Crystal Calusinski remembers her sister Melissa Calusinski screaming over the intercom like it was yesterday.
Sitting at the front desk of the Minee Subee child care center in Lincolnshire, Illinois, on Jan. 14, 2009, Crystal quickly ran into Melissa’s classroom and saw the unthinkable: 16-month-old Ben Kingan was in a bouncy chair with foam coming out of his nose.
“I still think about it all the time and in my dreams,” says Crystal, now 31, who then picked Ben up and went to the door to call for help before placing him on the changing table to perform CPR.
Responding paramedics transported Ben to the hospital, but it was too late. He died at 4:50 p.m., before his parents, Amy and Andrew Kingan, could even say goodbye.
Just two days later, Melissa, a 22-year-old teacher’s assistant, would be accused of his murder. She convicted in 2011 and sentenced to 31 years in prison.
Almost eight years after she was arrested, her attorney, Kathleen Zellner , tells PEOPLE there is new evidence that should set Melissa free and “there is no proof that this was murder.”
But prosecutors have dismissed Melissa’s claims of innocence and disputed how she has described the evidence in her case. A judge recently denied her a new trial, citing a lack of evidence.
Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim and Ben’s parents declined to comment for this story.
For much more on Melissa’s case, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
Barrett Emke 2016
How Melissa Was Convicted
One day after Ben death, forensic pathologist Dr. Eupil Choi, who performed Benjamin’s autopsy, said the boy had a skull fracture.
On his death certificate, filed on Jan. 23, 2009, the cause of death was listed as cranio-cerebral injuries and blunt trauma of the head, which authorities determined occurred when the “child was forcefully thrown to the floor by an adult child care worker.”
On Jan. 16, Melissa and other child care workers who were at the center the afternoon Ben died were taken for police questioning.
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter
After a nine-hour interrogation and after repeatedly denying that she harmed Ben, Melissa confessed to throwing him on the ground in a fit of anger. She says she immediately tried to take that confession back — that she didn’t mean what she said.
“People don’t know what I was put through in order for me to confess,” Melissa, now 30, tells PEOPLE in a prison interview in this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday. “When they interrogated me, it was horrible. I was terrified.”
Ben’s mother, Amy, spoke at her sentencing.
Ben Kingman, 16 months Courtesy Kathleen Zellner
“He had so much life ahead of him, and she took it away from him and us. He will never experience his first day of school, learn to ride a bike, play sports, graduate high school, fall in love, get married or give us grandchildren,” Amy said. “We wish so badly we could hold him in our arms just one last time.”
After the Kingans won a $2 million civil settlement with the center owner’s insurance company in 2010, Ben’s father spoke out publicly for the first time.
“Be an advocate for your children. Be careful with them,” Andrew said. “They are your most precious gift.”
After her confession and the evidence showing Ben had a skull fracture, Melissa had little faith she’d ever walk free.
That all changed last year.
‘Convicted on Erroneous Evidence’
On June 10, 2015, Melissa’s father, Paul Calusinski, got an anonymous phone call from someone telling him to find a new set of X-rays at the Lake County Coroner’s Office. The man then quickly hung up.
Paul called the coroner, Dr. Thomas Rudd, who searched for every X-ray involving Ben’s death and found images he says were never seen by the defense.
“The X-ray shows that Ben didn’t have a skull fracture,” he tells PEOPLE. “Melissa was convicted on erroneous evidence.”
That one image led Rudd to change the manner of death from homicide to “undetermined.”
Rudd sent the X-rays to forensic pathologist Dr. Nancy Jones, who concluded that Ben had suffered from a chronic case of cerebral swelling of the brain, caused by repetitive concussions that, Rudd says, Ben may have inflicted on himself.
With this revelation and a confession she says was coerced, Zellner is arguing that Melissa deserves a new trial.
Courtesy Calusinski Family
But prosecutors insist that the X-rays are not new, just a digitally lightened version of the X-rays provided before the trial. They also contend that if Ben did have a previous injury, it doesn’t mean that Melissa didn’t cause his death with a new injury.
Melissa’s request for a new trial was denied on Sept. 30 by Judge Daniel Shanes, who presided over her trial and sentence, citing a lack of new evidence.
But Zellner has vowed to appeal the judge’s ruling to the Illinois Appellate Court.
“It’s not over yet,” Melissa told PEOPLE in prison. “I’m not going to give up the fight. There is still hope. I’m innocent.”
