Episode Archives

Evidence in Infant Death Investigation ep245

Evidence in infant and child death cases is many times very different than in older children and adult deaths,  infants die differently than adults, in most cases; so the evidence surrounding their death will be different. Understanding what is potential evidence is critical as well as knowing how and what to collect. Remember – If you think it might be evidence or lead you to a reason for the death – take it, you can always give it back.


Personal Property v. Evidence

  • Personal Property

Is the property on or near the body that belongs to the baby (or decedent) and can be returned to next-of-kin.

  • Evidence

Is any material that may contribute to the cause and manner of death and is considered important in supporting facts of the case. What is determined evidence depends on the type and manner of death being investigated.

Chain of Custody 

Every item secured from the scene, whether it is personal property or evidence to be processed – must be accounted for at every moment while in the custody of the investigative agency.  Until such time that it is returned to the family or destroyed following court order when the evidence is no longer needed. Use a property log and ensure that every person handling or receiving the item(s) signs for it and can testify as to its integrity or secured storage.

Photograph – EVERYTHING  FIRST!

Be sure that you have photographed and documented in your notes, anything you might be taking as evidence.  Its placement will become critical in your final report.If the items had been moved by police, EMS, or family document the place you found it and note the move is you know it.

Collecting Evidence

Every item and material of evidence collected;  must be identified, collect, and stored using proper methods. Different evidence has different containers it is important to store and transport correctly. Not doing so can cause evidence to become contaminated, chain of custody to be broken, or samples to be degraded beyond use

Some Evidence in Infants Deaths  to Consider

  • Bedding, Bed, and Sleeping area
  •  Any OTC or Rx  Medications for baby – Or in the baby area
  •  Bottles – those with milk and those in sink or floor empty
  •  Baby food  – or whatever the child has been eating
  •  Diapers – toxicology testing
  •  Clothing – recent, might have changed child after finding
  •  Items used as weapons
  •  Anything that looks like it could be involved- in and around the infant area – you can always  give it back later

These topics and more are discussed in this week’s episode.


Check out online eLearning options by clicking the academy logo

Death Investigation is all we do !  Many training agencies are well rounded and can fulfill the training needs in nearly every category of public policing and investigation.  At DITA we concentrate on death investigation and everything surrounding those investigations.  By becoming hyper-focused in this field we are better able to provide intense and specific training you and your investigators need.


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SUDI Standards with Kathleen Hargrave

All infant and child deaths need to be investigated in a systematic and standardized method.  The SUDI forms provided by the CDC is the national standard approach to investigating these deaths. Frequently, a cause of death is determined after a thorough investigation and autopsy by a medical examiner and coroner. The deaths that remain unexplained are defined as SIDS. Therefore, SIDS is a type of Sudden Unexpected Infant Death.

Infant Death Scene Investigation

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has developed the Sudden and Unexplained Infant Death (SUID) Investigation Reporting Form. The Reporting Form, a guide for its use and a training curriculum for infant death scene investigation are available online. The form will guide and standardize the work and practices of EMS professionals, law enforcement, death scene investigators, medical examiners and coroners, death certifiers and child death review (CDR) team members.  Information obtained by using the form in infant death investigations can also be used to guide the development of strategies for the prevention of infant deaths.

All infant and child deaths need to be investigated in a systematic and standardized method.  The SUDI forms provided by the CDC is the national standard approach to investigating these deaths.

What is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome? (SIDS)

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden death of an infant under 1 year of age, which remains unexplained after a thorough investigation including a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene and review of the clinical history.

In the United States, SIDS is the major cause of death in infants from 1 month to 1 year. Most deaths occur between 2-4 months of age. Typically, a seemingly healthy infant dies suddenly and unexpectedly, usually during a period of sleep. A diagnosis is made after all the possible causes of death have been excluded. SIDS can occur in families of any race, socio-economic status, religion or nationality.

Causes of SIDS remain unexplained. However, SIDS is not caused by suffocation, child abuse, immunizations, vomiting, choking or by minor illnesses such as a cold or infection. SIDS is not contagious.

