Newfoundland Authorities Dropped the Ball in Child’s Death

Neville said two things were evident from reading the report. “One: Zachary Turner’s death was preventable. And two: Zachary was in his mother’s care when he should not have been.”

This article details the soul-searching the Newfoundland and Labrador child protective bureaucracy went through after Dr. Shirley Turner (pictured with Zachary) committed suicide, killing her 13-month-old son Zachary in the process (CBC, 10/4/06).  Turner was wanted in the United States for the 2001 murder of her boyfriend, Andrew Bagby in Pennsylvania.  Bagby was shot to death in a parking lot, shortly after which, Turner fled the country.

She was captured in Newfoundland, but, during extradition proceedings, was unaccountably given bail.  Out of prison, she took her own life and that of her son.

An independent investigation of the tragedy concluded that Zachary’s life should never have been lost.  Coroner Peter Markesteyn “found that officials, who were working on the presumption of Turner’s innocence, were more concerned about the welfare of the woman than for her infant.”

Provincial child advocate Darlene Neville added, if “the amount of resources that were put in to meeting Dr. Shirley Turner’s needs and demands, and what she identified as necessary,” had been directed to Zachary, “there would be a strong likelihood we would have had a different outcome.”

At least as early as her medical school years, Turner had pronounced personality disorders.  Medical school evaluations called her “confrontational,” “manipulative” and “unwilling to address negative evaluations.”  She had attempted suicide at least once and, in a 1999 letter, Turner described herself as “not evil, just sick.”

By 2003, she had also been accused of murder.  That was the person to whom prosecutors granted bail and whom social workers allowed custody of her toddler.

Child protective workers see a vast array of parents, many of whom occupy some gray area between being clearly able and clearly unable to care for their children.  Those workers often make difficult calls about those gray-area cases.  We criticize them often enough for being too willing to take children from capable parents. 

But this case did not fall into one of those gray areas, as the post-tragedy investigation made clear.

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