Melissa’s family has hope as well. Her father, who has never stopped lobbying for her conviction to be overturned, says that he won’t stop until his daughter is home.
“She left her entire family. She left her life,” he says. “She left everything behind for something she didn’t do.”
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Updated: Saturday, January 28, 2017, 4:06 AM
It took city officials five months to confirm what neighbors suspected immediately: 3-year-old Caleb Rivera was a murder victim.
“I had an idea,” said Nikki Whatley, 39, who performed CPR on the gaunt little boy outside their East Harlem apartment building last August.
“I still see that boy’s eyes in my nightmare and in my dreams,” said Whatley, the mother of four. “That boy was lifeless when I got to him.”
Caleb’s death was declared a homicide Friday after the city medical examiner determined he was killed by multiple blows to the head and neck.
The boy’s mother, who was in their apartment with two men when Caleb was mortally injured, insisted she had no idea who was to blame for her son’s killing.
“I am not talking to anybody about anything,” mom Alexandra Guzman said from behind the door of her apartment on Friday. “I am not giving up anything. Why are you harassing me?”
Asked specifically who killed little Caleb Rivera, the mother answered, “Nobody. It was — have a good day. Nobody. That is the only answer you’ll get from me.”
Construction worker Adrian Rivera, 24, the child’s father, said he’s suspected for months that Guzman was hiding something.
“He was a happy healthy baby and I loved my baby,” he said. “They should both go to jail. I want to know: Did he do this and then she covered up? If the police won’t do something, I will.”
Rivera said after he and Guzman broke up, she barred him from seeing Caleb. He said he begged her to bring the baby to his mother’s house. “She wouldn’t. I texted her the week before (Caleb died): ‘Please bring me my baby.’ She said she was good where she was. She wouldn’t bring him to me, and then this happened.”
April, Child Abuse Awareness month, has passed. It went by without any comment from the Director of Social Services, Ted Myers (“…blood is thicker than water…”, or attorney Andrew Wolf, (“…we do the legally correct thing…”).
interviews with Santa Barbara’s KEYT-TV a few of years ago on the question
raised by a Ventura County Star editorial regarding the whereabouts of Mario,
these gentlemen, in making the above statements, attempted to explain why Social Service workers,
and an a child advocate attorney advocate and/or permit the re-unification of
an abused child with its abuser(s). Mario was a toddler beaten into a coma by his mother. Social workers reunified Mario with his mother even though he continued to be abused.
We have heard, and continue to hear, numerous times that Social Services’ purpose is to protect children from abuse. The child’s advocate in Court is supposed to also protect their right to freedom from abuse. Neither succeeds.
And the reason they do not is revealed by their statements. Their hands are tied. Mr. Wolf is correct, re-unification is the legally correct thing to do, never mind that questions of ethics and morality are raised by the re-unification of a person who lacks love and parenting skills with a child who is helpless to speak for or defend himself.
And, yes, though it is a convenient and telling euphemism, blood is thicker than water. It merely goes to prove the point that a tiny human feels a craving for and needs love from the only caregiver it has known from birth. Though the child bonds, the adult may not want to or cannot commit to a responsibility.
Congress, in its infinite wisdom, saw the tragedies brought about by the abuse of children. They saw not only the physical and emotional effects, but also acknowledged that deaths of children were sometimes the outcome of such conduct. They further saw the financial toll upon society, not only for the treatment of the physical and emotional injuries, but upon the fact that some of these children become a financial burden rather than positive contributors to society. As Congress does best they began the battle against child abuse by passing laws, in this case, Title 42 of the United States Code, Chapter 67, Section 5106a.
This released money to fund Social Services and created responsibilities to fund programs. It created a confidentiality clause to protect not only the child’s identity and reputation but also that of the abuser. It required every State to pass a law saying that re-unification of the abused with its abuser was not required. But it also stated that despite a parent or caregiver having killed or assaulted a child the State (read as Judge), could, on a case by case basis, reunify a child of the sibling with the killer or abuser. Congress sat back; it had passed a law to protect children.
words, blood is thicker than water and re-unification is the legally correct
thing to do, regardless of what further injuries the
child will suffer.
I recently attended a meeting where I listened to
gut-wrenching stories from adults who feared for the safety of their children
who were reporting sexual crimes against them by family members. As the founder of The Children’s Wall of
Tears™, these stories are not new to me as I hear hundreds of cases each year.
