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Parents Die of False Accusations
October 31, 2008 permalink
Baby Alyssa O'Shell died of natural causes. But false allegations of child abuse and an attempted shotgun divorce drove the girl's parents to a murder/suicide or double suicide.
Baby wasn't abused by cop dad; she died of fatal malady
If only Dave O'Shell had hung on just a bit longer.
Just a couple more days and tests would have proved he was innocent.
O'Shell, a Lakewood police officer, was suspected of abusing his 3-month-old daughter. Baby Alyssa had been taken away. O'Shell's wife, Tiffany, had been advised to divorce him if she ever wanted to get her daughter back.
O'Shell, pressured to confess, believed he was about to be arrested for something he didn't do.
"I think he snapped," said Jackie Cuin, Tiffany's mother.
"Nobody was giving him any hope," said Paul Cuin, Tiffany's father. "Everything was painted as black as it could be."
So, on June 30, O'Shell shot Tiffany to death as she slept, then put two guns in his mouth and pulled both triggers, killing himself. Turns out he was innocent all along.
Spinal muscular atrophy
At a court hearing two days after the deaths, Alyssa's foster mother said she had noticed something wrong with the baby. Genetic tests were ordered.
The results came back the day after the Cuins buried Tiffany: Alyssa had spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disease that prevents the muscles from developing. The diagnosis explained the 11 fractures on Alyssa's tiny body. It wasn't her father's fault at all.
"I knew, knowing both of them, that neither of them had hurt that baby," Jackie Cuin said.
"He loved his baby," Paul Cuin said. "That was his world. He adored her."
But the diagnosis came too late. Dave was already the prime suspect, "presumed guilty," Paul said.
Jackie said her daughter was "hysterical" when Alyssa was taken away, just 13 days before Dave O'Shell would end her life and his own. Dave, too, was despondent, worried that he had lost his baby forever, that he would go to jail, that he would lose Tiffany, too.
"It was horrendous," Jackie said. "They were scared to death."
'The system failed them'
After the murder-suicide, the Cuins fought for custody of Alyssa and finally brought her home. But the baby deteriorated. She couldn't eat or swallow or lift her head. She needed oxygen. Mucus had to be suctioned from her airway five or six times a day. Alyssa was dying - but it had nothing to do with abuse.
"We were hoping we'd make it to Christmas," Paul said.
Alyssa died Tuesday.
Thursday, the Cuins said it was time to talk about what happened to the O'Shells and Alyssa.
"They were innocent," Jackie said. "The system failed them."
Paul now wants to raise awareness about spinal muscular atrophy. It affects 1 in 6,000 children, but "nobody knows about it," he said.
He also wants to clear the names of Dave and Tiffany O'Shell. He knows some people still think Dave did what he did because he got caught. It's more likely he did it because he didn't have hope, Paul said.
"The minute they hit on abuse, they wouldn't look any further, even though we kept telling them there's more," he said.
Jackie feels robbed.
"My daughter's gone, and my grandbaby's gone," she said.
"It's not just that they're gone," Paul said. "They're gone for unnecessary reasons."
A dancing Elmo toy
On a counter in the kitchen of their Henderson home, the Cuins have kept one of Alyssa's favorite toys, a dancing Elmo. They bought it for her for Christmas but decided to give it to her early. She loved it.
Sealed in a bag is a blanket that still smells like Alyssa.
They miss her smile, the smile they lived for, the smile that made their world. But they picture Alyssa now, with her mommy and daddy. And she is doing the things she couldn't do here. She can move her arms and legs. The O'Shells are happy together once again.
"We decided that morning that Tiffany came down and said, 'It's time, sweetie, let's go home,' " Paul said.
"It's bittersweet," Jackie said. "But I'm happy for her. I'm happy for the kids to have her."
What is spinal muscular atrophy?
- A degenerative motor neuron disease that affects the voluntary muscles used for activities such as crawling, head and neck control and swallowing. Muscles in the shoulders, hips and back generally are the most severely affected. Patients' cognitive functions are not affected.
- Diagnosis is divided into four types, one of which is classified as adult-onset. The most severely affected babies are never able to lift their heads.
- Care depends on the type of SMA, which can vary from severe to relatively benign. Some children can stand or even walk with the aid of braces or walkers. Feeding assist tubes are used in other cases in which children have trouble swallowing.
Source: the Rocky Mountain News