Remembering Ethan

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Husband-and-wife journalists Bob Miller and Callie Clark Miller share the same small house, tiny bathroom and even the same office. But not always the same opinion. The Southeast Missourian sweethearts offer their views on every-day issues, told from two different perspectives.

WE SAID: When we sat down to talk about all the silly, quirky little things we could write about in this week's column, we realized that they all sounded, well, silly.

This week, there's a much more important problem on our minds. Yes, even more important than the Cardinals making the World Series.

We have photos of son Drew all over our house. Our collective favorites are those taken in the fall of 2002, when Drew was 4.

There he is, in a yellow sweatshirt and too-big rubber rain boots, playing in the leaves at Jackson City Park, tottering around on a bike with training wheels.

These days, looking at those photos reminds us of another little boy. A little boy we never met in person, but whose life we came to know through recent stories in the Southeast Missourian.

Ethan Williams was only 4 years old.

Snapshots of Ethan's life revealed through law enforcement records are a stark contrast to the photos of 4-year-old Drew hanging on our wall.

Did you read about Ethan?

Did you read about him soiling himself and then lying in it? How he got a staph infection, then died after surgeons opened his leg in a desperate attempt to remove the germs that were killing him?

Did you read about his stepfather allegedly going to the doctor for an infected finger hours before taking Ethan to the hospital? About his mother and stepfather having problems with unsanitary living conditions before?

And Ethan was only the beginning.

Other stories followed his. Stories about children plucked from their families because of filthy living conditions. Diapers laying about. Mounds of garbage. Holes in the floor, exposing the ground beneath. Five-gallon buckets in a shed for a bathroom.

Why would parents allow this to happen? There must be a reason.

We were thinking about this last Sunday while cleaning out our basement. The basement was filled with garbage -- broken furniture, old toys, and even trash that should have been contained in a garbage can. We hauled most of it out to the curb for clean-up fix-up week in Jackson.

The basement's more like a shed or garage than living quarters. It wasn't a place where we would expect anyone to live.

What kind of a parent would you have to be to force a child to live down there, among the litter boxes and the coldness and the mold?

There must be a reason, we figured, these people let their homes get this way. Must be poverty, we thought.

Then we thought some more. No. Can't be.

People who live in poverty couldn't afford mounds of garbage, because they would have next to nothing. People in poverty, who live that way, couldn't afford to have pets.

If they had money to pay for dog or cat food, then they had enough money to pay for a broom and some cleaning supplies. If they had enough money for beer, they had enough money for garbage bags and garbage pickup service.

If they could find a 5-gallon bucket, then surely they could've found a mop. And then put the bucket to a better use. You could find a working vacuum cleaner for less than $5 at a yard sale. We just had a yard sale. We know.

Poverty is no excuse here. There are some serious psychological issues in Southeast Missouri that go deeper than the pocketbook.

These people, these parents, need some sort of help, but not the monetary kind.

But how do you teach adults to take care of their families? How do you tell someone "Miss Doe, see all these beer cans on the living room floor; see all this junk in the bathtub? That's not OK."

If these trashy people can't be parents, they don't deserve their children.

And if children like Ethan can't be kept safe in their own home, they don't deserve their parents. Children deserve to be safe. They deserve life.

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