June injury to slain baby investigated Official's review of broken arm shows cause was accidental

'You can't generalize'

Mother, 20, charged after she leads police to daughter's body

August 09, 1996|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Hours after police found the body of a 4-month-old Taneytown girl covered with leaves at Prettyboy Reservoir, a Carroll County Department of Social Services administrator was reviewing a child-abuse complaint from a June incident in which the baby's arm was broken.

"It was the first thing I did yesterday," said Alan L. Katz, assistant director.

After reviewing the file, "I'm satisfied that it was an accident," Katz said. "It's consistent. The father tripped while carrying the baby."

Tabitha Leann Meekins, born April 16, was found Tuesday evening smothered -- a homicide, according to findings released yesterday by the state medical examiner's office.

Her mother, Lisa Elizabethann Ruby, 20, of the 3900 block of Old Taneytown Pike is charged with first-degree murder, child abuse, child abuse resulting in a death, reckless endangerment and assault and battery.

Ruby is at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup, a secure psychiatric facility, undergoing court-ordered evaluation and treatment.

Police said she led them to her child's body.

"Thank God, it's never happened to us before," Katz said yesterday. "I've been here 23 years and never had a child killed after a report. The last child death from an alleged assault was in the 1970s, and we didn't even know the people.

"The question one has to ask -- and I don't have the answer -- is how could this be prevented? We don't have the staff to do the preventive stuff we'd like to do. We have just enough staff just to do the investigations."

His office refers stressed parents to the health department, private medical care, Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland, or Parents Anonymous, Katz said.

At Parents Anonymous, hot line volunteer Siobhan Powers said they welcome calls from all over the state, 24 hours a day, to their toll-free line, (800) 243-7337.

"The more people that know about it, the better chance we have of intervening," Powers said. "A lot of our callers are very young and are not familiar with the help that is out there."

Katz said his office is investigating more reports of child abuse "but whether we're getting more reports, I don't know."

The six investigators and their supervisor are overworked, he said, and "I don't have great statistics anymore."

He counted complaints of physical child abuse at 30 in January, 59 in February, 32 in March and 43 in April.

"The warning signs of child abuse really don't change: unexplained injuries; certain behavior changes; withholding the child from the public view," the assistant director said.

The law requires everyone to report suspected child abuse, Katz said, but imposes sanctions for failing to do so only against law enforcement officers, educators, social workers and health care professionals.

Nevertheless, the major source of reports for many years was family, friends and neighbors, he said. Only recently have teachers become the primary source of complaints.

Katz was reluctant to characterize any injury as a clear sign of abuse.

"If we get a reasonable explanation, consistent and so forth, we wouldn't necessarily leap to the conclusion that the child has been abused," he said.

While broken arms are the kind of injury that may indicate child abuse, he said, "It depends on the kind of injury and the explanation."

Even with red-flag types of injuries such as cigarette burns, "You can't generalize it in every instance," Katz said, recalling one investigation in which a toddler had picked up his mother's cigarette and burned himself.

"But if someone has a 3-month-old and they tell you they came into the 3-month-old's room and found the baby lying on the floor -- well, a 3-month-old can't do that. There are things that you can just see clearly cannot be self-inflicted."

Investigators also rely heavily on doctors' opinions, he said.

The investigation into Tabitha's death began when her father, Michael Meekins, called state police after arriving home from his job as a mechanic about 5: 30 p.m. Tuesday.

He said he found the child's mother lying on the floor, with pills and a suicide note nearby.

Tabitha was missing.

At first, Ruby said Tabitha had suffocated in a crib that morning, according to the police account.

Ruby took investigators to a secluded spot off Gunpowder Road near Foreston Road in northwestern Baltimore County.

At the scene, police said the mother blurted, "I killed my baby. It's all my fault."

After being seen at Carroll County General Hospital for a possible drug overdose Tuesday night, Ruby was taken to the state police barracks in Westminster. Investigators said Ruby told them she had placed a cloth in the baby's mouth because the child was crying.

At a bail review hearing Wednesday in District Court, Judge JoAnn M. Ellinghaus-Jones ordered that Ruby be evaluated and treated, if necessary, at Clifton T. Perkins.

Prosecutors said the commitment order will keep Ruby at Perkins for an evaluation.

If she does not require treatment, she would be returned to the Carroll County Detention Center. A court appearance is scheduled Sept. 5.

Pub Date: 8/09/96

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