Longform

Angel Eyes

Jasmine arrived wrapped in a soft blue-and-pink baby blanket. Helen Martin gingerly unbundled the dark-haired infant and dressed her in a frilly white baptismal gown. The baby's mother and grandmother didn't know what kind of bonnet to get, so they'd bought both sheer and solid white. It was up to Helen to determine which would hide the bruised indentation on the left side of Jasmine's head. Figuring she could conceal the injury by tilting the baby's head to the left, Helen chose the sheer bonnet and then laid Jasmine in a tiny white casket.

Preparing the dead had never really bothered the twenty-year Olinger Mortuary employee. But Jasmine was different. "I can't say I didn't stand there and cry," Helen says. "It was heartrending for me. I've raised four children, and I have seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. This baby was such a beautiful little girl. She was a chubby little baby -- a good little chunk, as I call 'em."

Hers wasn't the only heart broken by Jasmine's death. During a time of tragedy came an outpouring of tenderness and generosity from total strangers. The undertaker who embalmed Jasmine held her for hours, crying, until a colleague urged him to let the baby go. A friend of the mother's family, who had just started working for Olinger and had never met Jasmine, was so moved that she convinced her bosses to donate the funeral services and is starting a nonprofit in Jasmine's name (see "Suffer the Children,"). The owner of a church-supply store provided jewelry for Jasmine's burial. A former Olinger saleswoman donated an angel statue to mark Jasmine's grave until a permanent headstone could be erected. The motorcycle escorts for the funeral procession returned their paychecks to Olinger after learning what had happened.

It was just so hard for them all to grasp that a father could do this to his own child.


Nathanael Justin McIntosh met Caleena Burch at LoDo's Bar & Grill early in December 2001. She had gotten into the bar with a fake ID and was instantly attracted to the tall, dark, handsome man six years her senior. She gave him her phone number when he asked, but she didn't expect him to call. When he did, a week later, she invited him over to watch movies.

Caleena immediately felt comfortable around Justin. He was easy to be with, she says, not to mention smart and charming. Soon the two were inseparable, and although Justin lived in Denver and Caleena was in Fort Collins, they made the 150-mile round trip every day to see each other. They quickly discovered that they came from very different worlds.

Justin graduated from Denver's East High School in 1994 and earned a bachelor's degree from Denison University, a small liberal arts school in Granville, Ohio, which bills itself as a quiet New England-style village. Caleena dropped out of Loveland's Thompson Valley High School in 1999, but later got her General Equivalency Diploma. He has two sisters from the same parents; she comes from a large combined family and has a child of her own from a previous relationship.

Justin's parents both work in the child-welfare system. His mother, Janice, is a program manager in charge of child protection for the Denver Department of Human Services; his father, Lonnie, is a correctional officer at Gilliam Youth Services Center. Caleena's father, Howard Ruggles, is a supervisor for a concrete company in Loveland; her mother, Barbara, is a stay-at-home mom. Justin's upbringing was stable; Caleena ran away from home as a teenager and lived with different friends and relatives before ending up in foster care. He had never been in trouble with the law; she'd racked up an extensive criminal record that includes motor vehicle theft, drug possession, false reporting and failure to appear in court. "I'd been to jail," Caleena says. "He'd been to Greece."

Those differences didn't matter to the couple until Caleena got pregnant with Justin's child. On January 15, 2002 -- just six days after Justin turned 26 -- she called him with the news. He was surprised but didn't seem upset, Caleena says. He did, however, ask about an abortion, but Caleena rejected the idea. So in the cool, calm way in which he approached most things, Justin suggested they move in together since he was already planning to move out of his parents' modest Tudor-style house in Park Hill and buy a place of his own. "I thought he was taking it pretty well, being that I only knew him a month," Caleena says.

But two weeks later he mentioned abortion again. He said he wanted to do things he couldn't do if he had a baby, such as attend graduate school in Europe. And even though Caleena kept telling him she felt abortion was wrong, he persisted until she broke down and told him to make an appointment. But when they got to the downtown Denver Planned Parenthood clinic, she started sobbing. "I was hysterical, and the doctors wouldn't do it," she says.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon