Mom arrested for allegedly shaking baby; child extremely critical

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by Catherine Holland

Video report by Kristine Harrington

Posted on June 20, 2012 at 9:41 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 20 at 6:03 PM

PHOENIX -- An 11-month-old girl is fighting for her life in a Phoenix hospital and police say her mother is the one who put her there.

Officers arrested Maria Rivera, 21, Tuesday night after they were summoned to Maricopa County Medical Center by the staff.

Phoenix Police Sgt. Tommy Thompson said the hospital staff called police because the baby girl was brought in unresponsive and had sustained serious injuries that were not consistent with Rivera's explanation. She apparently told doctors -- and later police -- that the little girl had fallen down the stairs. Her injuries, however, were not consistent with that.

According to court paperwork, hospital personnel told investigators there is only one way the baby could have sustained the particular injuries she had -- bleeding in the brain and low brain function, among other. Somebody had severely shaken her.

The patrol officers who initially responded handed the case off to homicide detectives, Thompson said.

Court paperwork shows that Rivera told detectives the baby had fallen and she tried several things to revive her, including shaking her. Rivera said shook the child "on and off" for between 20 and 30 minutes and then waited another half hour before trying to get her baby daughter real help.

Rather than calling 911, however, police said Rivera called her mother in Maricopa. Tracy Beddow drove from her Maricopa home to Rivera's Phoenix apartment. She saw that the baby was unresponsive and took her to the hospital.

Rivera lied to detectives for three hours, according to court paperwork, and then minimized her involvement in the baby's injuries.

"It wasn't child abuse. My daughter had a seizure and then fell down the stairs," Rivera said during her initial court appearance Wednesday.

According to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, when a baby is shaken, the brain can rotate in the skull cavity. That can injure or even destroy brain tissue. In addition, the vessels that supply blood to the brain can be torn, causing bleeding around the brain. That blood can pool in the skull and put pressure on the brain.

This happens because babies' heads are about 25 percent of their total body weight and their neck muscles are not strong enough to support them, especially when shaken.

Thompson said the infant was in extremely critical condition Wednesday morning.

If she survives, she could face a variety of long-term consequences, including learning and physical disabilities, visual and/or hearing impairment, seizures and cognitive impairment.

While the details surrounding what happened in this case are not yet clear, frustration and anger are the most common triggers for a parent or caregiver to shake a baby, according to the NCSBS.

"This most often occurs when the baby won't stop crying," the website reads. "Other triggering events include toilet training difficulties and feeding problems."

In addition to the injuries the baby girl had from being shaken, she also had a bite on her left thigh. Court paperwork says the bite was made by a person. Police said Rivera had no explanation for it.

Rivera was been booked into Maricopa County Jail on two counts of child abuse, a class 2 felony. A judge set her bond at $200,000 and appointed a public defender.

Rivera's two other children, a 1-month-old and 2-year-old, are now in the care of Child Protective Services. A third child belonging to Rivera's sister but in the custody of Rivera's mother is also with CPS.

A status conference has been scheduled for June 27, followed by a preliminary hearing on June 29.

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