Placed – Found Photos

As talked about in this episode all child death investigations need to include scene reenactment photos of the position and place the child was last seen alive and the position and place they were found unresponsive.  Using placed/found signs will help everyone viewing the photos to understand the reenactment.

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Today’s Guest

Kathleen Hargrave

kadie@slu.edu

Chief Forensic Investigator

St Louis Medical Examiner’s Office


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Infant Death Investigation – Where to start.

Understanding the Problem

About 4,300 US infants die suddenly and unexpectedly each year. We often refer to these deaths as sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUID). Although the causes of death in many of these children can’t be explained, most occur while the infant is sleeping in an unsafe sleeping environment.

Researchers can’t be sure how often these deaths happen because of accidental suffocation from soft bedding or overlay (another person rolling on top of or against the infant while sleeping). Often, no one sees these deaths, and there are no tests to tell sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) apart from suffocation.

To complicate matters, people who investigate SUIDs may report the cause of death in different ways and may not include enough information about the circumstances of the event from the death scene.

Interpreting Infant Death

Law enforcement, first responders, death scene investigators, medical examiners, coroners, and forensic pathologists all play a role in carrying out the case investigation.

A thorough case investigation includes

  • An examination of the death scene.
  • An autopsy (medical examination of the body after death).
  • A review of the infant’s medical history.

Most SUIDs are reported as one of three types of infant deaths.

Types of SUID

  1. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
    SIDS is defined as the sudden death of an infant less than 1 year of age that cannot be explained after a thorough investigation is conducted, including a complete autopsy, the examination of the death scene, and a review of the clinical history. About 1,500 infants died of SIDS in 2014. SIDS is the leading cause of death in infants 1 to 12 months old.
  2. Unknown Cause
    The sudden death of an infant less than 1 year of age cannot be explained because a thorough investigation was not conducted and cause of death could not be determined.
  3. Accidental Suffocation and Strangulation in Bed
    Mechanisms that lead to accidental suffocation include:  
    • Suffocation by soft bedding—for example, when a pillow or waterbed mattress covers an infant’s nose and mouth.
    • Overlay—for example, when another person rolls on top of or against the infant while sleeping.
    • Wedging or entrapment—for example, when an infant is wedged between two objects such as a mattress and wall, bed frame, or furniture.
    • Strangulation—for example, when an infant’s head and neck become caught between crib railings.

Even after a thorough investigation, it is hard to tell SIDS apart from other sleep-related infant deaths such as overlay or suffocation in soft bedding. While an observed overlay may be considered an explained infant death, no autopsy tests can tell for certain that suffocation was the cause of death.

Arrival on the scene

It is important an investigator take some immediate action upon first arriving on the scene. Unlike most death investigations, the decedent in an infant death has almost always been moved since discovery. Therefore, it is essential that the investigator uses this first opportunity to locate and evaluate the location(s) within the scene where the infant was reported to have been moved between placement and discovery. While also noting existing environmental conditions that may have affected the infant.

Upon arrival an investigator should:

  • Identify the lead investigator at the scene and present your identification
  • Identify other essential officials at the scene (e.g., EMS, emergency department personnel, childcare providers, social/child protective services).
  • Explain your role in the investigation.
  • Identify and document the first essential official(s) to the scene for identification for future follow up.
  • Determine if the scene is safe to enter

To establish scene parameters and become familiar with the environment, the investigator should:

  • Locate the first responder and/or lead investigator.
  • Determine the location where the infant was discovered dead or unresponsive.
  • Determine the location where the infant was last known alive.
  • Determine the location where the infant was placed.
  • Identify visible physical and fragile evidence.
  • Document and photograph fragile evidence immediately and collect, if appropriate.
  • Observe the physical living environment.
  • Locate and view the decedent, if possible.

After the Police Leave


In August 1997, sixteen-year-old William Jenkins was on his second day of work at a fast-food restaurant in suburban Richmond, Virginia when the restaurant was robbed at closing time.

While cooperating fully with the robber, William was shot and died instantly. His father, Bill Jenkins, quickly found that there were virtually no readily available resources that could answer his many questions as a survivor of a traumatic loss.

He began looking for help and found it, after a fashion, scattered in the bookstores, on the

Internet, and in support groups and agencies. But nowhere was there a single, concise, practical, and eminently useful resource for bereaved families written by victims for victims containing the advice and guidance that he and his family needed following their loss. Several months later, using the information he had collected for his own personal well-being, this experienced teacher and speaker sat down to write the book that he should have received the night he was notified of his son’s death, What to do When the Police Leave: A Guide to the First Days of Traumatic Loss.

This landmark book on grief and bereavement quickly became an important resource for families dealing with the sudden or traumatic death of a loved one and the caregivers who work with them. Now, a recognized expert on victims and trauma, Bill has served on the boards of directors for Murder Victims for Human Rights, the National Coalition of Victims in Action, and is the founder, along with his wife, Jennifer Bishop, of IllinoisVictims.org, a statewide victim rights watchdog group. He is also active in many other victims’ rights and support activities and organizations, has been an instructor with the Virginia Institute of Forensic Science and Medicine, leads seminars on victims’ perspectives for national organizations such as the National Center for Victims of Crime, the National Organization of Victim Assistance, and Parents of Murdered Children and also addresses local and regional conferences for law enforcement and victim advocates. He and his wife also speak at victim impact panels for youthful offenders and in support of funding for programs for children and young

people that are proven to decrease crime.

In 2006, Bill received the Edith Surgan Victim Activist of the Year award from the National

Organization of Victim Assistance, a singular honor that recognizes to his expertise in the field and his commitment to making society more sensitive to victims’ rights and needs. In 2019, he was awarded the prestigious John Gillis Leadership Award by Parents of Murdered Children.

Bill has also written a full-length play, Hearts Full of Tears, that has been produced by two

professional theatre companies so far. It deals with the emotional struggle of a family dealing with the shooting death of their teen-aged son. Critical and audience reviews have been very positive.

Returning to his educational roots and love of biology, his latest research is in the

neurobiology of trauma and stress, how our brains respond to traumatic experiences, and what

treatments are most helpful to victims and their families. He hopes that his own personal perspective and unique voice using the latest authoritative scientific discoveries will help victims understand how their brains respond to crisis and inform caregivers how best to help trauma victims in their work. Bill is a professional artist and educator at the college level for over 25 years, he currently teaches and designs for the theatre program at Dominican University near Chicago, IL.


You can buy the book What to do When the Police Leave: A Guide to the First Days of Traumatic Loss. By clicking on the title link.

Humanizing Grief

In this episode, I have a conversation with Anita Brooks about the real human side of grief and death notification. As investigators, we can become hardened and not see the real grief associated with the news we are delivering. We try to sound like we care and have compassion, but is it really coming out the way it should?

The following is an expert from an article by Julie Axelrod on https://psychcentral.com/

The 5 stages of grief and loss are: 1. Denial and isolation; 2. Anger; 3. Bargaining; 4. Depression; 5. Acceptance. People who are grieving do not necessarily go through the stages in the same order or experience all of them.

The stages of grief and mourning are universal and are experienced by people from all walks of life, across many cultures. Mourning occurs in response to an individual’s own terminal illness, the loss of a close relationship, or to the death of a valued being, human, or animal. There are five stages of grief that were first proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.

In our bereavement, we spend different lengths of time working through each step and express each stage with different levels of intensity. Contrary to popular belief, the five stages of loss do not necessarily occur in any specific order. We often move between stages before achieving a more peaceful acceptance of death. Many of us are not afforded the luxury of time required to achieve this final stage of grief.

The death of your loved one might inspire you to evaluate your own feelings of mortality. Throughout each stage, a common thread of hope emerges: As long as there is life, there is hope. As long as there is hope, there is life.

Many people do not experience the stages of grief in the order listed below, which is perfectly okay and normal. The key to understanding the stages is not to feel like you must go through every one of them, in precise order. Instead, it’s more helpful to look at them as guides in the grieving process — it helps you understand and put into context where you are.

Please keep in mind that everyone grieves differently. Some people will wear their emotions on their sleeve and be outwardly emotional. Others will experience their grief more internally, and may not cry. You should try and not judge how a person experiences their grief, as each person will experience it differently.


Learn more about online and classroom training at the links below.

ditacademy.org
https://ditacademy.org/

The four-day Medicolegal Death Investigator classroom course is held two times per year in Missouri. To learn more click the links below.

They told me my son died ep240

Her son died in a car accident. The highway patrol came to her house to notify her and her husband of the accident and the death of their child. She states, “I remember them telling me like it was yesterday, but it has been 16 years”.

In this episode, I speak to a mother about the night her son died and what went right and what went wrong with the notification process. This conversation gets very real and raw at times and this mother has some great advice for you as to how best to make notification to a loved one.

Death Notification – Best Practices

In this episode, we will kick off the theme for the month of January of proper death notification procedures. This episode is a replay of an online course that described the proper procedure for notifying families of the death of a loved one.

Death notification is acknowledged to be one of the most difficult tasks faced by law enforcement officers and other professionals because learning of the death of a loved one often is the most traumatic event in a person’s life. The moment of notification is one that most people remember very vividly for the rest of their life — sometimes with pain and anger.

Basic Death Notification Procedures

These are some of the cardinal principles of death notification. Some of the points overlap, and all will be refined by the notifier’s experience and judgment.

“In-Person”

  • Always make death notification in person — not by telephone.
  • It is very important to provide the survivor with a human presence or “presence of compassion” during an extremely stressful time. Notifiers who are present can help if the survivor has a dangerous shock reaction — which is not at all uncommon — and they can help the survivor move through this most difficult moment.
  • Arrange notification in person even if the survivor lives far away.
  • Contact a medical examiner or law enforcement department in the survivor’s home area to deliver the notification in person.
  • Never take death information over the police radio.
  • Get the information over the telephone, or it might leak out to the family through the media or private parties listening to police radio. If radio dispatchers start to give information over the radio, stop them and call in.

“In Time” — and with certainty

  • Provide notification as soon as possible — but be absolutely sure, first, that there is positive identification of the victim. Notify next of kin and others who live in the same household, including roommates and unmarried partners.
  • Too many survivors are devastated by learning of the death of a loved one from the media. Mistaken death notifications also have caused enormous trauma.
  • Before the notification, move quickly to gather information.
  • Be sure of the victim’s identity. Determine the deceased person’s next of kin and gather critical information — obtain as much detail as possible about the circumstances of the death, about health considerations concerning the survivors to be notified, and whether other people are likely to be present at the notification.

“In Pairs”

  • Always try to have two people present to make the notification.
  • Ideally, the persons would be a law enforcement officer, in uniform, and the medical examiner or other civilian such as a chaplain, victim service counselor, family doctor, clergy person, or close friend. A female/male team often is advantageous.
  • lt is important to have two notifiers. Survivors may experience severe emotional or physical reactions. (Some even strike out at notifiers.) There may be several survivors present. Notifiers can also support one another before and after the notification.
  • Take separate vehicles if possible.
  • The team never knows what they will encounter at the location. One might need to take a survivor in shock to a hospital while the other remains with others.
  • (Shock is a medical emergency.) One notifier may be able to stay longer to help contact other family or friends for support. Having two vehicles gives notifiers maximum flexibility.
  • Plan the notification procedure.
  • Before they arrive, the notifier team should decide who will speak, what will be said, how much can be said.

“In Plain Language”

  • Notifiers should clearly identify themselves, present their credentials and ask to come in.
  • Do not make the notification at the doorstep. Ask to move inside, and get the survivor seated in the privacy of the home. Be sure you are speaking to the right person. You may offer to tell children separately if that is desired by adult survivors.
  • Relate the message directly and in plain language.
  • Survivors usually are served best by telling them directly what happened. The presence of the team already has alerted them of a problem.
  • Inform the survivor of the death, speaking slowly and carefully giving any details that are available. Then, calmly answer any questions the survivor may have.

Begin by saying, “I have some very bad news to tell you,” or a similar statement. This gives the survivor an important moment to prepare for the shock.

Then, avoid vague expressions such as “Sally was lost” or “passed away.” Examples of plain language include: “Your daughter was in a car crash and she was killed.” “Your husband was shot today and he died.” “Your father had a heart

attack at his workplace and he died.”

Call the victim by name — rather than “the body.”

Patiently answer any questions about the cause of death, the location of the deceased’s body, how the deceased’s body will be released and transported to a funeral home, and whether an autopsy will be performed. If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t be afraid to say so. Offer to get back to the survivor when more information is available, and be sure to follow through.

There are few consoling words that survivors find helpful — but it is always appropriate to say, “I am sorry this happened.”

“With Compassion”

  • Remember: Your presence and compassion are the most important resources you bring to death notification.
  • Accept the survivor’s emotions and your own. It is better to let a tear fall than to appear cold and unfeeling. Never try to “talk survivors out of their grief” or offer false hope. Be careful not to impose your own religious beliefs.
  • Many survivors have reported later that statements like these were not helpful to them: “It was God’s will,” “She led a full life,” and “I understand what you are going through” (unless the notifier indeed had a similar experience.)
  • Plan to take time to provide information, support, and direction. Never simply notify and leave.
  • Do not take a victim’s personal items with you at the time of notification.
  • Survivors often need time, even days, before accepting the victim’s belongings. Eventually, survivors will want all items, however. (A victim’s belongings should never be delivered in a trash bag.) Tell survivors how to recover items if they are in the custody of law enforcement officials.
  • Give survivors helpful guidance and direction
  • Survivors bear the burden of inevitable responsibilities. You can help them begin to move through the mourning and grieving process by providing immediate direction in dealing with death.
  • Offer to call a friend or family member who will come to support the survivor — and stay until the support person arrives.
  • Offer to help contact others who must be notified (until a support person arrives to help with this duty.)
  • Survivors may have a hard time remembering what is done and said, so write down for them the names of all who are contacted.
  • Inform the survivor of any chance to view the deceased’s body.
  • Be available to transport the survivor or representative for the identification of the victim, if necessary. Explain the condition of the deceased’s body and any restrictions on contact that may apply if there are forensic concerns. If appropriate, explain that an autopsy will be done.
  • Viewing the deceased’s body should be the survivor’s choice. Providing accurate information in advance will help a survivor make that decision. Some survivors will choose to see the body immediately, and this should be allowed if possible.
  • (Denying access to see the body is not an act of kindness.)
    Provide other specific information. Take a copy of the “Community Resource Information”

Follow up.

  • Always leave a name and phone number with survivors.
    Plan to make a follow-up contact with the survivor the next day.
  • If the death occurred in another county or state, leave the name and phone number of a contact person at that location.
  • Most survivors are confused and some might feel abandoned after the initial notification. Many will want clarifications or may need more direction on arrangements that are necessary.
  • Following up can be the last step in completing a “person-centered” and sensitive death notification that is truly helpful to survivors.
  • Death Notification in the Work Place
  • Survivors often must be notified at their workplace. Here are several tips to help apply the basic principles described above to a workplace notification.
  • Ask to speak to the manager or supervisor, and ask if the person to be notified is available. It is not necessary to divulge any details regarding the purpose of your visit.
  • Ask the manager or supervisor to arrange for a private room in which to make the notification.
  • Follow the basic notification procedures described above: in person, in time, in pairs, in plain language, with compassion.
  • Allow the survivor time to react and offer your support.
  • Transport the survivor to his or her home, or to identify the body, if necessary.
  • Let the survivor determine what he or she wishes to tell the manager or supervisor regarding death. Offer to notify the supervisor, if that is what the survivor prefers.
 Special Credit for this show given to:

‘In Person, In Time”

Recommended Procedures for Death Notification

The principles of death notification: In-person

in time,
in pairs,
in plain language,
and with compassion.

Dr.Thomas L. Bennett, State Medical Examiner, the Iowa Organization for Victim Assistance (IOVA), MADD/Polk County Chapter, and

Polk County Victim Services

Crime Victim Assistance Division Iowa Department of Justice

Bonnie J. Campbell Attorney General of Iowa

20/20 Vision-What we do Matters

In this episode, the last of 2019, I discuss changes that are taking place in the new year. The podcast will go to monthly themes so we can dive deeper into training topics rather than bounce around through random unconnected topics.

