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Covering the Death of a Toddler

by Pat Dooris

Bio | Email | Follow: @PatDoorisKGW

Posted on August 3, 2006 at 8:18 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:40 PM


I covered the death of a toddler today in Hillsboro.

Her name was Dulce Hernandez Onofre. She was 19 months old. She died yesterday at the hospital.

Police charged Dulce's mom's boyfriend in the death. We still haven't gotten the details, although I spent most of the day trying to dig them out.

As a journalist, its a challenging story. Police are still deep in the investigation and keeping as much secret as they can, or so it seems to me. The stuff they're not keeping secret is buried under a bunch of other stuff on their desk I suppose.

In the apartments where the toddler lived, English is a second language for many. Fortunately today we found two people who speak English better than I speak Spanish.

We spent the late morning and all afternoon trying to figure out what happened and why. I always try to learn as much as I can about the story because I want it to make sense in my brain before I try to explain it to anyone else. There must be some explanation, I figure, even if its a convoluted one that objectively makes no sense, but did make sense to the person involved at the time.

Unfortunately, by the end of the day we still had only a hint at what happened.

The district attorney on the case, who did not return my calls, charged the boyfriend with manslaughter one. The charging document states the boyfriend, Ramon Rodriguez-Moreno, "did unlawfully and recklessly, under circumstances manifesting extreme emotional indifference to the value of human life, cause the death of another human being, to wit: Dulce Samantha Hernandez-Onofre."

I'm not exactly sure what that means for this case..but I have a hunch.

In cases involving drunks who kill someone, it would imply the driver got himself hammered and then recklessly got behind the wheel of a car and crashed, killing a stranger or even one of his buddies riding in the car. It does not mean (in our fictional drunk driving case) that the guy meant to kill the stranger or his pal, but it does mean he sure should have known better and by his actions did not seem to care whether anyone died.

There is a document somewhere which will spell out exactly what the investigators and district attorney know about the death of little Dulce. Its called an "affidavit for search warrant." Its the story that goes with the crime. A detective usually writes it up and puts in as many facts as possible to convince a judge to let police burst into your home and grab stuff whether you like it or not.

Those documents are gold mines for reporters. And they're public records once they are filed in court with the other documents connected to the case.
The key is finding out if the affidavit is filed and if so, where?

I spent more than an hour bouncing b between two court buildings on the phone this afternoon trying to find that document. I think its under a stack of papers on a detective's desk.

It sounds like criticism but its really not. I think we'd all rather have detectives chasing down bad guys and leads on the case than filing papers to answer reporter's questions.

But it sure would answer some big questions on this case.

What makes them think the boyfriend played a role in the toddler's death? What did he tell them? What did they find when they searched the home that supports his story or blows holes in it? How does this guy, who, as far as we could learn today, has had very minor contact with police, end up here?

That's the challenging part of the story, figuring all that out.

The horrible part is thinking of little Dulce's death as a parent. I have two kids. I know how much I love them and how much I love all children and their silly, beautiful, lovely little ways.

Neighbors told me Dulce played outside her mom's apartment and often had a smile on her face.

I don't go to horror movies or even suspense movies involving children. Its not entertainment to me, because sometimes the worst things really do happen to children.

All day I focused on the details for my story about the death Dulce Hernandez-Onofre.

It distracted me.

To focus on the person, the tragedy, the loss and despair which I'm sure those who love her feel, that would be too much.