Tulsa’s third case of toddler death while parent slept is under investigation

Collaborator: Brittany Harlow
Published: 06/17/2020, 9:17 AM
Edited: 03/11/2021, 10:22 AM
(TULSA, Okla.) In the last thirty days, five young children have died while one or both of their parents was asleep.

 On May 22, Miracle Crook, 3, and Tony Crook, 2, disappeared into a creek. After a massive search, their bodies were found the following week. According to police, Donisha Willis, the children’s biological mother, was with the children that day when she took drugs and fell asleep. A police report states she refused to help officers with the investigation, telling them “they [kids] don’t even matter.” She was later charged with second degree murder. 

 On June 7, a five-year-old was found face down in the pool at the Riverpark apartments. A 3-year-old was also found in the pool area. The older child was pronounced dead at a local hospital a short while later. Police said it appeared the children snuck out of their apartment unit while their parents were sleeping. We’ve reached out to police to find out if charges were filed in that case but have not heard back. UPDATE: Police told VNN this investigation is still open and has not been submitted to the DA's office yet.   This past weekend, a 3-year-old and a 4-year-old were found dead in a truck by their father, Dustin Dennis. He told police he went to the store with his kids, then went home and fell asleep for four to five hours. Dennis was arrested for two counts of 2nd degree murder, and released on personal recognizance when surveillance footage showed the kids got into the truck by themselves. That case is still under investigation by the police.   Oklahoma State Department of Health officials say child maltreatment, including neglect, is on the rise.   In the State’s Plan for Prevention of Child Abuse & Neglect 2019 – 2023 (https://www.ok.gov/health2/documents/OK%20State%20Plan%20for%20Prevention%20of%20CAN%202019-2023%20FINAL%20(002).pdf), the number of Oklahoma children confirmed to be victims of abuse and neglect in 2017 was more than double that of confirmed victims in 2010, increasing from 7,248 to 15,289. The majority (58 percent) of these victims were under the age of 6 years-old and more than three-fourths (88 percent) experienced neglect.    We’re told a common risk factor for child maltreatment is substance abuse and/or mental health issues in the family, amongst others.   But, of course, every child experiences the urge to wander off at one time or another. Oklahoma health officials say children, particularly toddlers, are very curious and need to be watched at all times. Kimberly Parker, Vice President of Clinical Services at The Parent Child Center of Tulsa, said toddlers and often younger children don’t understand danger (seen or unseen) and are naturally curious to explore the world around them without limitations unless boundaries are thoughtfully created for them by parents or other caregivers. "Along this notion, children can wander off in the blink of an eye at stores, parks, even away from their home or neighborhood," Parker said. "Child-supervision is a critical role that parents and caregivers are tasked to provide for their child's safety and well-being at all times. When we fail in this area, the results can be devastating. "We must acknowledge that we are all vulnerable to being distracted, overwhelmed, and tired which can significantly affect the way we provide care for our children. Thus, it’s important all parents and caregivers of infants, toddlers, and younger children have strategies and safety plans in place to keep kids safe." Parker offered the following helpful strategies to ensure appropriate, safe supervision of infants, toddlers, and younger children: • Make sure the child’s area of exploration has boundaries and is clear of anything that may cause injury. • The area should be child-friendly where parents or caregivers can easily supervise and monitor the child without obstruction. • Establish age-appropriate “house rules” such as staying inside the house unless accompanied outside by a parent or caregiver. • Minimize your distractions while caregiving. • Avoid using headphones as it significantly reduces your ability to listen and respond to safety issues. • Be mindful of your digital device usage especially if it interferes with your ability to supervise your child. • Do not use alcohol or substances of any kind while providing care for your infant, toddler, or younger child so you are able to remain alert and attentive. • Make it a routine to LOOK (front and back seat scan) before you exit and lock your parked car. • Put an essential item in the backseat (out of reach) of a child using a baby or booster seat. This could be one of your shoes, your office key, or any item that you must have being essential to your day. • Another very important item, as children are curious with an adventurous spirit, is to be sure you LOCK the car once everyone is out and place your car keys or key fob out of sight and reach of young children. • Know what your child is developmentally capable of and anticipate what could happen. • Can they crawl or cruise? Check the home for potentially dangerous objects taking the appropriate measures to make your home is safe such as use baby gates to restrict areas such as stairs and doorways, install electrical outlet plugs, install cabinet locks and utilize working door locks, consider placing bells or alarms on doors, and keep dangerous or unsafe items for children secured and contained out of sight and out of reach (lighters, cigarettes, alcohol, guns or knives, and cleaning chemicals etc) • If you plan to take a short nap or be involved in another household activity which diverts your attention away from your child, make sure the child is in a safe and secure place and take additional steps to provide for their safety and well-being. This may include relying on a trusted caregiver to provide supervision until you can return your full attention to the child; setting an alarm to wake-up; or foregoing napping or activities that limit your ability to provide for child safety and well-being all together.    Find more information on how to keep children safe while growing here: https://www.ok.gov/health2/documents/cgs.pub.HELPToddlerExploratoryBeh.pdf   To find help with substance abuse, click here: https://www.findtreatment.gov/   Check back for updates.


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