We also discuss the improvements and changes being made to the Medicolegal Death Investigator Online Academy Course. This course has been moved to a new platform and many improvements have been made to the course design and available material. Check out the course at this link: https://www.ditacademyonline.org/

Also, I talk about the thought that “What we do Matter”. What I do matters and what you do matters in the work we do. Everyone at the Coroner Talk Podcast understands that we make a significate influence in the area of death investigation and we do not take that lightly. What we do matter to investigators, families, and case outcomes. What you do everyday matters fo the same reasons.

Welcome to 2020, the year of clear vision. I truly thank you for coming along in the ride with me and look forward to a great year.

Merry Christmas 2019

This Christmas and during this season I would like to wish every one of you a Blessed Christmas and Holiday Season. Regardless of your religious faith Christmas is a season for giving and giving back. Its a season to remember those less fortunate than us and to bring some happiness to someone’s life.

I would also like the thank each of you listening and reading alike. It is because of you that I do what I do. I truly thank you and want to help in any way I am able.

Merry Christmas and God Bless. ………Darren

The William Jenkins Story – What to do After the Police Leave

In August 1997, sixteen year-old William Jenkins was on his second day of work at a fast-food restaurant in suburban Richmond, Virginia when the restaurant was robbed at closing time.

While cooperating fully with the robber, William was shot and died instantly. His father, Bill Jenkins, quickly found that there were virtually no readily available resources that could answer his many questions as a survivor of a traumatic loss.

He began looking for help and found it, after a fashion, scattered in the bookstores, on the

Internet, and in support groups and agencies. But nowhere was there a single, concise, practical, and eminently useful resource for bereaved families written by victims for victims containing the advice and guidance that he and his family needed following their loss. Several months later, using the information he had collected for his own personal well-being, this experienced teacher and speaker sat down to write the book that he should have received the night he was notified of his son’s death, What to do When the Police Leave: A Guide to the First Days of Traumatic Loss.

This landmark book on grief and bereavement quickly became an important resource for families dealing with the sudden or traumatic death of a loved one and the caregivers who work with them. Now, a recognized expert on victims and trauma, Bill has served on the boards of directors for Murder Victims for Human Rights, the National Coalition of Victims in Action, and is the founder, along with his wife, Jennifer Bishop, of IllinoisVictims.org, a statewide victim rights watchdog group. He is also active in many other victims’ rights and support activities and organizations, has been an instructor with the Virginia Institute of Forensic Science and Medicine, leads seminars on victims’ perspectives for national organizations such as the National Center for Victims of Crime, the National Organization of Victim Assistance, and Parents of Murdered Children and also addresses local and regional conferences for law enforcement and victim advocates. He and his wife also speak at victim impact panels for youthful offenders and in support of funding for programs for children and young

people that are proven to decrease crime.

In 2006, Bill received the Edith Surgan Victim Activist of the Year award from the National

Organization of Victim Assistance, a singular honor that recognizes to his expertise in the field and his commitment to making society more sensitive to victims’ rights and needs. In 2019, he was awarded the prestigious John Gillis Leadership Award by Parents of Murdered Children.

Bill has also written a full-length play, Hearts Full of Tears, that has been produced by two

professional theatre companies so far. It deals with the emotional struggle of a family dealing with the shooting death of their teen-aged son. Critical and audience reviews have been very positive.

Returning to his educational roots and love of biology, his latest research is in the

neurobiology of trauma and stress, how our brains respond to traumatic experiences, and what

treatments are most helpful to victims and their families. He hopes that his own personal perspective and unique voice using the latest authoritative scientific discoveries will help victims understand how their brains respond to crisis and inform caregivers how best to help trauma victims in their work. Bill is a professional artist and educator at the college level for over 25 years, he currently teaches and designs for the theatre program at Dominican University near Chicago, IL.


You can buy the book What to do When the Police Leave: A Guide to the First Days of Traumatic Loss. By clicking on the title link.