Beating death of boy, 8, stuns Worcester teachers School had reported signs of abuse, neglect

March 27, 1998|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

BERLIN -- Worcester County social service officials acknowledged yesterday that teachers and school administrators filed two dozen reports over the past two years warning about suspected child abuse in the home where an 8-year-old boy was found beaten to death this week -- killed, police say, by his adoptive mother.

Staff members at Buckingham Elementary School frequently saw signs that Shamir Hudson and his younger, adopted siblings, Sharnae and Shamale, 6 and 7, had been abused or neglected, but lost track of the children when they were transferred to a Salisbury church school in November, said Buckingham's principal, Mark Bowen.

"There are a lot of teachers here who are grieving," Bowen said. "The teachers have taken it very hard. The bright spot, if there can be one, is that this child transferred in November and that seems very distant for schoolchildren of this age. It's not like someone they've seen every day."

Catherine Marie Hudson, 58, who was approved as a foster parent in Worcester County in 1991 and adopted the three children in 1995, is being held without bond at the Worcester County Detention Center, charged with second-degree murder, assault and three counts of child abuse.

Police and rescue workers found Shamir's body early Tuesday morning lying on a bedroom floor of Hudson's mobile home on a dead-end street just outside the town limits of Berlin.

Investigators recovered a bent metal shelving pole and a 4-foot carpenter's level from the bloody room. The two younger children were taken from the home to Peninsula General Hospital, then placed in foster care, officials said.

"All child abuse cases are difficult to look at, but certainly this is the worst I've ever seen in Worcester County," said Sheriff Charles T. Martin. "We're in the early stage of the investigation, and I'm not ready to place any blame."

The state medical examiner has ruled that Shamir died of trauma and multiple injuries. All the boy's wounds appeared to have been inflicted within recent months, police said, quoting the medical examiner's report. That was well after the three children were transferred to Faith Deliverance Academy, an unaccredited private school.

The Rev. George A. Copeland, listed as the pastor and founder of the Faith Deliverance United Way of the Cross Church in north Salisbury, would not comment on the case yesterday. "There is an investigation going on and I can't really speak about it," he said. "I would ask everyone to pray."

Officials at the state Department of Education said the school, housed with the church in a long, one-story brick building, was registered in 1991, all that is required under Maryland law.

Paula Edie, county social services director, said a response team dTC from the Maryland Department of Human Resources has begun reviewing documents.

Edie praised public school officials for following procedure in alerting her department when they suspected abuse or neglect, but said that case workers found insufficient evidence to justify removal of the children.

"Obviously, we have looked again at all those referrals from the school and there just wasn't enough evidence to warrant a court order to remove them from the home," Edie said. "We did receive multiple complaints about the children, but only two about the child who died.

"Our staff is devastated," she said. "There hasn't been a dry eye here since this happened."

Last summer, Baltimore County social services officials were faulted in the death of 9-year-old Rita Denise Fisher, who starved to death despite repeated reports of suspected abuse.

Worcester County school Superintendent John Andes said that school officials were stunned at news of the child's death. School counselors and a psychologist were available for staff members or students at the Buckingham school who might need help coping with the death, he said.

"Our first emotion is one of shock and sadness; the second is one of anger," Andes said. "I have a 12-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son, and I spent a lot of time just hugging my son."

Hudson was accepted about six years ago as a foster parent, expressing interest from the start in adopting. She was accepted as a candidate for adoption after an investigation that included a series of home visits, training and a criminal background check completed by a regional case worker shared by Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester, social service officials said.

"Obviously, hindsight is 20-20, but we just have no way to predict violence," said Edie. "In this case, we were looking at someone who had been a longtime and well-thought-of foster parent."

In Worcester County, with a population of about 35,000, four protective services case workers handle as many as 250 cases of suspected child abuse a year, officials said.

Bowen said that Shamir's death has been devastating for his staff in the 515-student grade school. But beyond that, the first-year principal says, the child's death has shaken the town of 2,000 where he grew up.

"My brother was one of the first police officers to arrive at the scene," Bowen said. "This is a lady who is known in the community, someone you might run into in the grocery store. We are all going to be asking how this could happen, asking for answers forever."

Pub Date: 3/27/98

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