Recently Leo and I visited the great city of Oklahoma and toured the Oklahoma Bombing Memorial. Without a doubt, this memorial strengthened our faith in the American people, our patriotism and our feelings against terrorism. We could not help but walk away from this great monument with a passion that undoubtedly carved our futures. Throughout our tour of the memorial we could not help but think about the 168 lives lost in this horrific event. There was one particular photo on the wall of the daycare center showing children that were signed-in that fateful day. It haunts us. What madman would callously murder innocent children, let alone adults?
We read every sign and studied every photo in the museum. We were overwhelmed with sadness and rage at the very same time. We began to systematically think about terrorism and what it really means and how it affects our lives.
the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.
2. the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terroization.
a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.
Terrorism begins with creating a fear within the victim and escalates quickly to injury and in many cases death. Until September 11, 2001, few Americans were aware that terror existed beyond that seen on movies or on TV. After 911, we became aware of our vulnerability to suffering at the hands of people who find it acceptable to inflict pain on innocent people without blinking an eye. The bombing in Oklahoma City traumatized this great nation. We were forced to face the anxiety of knowing that at any time, in any place, violence can strike, and in that respect, we are now victims of terrorism.
While we feel a deep sadness for the victims of the attacks in New York City and Washington D.C., the plane crash in Pennsylvania and their families and the Oklahoma City Bombing and their families, who have lived to suffer the devastating pain of the loss of a loved one, we began to think about the children here in the United States who live under this anxiety every day. How did we overlook their terrorism? Most call it child abuse. We call it child cruelty.
In child’s world, violence comes not at the hands of politically motivated extremists, but from their parents or caregivers. Suffering comes not from weapons of mass destruction, but fists, belts, scalding water, locked in dark closets, and cruel words. Attacks are not a rare occurrence, but a daily reality. Knowing that it is coming is the epitome of terrorism especially since a child is incapable of defending himself and does not know where to turn to avoid the torture and pain of neglect or abuse.
We kept thinking about the fact that while we watched news coverage of buildings crumbling and thousands of terrified, innocent people running for their lives, young spirits are being crushed at the hands of heartless adults with no high-profile media coverage to spark a country to awareness and action. Yes, we occasionally see, hear and read of young victims being abused or killed, but, few people are moved to act. The usual response to such news is an “…Oh, no!...” statement, and then on to breaking news.
While troops of rescue workers sift through debris in a desperate attempt to recover victims, young children are cowering in corners after yet another merciless beating, wondering if anyone cares enough to rescue them. While an entire nation mourns for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and the Oklahoma City Bombing, abused children continue to suffer horrifically with no tears of sadness shed on their behalf. Is it apathy on the part of the general public? Apparently so. we don’t see any great rush of humanity at the breaking story of another child being beaten or killed. Nor do we see more than platitudes from public officials or legislators. Yes, you will hear comments that such and such should be investigated. You hear that so and so is understaffed, overworked, and over whelmed but you do not hear from the front line workers who deal with child abuse on a daily basis.
For the past 25 years, we have been working to increase America’s awareness to the horrors of child cruelty and to bring the reality of the unimaginable level of physical and mental suffering these children deal with to the forefront.
We have written numerous commentaries and letters to the editors of newspapers and given speeches and talks to various groups and organizations. We have spoken in Washington, D.C. before a distinguished group of professionals and even sponsored a law in the California Legislature to provide computerized criminal history to child protective service workers so that they do not reunify the child with criminals. Unfortunately, that law failed in the appropriations department. Apparently $50,000 for the entire State of California is not worth protecting children. We have spent anguished hours over the opposition we have received and welcomed the pats on the back. But, child cruelty continues and children continue to live the daily terror awaiting the next blow.
Statistics show that everyday, scores of children are terrorized by abusive parents and that list continues to grow each year. Every 10 seconds a child is abused. Every 5 hours a child is killed. In cold, hard terms that means that every day a small hand is held over a flame, an infant is dipped in scalding water, a child is forced to swallow household cleansers, an empty stomach grumbles while parents eat, a terrified toddler trembles in a dark, locked closet, a tiny arm is broken, a life comes to a premature end. The scenes of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were difficult to look at, but, they can’t compare to the scenes that flash in front of the small eyes of an abused child.
I leave it to you to decide if a child, under these circumstances, is experiencing not only terror but wondering when it all will end.
