Longform

Angel Eyes

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Justin's mother and one of his sisters had come to the hospital that day, too, but "as soon as we heard how seriously she'd been hurt, they disappeared, and we never heard from them again," Barbara Ruggles says.

Janice McIntosh, whose job it is to protect children from this very thing, had to deal with a nightmare of her own. The police were planning to charge her son with first-degree murder. (Reached at her office, Janice politely declined to comment and explained that neither Justin nor any other family members would speak with Westword, either.)

After he was read his rights at the police station, Justin agreed to give a statement, which was videotaped. "Mr. McIntosh admitted to shaking his daughter until she stopped breathing," the arrest affidavit reads. And according to a court motion filed later by Arapahoe County Deputy District Attorney Karen Pearson, Justin admitted to "slapping Jasmine McIntosh on the face during the early morning hours of November 27, 2002, and leaving marks on her. His admission is contained on the videotaped interview done with police and is corroborated by his statements to Caleena Burch, Jasmine's mother."

Caleena was well aware of Shaken Baby Syndrome, which was first identified in 1974, but never thought her own child would suffer from it -- or that her baby's father would be the perpetrator. But a 1999 study cited in the journal Clinical Excellence for Nurse Practitioners found that of 151 shaken-baby cases reviewed in Colorado, 37 percent of the abusers were biological fathers and 20.5 percent were the mothers' boyfriends.

With her baby's father in custody, Caleena struggled alone with a life-or-death decision. She resolved to see what the next day would bring. Despite the doctors' predictions, Jasmine made it through the night, though her prognosis hadn't changed. Caleena decided to let her go. And so at 10:58 a.m. on Saturday, November 30, it was official: Jasmine was dead "as a result of injuries sustained at the hands of Nathanael McIntosh," the police affidavit declared.

After Jasmine died, the Kempe Children's Center conducted a routine exam of Alyssa to make sure she hadn't been abused. They found some bruises and an old burn mark that Caleena says happened when the toddler had accidentally touched a curling iron several months before. Although Caleena wasn't charged with neglect or abuse, social workers looked into her past and began to question her fitness as a mother. They asked that Alyssa stay with her Aunt Pam for a while.

The day after Jasmine died, Derrick RedEarth called his mom and told her he didn't know how Caleena's family would pay for the funeral. Caleena had asked Justin's mom about contributing but claims Janice refused to help, still unsure whether Jasmine was her son's child. (Caleena and Justin were saving for a paternity test, which can cost upwards of $200, when Jasmine died.)

Saddened by a young life cut so short, Patrice Kenner RedEarth made a silent promise to honor Jasmine. Her husband had succumbed to a long illness the year before, and she'd spent many months preparing for his death. On September 30, 2002, not long after what would have been their thirtieth wedding anniversary, she scattered his ashes at Mount Lindo, the hilltop cemetery in Morrison with a cross that is visible from Denver. The next day she took a job as a memorial counselor for Olinger. "I felt that there was a big need to let people know that death isn't final. My husband's scattering was the most peaceful process in my life, and I wanted to relate that to people," she says.

While Caleena and her mother searched for a burial gown and bonnet, Patrice set out to find a cross necklace. "I felt it was important that this little girl go out in style," says Patrice, who visited the northwest Denver church-supply store of her friend John Erger. When she told him what she was looking for and why, he gave her a chain with a tiny gold cross dangling from it, a gold baby ring adorned with a dove, and an alabaster angel to hang inside the casket -- all free of charge.

Patrice also talked to her bosses, who instantly agreed to donate all funeral services as well as a burial plot in Crown Hill Cemetery, at 29th Avenue and Wadsworth Boulevard. "These were highly unusual circumstances, and knowing what the family was going through, we thought it was the right thing to do," says Brad Olivanti, the manager of the Olinger-owned Moore Howard/Berkley Park.

Then-Olinger saleswoman Maria Wilson donated a trumpeting angel statue to serve as Jasmine's temporary marker. When Jasmine arrived at the funeral home on the morning of Wednesday, December 4, the employees took special care never to leave her unattended. Patrice even stayed overnight, sleeping in a chair beside the baby's casket. "I couldn't stand the thought of her being alone in there," she says.

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Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon