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P: Terrell Peterson

Good morning! As part of this month's A to Z Challenge, I am focusing on child abuse and sexual assault awareness/prevention and today's story is the tragic tale of Terrell Peterson, a 5 year old little boy, who was murdered partially as a result of gross misconduct by the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services.
I get sick just thinking of what was done to Terrell in his short lifetime and am going to just include a timeline of key events. For more information, I urge you to see the CBS News' article here.

Between 1992 and 1995, the Fulton County Department of Family and Children Services received half a dozen calls alerting them to the abuse and neglect of Terrell and his siblings. Nothing was done.
  • Terrell's mother is taking drugs while pregnant, using food stamps and welfare checks to buy crack cocaine (May 1992).
  • Terrell's parents are locking the children in the bedroom on weekends, denying them food and water (August 1993).
  • Terrell's mother is on drugs, children are unsupervised (February 1994).
  • Terrell and his siblings are begging neighbors for food, their mother is using cocaine daily (January 1995).
  • Terrell's mother is addicted to crack, leaves children with their sickly maternal grandmother (November 1995).
  • Terrell and his siblings are removed from their parents' care and placed in care of Pharina Peterson (a non-blood relative of Terrell's) in June 1996. There were NO monthly visits from social workers.
  • Terrell makes his first visit to the ER. The doctor diagnoses him with battered child syndrome and Pharina is arrested. (Thanksgiving 1996)
  • Cheryl Elmore, the case worker, refused to bring Terrell to court for Pharina's case and the charges were dropped. Ms. Elmore goes one step further and seals Terrell's fate with a blatant lie in the form of a fraudulent memo saying:
"The judge believed Ms. Peterson (and) did not feel she was guilty of child abuse."
  • Terrell's head start teacher, Ms. Bryant, says something was terribly wrong. She asked Terrell if he was injured but he wouldn't answer. She removed his shoe and discovered that his foot was burned. Don Keenan (who sued the state on Terrell's behalf) said:
"[Peterson] was so mad about being arrested that she burned the flesh off the bottom of both his feet within a week after getting him back. She burned the bottom of his feet so bad that he had to have skin transplanted from his hip onto his little feet so he could walk."
  • No one from the department visited Terrell from the time of the injuries and his murder on 15 January 1998.
  • The coroner listed "blunt impact injuries to the head, trunk and extremities" as the cause of death.
  • Two internal investigations were conducted into the case. They found "a serious lack of judgment" and "numerous violations throughout the history of the case" but none of this was shared with the public.
  • Another social worker decided it was "safe" to keep Terrell's half-siblings with Ms. Peterson after Terrell's murder!
    "And if she had not harmed those other children, then it might be acceptable."
  • Ralph Mitchell, from the Atlanta office, made a public statement that was a blatant lie saying that the department had responded "immediately and comprehensively." He later admitted in a private memo to a superior that it was a lie.
  • Someone from the department anonymously forwarded Terrell's records to Don Keenan's office over a year after Terrell's murder.
Wow. It still amazes me after hearing story after story that this sort of thing goes on under our very noses. For shame. For shame. Terrell did not have to die and it is despicable to think that this is allowed to happen. Thank God for great lawyers, social workers, teachers, doctors and politicians who care. They are out there, just few and far between compared to the corrupt individuals in this story.

  • Terrell's lawyers paid for his headstone. Bless these individuals!!
  • Pharina Peterson is serving a life sentence.
  • Ralph Mitchell retired with a pension.
  • Governor Roy Barnes signed the Terrell Peterson Act allowing doctors to take temporary custody of battered children in hospital.


  1. HI Joy! dropped by
    Great Blog

  2. There are things that I just simply cannot understand. This poor, dear little boy!!! So sad.

    Meet My Imaginary Friends

    1. it is mind boggling. if people had cared, he could be still alive.

  3. My mother in law was a teacher and she expressed several times the fine line she felt to report abuse or not (if she suspected, she always did notify someone). But there were so many blatant things going on with Terrell, you would think someone would have listened, acted, stopped the terrible abuse going on and perhaps maybe saved him from such a tragic early death.


    1. glad there are women like your mom and Terrell's teacher. It's just too bad others let the ball drop :(

  4. It's awful!;( He looks so cute on the photo!

    1. I know! Apparently only photo of him alive. ;(

  5. I will fully admit that I couldn't get any further than the photo on this one. I hate when the system fails children. They didn't do anything, they're just children.

    1. It is appalling how the system can let down a vulnerable child. What happened to the duty of care? :(

  6. What a horrible story :( Something similar happened recently in Hungary, and it was a huge scandal in the media because the social workers did not do anything at all. We need better laws... And more sane people.

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    The Multicolored Diary

    1. Completely understand! Glad there's a law in Terrell's name that will hopefully help others.

  7. It's so shameful and morally indefensible when things like that happen. Sometimes it feels like this isn't the modern era after all.

    Welcome to My Magick Theatre
    Onomastics Outside the Box

  8. I cried through that. Something very similar happened in Harrisburg, PA. The failure of social services.

    Susan Says

  9. This poor horrific. I'm glad to know his murderer is serving a life sentence. It is unbelievable how much the system failed him, and to think how many others it is failing every single day makes me sick. God rest his soul. At least there was some good legislation that came out of this tragedy...even if it saves just one kid...

    1. To think it could have been prevented is what hurts the most :(

  10. A tragedy. Some people shouldn't have kids. I hope that his death is not for nothing and that necessary changes are made to keep kids safer. Of course, it'd be great if people who had kids also were ready and able to care for their kids too. Maui Jungalow

    1. Glad there was a law passed with his name allowing doctors to help other kids they see in danger.


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Thanks so much for sharing with me! Your thoughts and comments are always appreciated!
x Joy