’t know I was a female until the moment of my birth.
My mother was extremely disappointed she’d given birth to me because I was a female. She knew in her heart my father would press her to have another child. My father still wanted her to produce the family heir he so desperately wanted.
When my mother produced my brother, she immediately pushed me out of her inner circle. I’d become a constant reminder to her that I was an unwanted child. Her bottled up rage simmered and exploded. It triggered her reign of physical, mental, emotional and verbal abuse focused on me.
The physical abuse, which started with a simple slap, accelerated to near death experiences, only ending when she passed away 44 years later.
I didn’t know any better. As I grew up, as my mother constantly screamed, scolded and berated me, I thought I was normal. When she told me I was a “very bad, stubborn and stupid little girl” I felt I deserved her hurtful words.
Like many victims of physical abuse, I believed any harsh physical punishment I received was due to my obvious bad childhood behaviors.
My belief system changed dramatically in the fall of my seventh birthday. I was enrolled in second grade at the Catholic school right across the street from our modest brick home.
One fateful night I woke up from a deep sleep gasping for breath. I was shocked, and then terrified, to realize my mother’s hands were tightly wrapped around my neck. She was attempting to completely squeeze the life force out of my body.
The woman I’d trusted to protect me, managed to cause excruciating pain. I fought, flailing my arms and clawing at her hands. She continued squeezing, closing my airways, and making my breathing impossible as she strangled me.
As I violently fought back, I tried to scream for my father, but no sound came out.
Suddenly, without warning, my mother stopped strangling me. She didn’t say a word, but I was horrified when I saw the hatred in her eyes. I watched in disbelief as she silently slipped out of my room. I laid in the darkness trying to understand why my mother had just tried to kill me.
My father never came into my bedroom. I wasn’t sure if he was sleeping or equally afraid of what my mother might do next. Even though I told him the next day what happened, he excused my mother’s behavior telling me “I was quite a handful.” His response to my near death experience was heartbreaking and filled me with despair.
I realized my mother’s attack clearly demonstrated her control over every breath I took. Her sudden attack had devastating psychological effects. As a result, I spent many years in therapy trying to heal the trauma of being strangled. It was the ultimate act of abusive power and control.
From that point forward I was unable to sleep at night. I was paralyzed by the constant fear I would suddenly be attacked again. My mind convinced me I would eventually be killed by my mother. She obviously despised me so deeply; she was willing to take my life.
As my world unraveled I became severely sleep deprived. As a result of not feeling safe to sleep I constantly fell asleep during classes. My teachers became increasingly alarmed at my obvious distress.
Eventually I was sent to the principle’s office and questioned about why I was always visibly exhausted.
My parents were forced by the school administrators to take me to the family physician to deal with the problems. The doctor shrugged and promptly referred me to a psychiatrist. When those therapy sessions failed to help me sleep, my father took me for counseling with the local parish priest.
Ironically, none of the school administrators, doctors, therapists or counselors involved in my case asked my parents hard questions. They didn’t inquire about the obvious bruises on my neck, face and body. All of them turned a blind eye to my mounting anguish and distress.
Not one of the professionals tried to really understand why I’d developed an extreme fear of death. I would cycle into to a state of hysterics when I was questioned further about why I thought I was going to die.
In a desperate attempt to divert attention away from my ongoing sleep deprivation, my father unexpectedly installed a one way lock on my bedroom door.
Even though he’d discounted my mother’s abusive behavior, he finally seemed to understand why I couldn’t sleep at night. Once I had the security of a strong lock on my door, I was finally able to relax enough to slumber.
While the bedroom lock didn’t stop my mother from performing all other types of physical abuse, at least I felt I had a measure of control when I was awake. I rationalized that I could protect myself better if I could see and hear her coming towards me.
Beside the fear that my mother might kill me at some point, I despaired over the fact no one in my life, even my own father, seemed willing to acknowledge what was happening to me. Or to stop it.
During the years I was growing up with my violently abusive mother, Child Protective Services (CPS) hadn’t yet been created. As I reached my teens I discovered many people in my extended family, including my neighbors and teachers, had been aware of my mother’s abuse for all those years.
The biggest question which constantly haunted me was why no one ever helped me? Why did they ignore my many cuts, bruises and black eyes? How could they avoid seeing the obvious red flags of child abuse?
At my mother’s funeral, her younger sister apologized for not stepping in and stopping my mother from hurting me. Her words were too little, too late. I was enraged by her admission. It re-triggered my fury at being ignored during my ongoing fight for my life.
Very few people know the extent of abuse which is directed towards children behind closed doors. Even when they see the evidence, they may still choose to ignore it because they don’t want to get involved. Or maybe, they honestly don’t know what to do.
In the tragic case of eight-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, who was tortured to death in 2013, by his mother and her boyfriend, there were many warning signs. The sweet little boy begged his first grade teacher to call CPS on his behalf.
Even after the teacher’s four frantic calls to report Gabriel’s facial bruises, scabs, missing hair and busted lips, the little boy’s case fell through administrative cracks. The social workers assigned to his case were extremely overworked and understaffed. Gabriel’s teacher was afraid for his life, but her hands were tied when CPS ignored her urgent reports.
Although overworked CPS staff is no excuse for what ultimately led to Gabriel’s brutal death, it does highlight the importance for everyone to do their part. Regardless of how frightening or upsetting it may be, it’s critical that anyone who suspects a child is in danger, should get them help.
You may very well be saving their life.
What you should do if you suspect child abuse.
All states have a system to receive and respond to reports of suspected child abuse and neglect. Most states have a toll-free number to call to report suspected child abuse and neglect.
Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, provides a list of Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Numbers and information on how to make a report in each state.
If you prefer, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline. Childhelp can be reached 7 days a week, 24-hours a day, at its toll-free number: 1.800.4-A-CHILD (1.800.422.4453).