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We can never forget Sarah Ogden

Ryan Hoffman
rhoffman@citizentelegram.com

Sarah Ogden died a little over a month ago. She had about as much time here on Earth. We cannot forget that fact.

In remembering Sarah’s life July 10, Grand Valley Fire Protection District Chaplain Jed Johnston asked the nearly 80 people in attendance to remember the events surrounding baby Sarah’s death.

An autopsy, which ultimately led to her death being ruled a homicide, revealed that Sarah likely died from one or both injuries: bruising to her liver and a blunt force impact to the forehead that fractured her skull and caused hemorrhaging in her brain.

Her fleeing parents were arrested in Cass County, Minnesota, and appeared in a Colorado court last week after extradition. Both will go through the likely-lengthy criminal justice system, and are innocent until proven guilty.

Johnston’s remarks during the remembrance somewhat took me off guard. In preparing for the event, I made the assumption that Sarah’s parents would not be mentioned — at all. This was about Sarah, I had assumed.

In talking with Johnston after people started dispersing from the park, he stressed the importance of remembering the events — which he said were the most horrific in his time in Parachute — that led to that day.

“We cannot sweep this under the rug,” he said.

Long story short: Even in the small town of Parachute, unthinkable horrors can happen to the most innocent.

For those reasons, a team of community members, including Johnston, started a memorial fund that will go to pay for a bench, or some other item remembering Sarah’s life, to be erected in Cottonwood Park.

Excess funds could go to a college fund for Sarah’s twin brother. As of Monday evening, Sarah’s Go Fund Me page, gofundme.com/sarahogden, was at $790 — $500 more than the night of the remembrance July 10. An Alpine Bank trust fund also was established to help with the cause; donations can be made to account 8900089528 in the trust of Sarah Ogden.

The work by this group of leaders is remarkable, as was the turnout in the park that evening. The community has shown great strength and commitment in the face of an inconceivable outcome. It’s hard to imagine a better way to continue Sarah’s memory than giving her brother the possibility of continuing education after high school, with the hope of having a better life.

Still, I worry that, through no fault of our own, the past month will fade from our memory. We are constantly bombarded by news, and in particular tragedy.

Day after day, hour after hour, we hear, see and read what would seem unfathomable, except for the fact that it repeats itself time and time again.

However, I still remember one headline in the Denver Post this past December.

“Denver father gets 5 years in prison in ‘horrific’ child abuse case.”

The article was on the sentencing of 67-year-old Wayne Sperling, a father of four. It was the reasons, though, for why Sterling was sentenced to five years in prison that stuck with me.

The boys were kept in an apartment covered in cat and human feces, and decomposing animals were found near the mattress the boys shared.

Per the Denver Post: “None of the boys — ages 2, 4, 5 and 6 at the time — could speak or recognize their names when they were removed from the apartment in September 2013. They didn’t know how to eat a sandwich or recognize an apple as food, said Deputy District Attorney Anita Drasan. The four boys went through a total of six surgeries after they were rescued. One boy still struggles with respiratory illness and another suffers from a heart defect.”

Both Sperling and the boys’ mother, Lorinda Bailey, previously plead guilty to misdemeanor child abuse charges. In the most recent plea agreement, the original six felony charges against Sperling were dropped.

I read many articles everyday, and a good share of them fall on the “terrible” end of the spectrum, but I could not get this story out of my end. Beyond the horrific circumstances, aptly pointed out in the headline, the system had failed, and the five-year sentence felt like another failure.

That brought me back to an older case — although I didn’t need to go this far back to find another instance of horror and failure.

Marcus Fiesel was 3 when his foster parents, Liz and David Carroll, wrapped the boy in a blanket, tapped said blanket and left him in a closet where he died. David Carroll then took the young body to an old chimney where he doused it in gasoline and lit it on fire.

Prior to his brief life with the foster parents, who are both serving life sentences, Marcus came from a troubled home, with deplorable described similar to those in the Sperling case.

I was 15 when Marcus’ stepparents said the boy disappeared in 2006 from a park in Anderson Township — a mostly white and middle class community outside of Cincinnati city limits.

It was my third year working for the Anderson Township Park District — they hired me when I was 12. I was more than familiar with the park, and I can still remember how the entire community, beyond my little township, mobilized to find Marcus.

What we ultimately found was a despicable ending to a life cut short.

The 2014 Child Maltreatment Fatality Report by the Colorado Department of Human Services stated 58 fatal incidents, 30 near fatal incidents and 22 egregious incidents were reported to the department that year. Those numbers are only cases reported to DHS. That same year, nearly 82 percent of the reported fatalities had some prior involvement with child services, according to the report.

Too often, we see examples of how after some form of contact, the system is either unwilling or unable to prevent the tragic death of society’s youngest. That is why we must not forget. We have to step up and do what we can within this blatantly broken system.

Since 2006, I have been unable to forget Marcus Fiesel, and since December, I’ve been unable to forget the unnamed boys who suffered in the custody of Wayne Sperling. Now, I remember Sarah Ogden, and I don’t imagine I’ll forget her anytime soon.

Ryan Hoffman is editor of The Citizen Telegram. He can be reached at 970-685-2103 or rhoffman@citizentelegram.com.


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