The unified resolve shown by the American people following the recent terrorist attacks is impressively powerful and elicits confidence that swift, sure action will be taken to punish and prevent terrorist acts. If only that same level of mass resolve were focused on saving abused children. If only our country stood unified in the defense of these helpless children, how many young victims of daily terrorism could be saved? How many small spirits could be recovered? How many terrorists could be stopped?
We wonder what horrendous atrocity must occur to a child before every American resolves to put an end to child cruelty in every home in which it occurs.We have stated before, in print and speeches, that there is a pandemic of child cruelty throughout the world. Now, with the advent of the bird flu, mad cow disease, tainted spinach, Aids and other “epidemics”, the word pandemic has become as familiar to us as the word terrorism and, unfortunately, we must now state that a pandemic of child cruelty now exists on this Planet.
Simply put in perspective, if a
disease were killing hundreds of children in America each year, the Center for Disease
Control would mobilize everything it could to find the cause. Federal and State governments would spend
millions on treatment and trying to find a cure. No stone would be left un-turned and no sum of
money would be too great in an effort to end the pandemic. Over 3,000 children are kiled through abuse and neglect each year. Is that not an epidemic in your eyes?
Yes, our lives were forever changed by our visit to the Oklahoma Bombing Memorial
Interesting stories about famous people, biographies, humorous stories, photos and videos. Top of Form
Bottom of Form
Body of Missing 5-Year-Old Boy Found Near Lake Cachuma as His Father Is Accused of His Murder
The body of a missing 5-year-old California boy last seen in late April has been found near a Santa Barbara County lake, homicide detectives confirmed to PEOPLE Saturday.
Aramazd Andressian Jr. was found near Lake Cachuma on Friday, after additional leads brought homicide detectives back to the area searching for additional evidence.
The discovery came hours after the boy’s father, Aramazd Andressian Sr., was extradited to Los Angeles where he has been charged with the 5-year-old’s murder. The 35-year-old man was detained on June 23 in Las Vegas in connection with his son’s death, and is being held on $10 million bail on a single murder count.
The boy was last seen on April 20, when he and his father visited Disneyland in Anaheim, California. They left the theme park around midnight.
Within a week of the boy’s disappearance, police arrested his dad on suspicion of one count of child endangerment and one count of child abduction. But they released him days later , citing “insufficient evidence.” It was not immediately clear what prompted his re-arrest.
Officials confirm that Andressian, Sr. and his wife, Ana Estevez, are embroiled in a bitter divorce, but they shared custody of their son.
Andressian, Jr. was supposed to be dropped off by his father in San Marino, California, on April 22 — but the elder Andressian failed to show. Instead, he was found passed out near his car in a nearby park. Police have alleged that the inside of his car was doused with gasoline and there were matches in his vehicle.
Andressian, Sr. told investigators he believed he was attacked, but he had no memory of the assault. He also told police he had taken some prescription medication that morning before falling unconscious, CNN reported .
“There has been a great deal of speculation regarding the timeline around his disappearance,” Andressian, Sr. wrote in a statement issued nearly a week after his son vanished. “The last time I saw my son was on Saturday morning, the 22nd, at Arroyo Park near my home in South Pasadena. After breakfast Aramazd Jr. wanted to go to the park before we were to meet his mother for a custody exchange at 9:00 a.m.”
“In one moment, I was at the park with my son, and then I found myself waking up in Huntington Memorial Hospital hours later,” he continued. “I was told that a good Samaritan found me unconscious on the ground near my car, with young Aramazd nowhere in sight. I can only speculate that I must have been attacked in the park, given my unresponsive state and subsequent physical condition.”
“My family and I are heartbroken and grief-stricken that Aramazd Jr. is missing and may be in harm’s way,” he continued. “I am pleading with the public to come forward with any knowledge of Aramazd Jr.’s whereabouts or information regarding the circumstances leading up to his disappearance.”
Estevez has also spoken publicly , pleading for the public’s help at a May news conference with law enforcement.
“There are no words to describe how devastated and heartbroken I am,” Estevez said through tears, before speaking directly to her son. “This message is for you my love: Be brave, honey. Don’t ever forget that mama loves you to the moon and the stars. I am counting the days until I see you honey, and I will never stop looking for you.”
“To those who are concealing my son, I pray every day that God will touch your heart and guide you to do the right thing and return my son,” she said.
Anyone with any information about this ongoing case can call the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department at 323-890-5500 or police in South Pasadena, California, at 626-403-7297.