A 41-year-old Smyrna, Tenn., mother and a 19-year-old Sparta, Tenn., father have something in common.
Both are accused of suffocating their children at Erlanger hospital. Both face attempted first-degree murder charges.
Monica Hammers, 41, is accused of holding a pillow over her 4-year-old son’s face after telling him to shut up in a hospital room May 6, according to a Chattanooga police report.
Nearly a month later, 19-year-old Dakota Eldridge told police he pinched his 12-week-old son’s nose and covered his mouth several times around May 27 while his son was at the hospital.
Investigators reviewed the EKG machine recordings that showed the infant’s heart rate dropping when Eldridge was in the room. He would yell for a nurse after the act, according to the police report.
Eldridge’s son was taken to the hospital from Rhea County by ambulance. Eldridge said his son was at the hospital because blood was found in his diaper, the report states.
In Hammers’ case, her son was at the hospital for a food study and he had a broken arm from a previous incident that was scheduled to be set.
Both parents have been arrested and the children removed from their custody.
“I’m scared of everything,” said Hammers, beginning to choke back tears during a telephone interview Friday afternoon. “All I can say is I did not do it.”
Since the news of the incident she has received threats from strangers, she said.
“People who do something like that to their children should die,” she said. “I’m accused of something I didn’t do.”
Her 4-year-old son remains in his father’s custody, she said. Her case still has not gone before the grand jury.
Eldridge remained in the Hamilton County Jail on a $1 million bond.
Experts said it’s impossible to determine what led to the alleged actions in these cases without psychological evaluations.
“I think one thing people tend to jump to when something like this happens that is horrid or incomprehensible, is that there is some sort of mental illness underlying. Context is important. It could be a case of feeling overwhelmed at home or at work,” said Chris Maley, assistant professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University. “Context is gong to be key for understanding. It’s hard to say unless they are evaluated thoroughly.”
He said a social history must be taken into consideration using factors such as previous impulsive behavior, possible drug use, psychiatric history and prior run-ins with the law.
Rhonda Jacks, a licensed social worker who is director of functional family therapy for the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults, divides parents who harm their children into two camps.
“There are those who don’t mean to and get in over their heads, and then ... unfortunately there are cruel people in this world,” she said.
“The true danger to children is when they are little like that. They can’t regulate their emotions. They cry and they scream. People get overwhelmed and overreact,” she said.
For those who are overwhelmed, she said help is available.
“The main thing is if someone is beginning to feel like they are going to harm their child or losing control, they need to seek help,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to tell someone. People are ashamed to admit it — feeling overwhelmed and not knowing what to do. It’s more common than people realize.”