Last week, several metropolitan newspapers in Oklahoma published an Associated Press story about the death of a 3-month-old boy in Oklahoma City who had earlier been taken from a “filthy home” and put in state custody.

Many readers might have simply skimmed over this brief article. After all, it’s not that unusual for social workers to find abused and neglected children in dangerously unkempt homes. And the death of such children is common enough that upon hearing of yet another tragedy, many people simply shake their heads sadly and go on to the next bit of scandal.

But while definitive action usually ensues on an official level when these stories are reported, the case of Samuel Barber may be falling through the cracks, in a number of ways. The news story asks more questions than it answers, and indicates there’s more to it than meets the eye.

According to the report, the body was “discovered” at about 6:15 a.m. Monday at the Pauline E. Mayer shelter. “Discovered” is an odd verb to use here, suggesting the child had lain unattended for a length of time. Unless the writer was careless in choosing his or her words, a reader has to ask how much time had lapsed between the time the baby was last checked and the time his body was “discovered.”

The infant was apparently kept in the shelter longer than permitted under state law, another factor that indicates someone in an official capacity was asleep at the wheel.

What kind of childcare professional would further subject an infant to the same type of neglect he had already received at the hands of his parents? And what type of facility would fail to follow through and determine the best course of action for this child?

This case literally cries out for justice. Two days before the baby died, deputies had found him and his three sisters – stair-step ages 3, 2 and 1 – wearing “extremely soiled, filthy clothes, unbathed and covered in feces,” in a Luther “home” – hovel’s more like it – filled with rotten garbage and feces.

As for Samuel himself, AP reported he was “lying face-down on the couch with his face between two cushions. He weighed just 9 pounds and was drinking from a bottle containing what appeared to be spoiled milk.”

No mention was made of a mother, but the father is apparently alive and well – and lawyered up. The attorney is the one who provided the victim’s identity.

Everyone who read the story might assume the man would need that lawyer, too. And readers might have been enraged to learn that – at least when the story appeared – no one had been arrested! Why not? Surely this is a case of dereliction at several levels?

Several investigations need to be launched here, first and foremost against whatever “parent” was responsible for this nightmare. Concurrently, the shelter, which has a staff of 64, begs for close scrutiny. Something is truly wrong here, and officials need to get to the bottom of the situation immediately.

And for God’s sake, someone should do something about those other three children.

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