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May we never forget the tragic story of Terrell Peterson who was abused and murdered by Pharina Peterson.
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.
Timeline of Terrell Peterson’s Torture and Murder
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 the 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 caseworker, 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.
- 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.
More True Crime Stories To Read
- 3 Women Who Killed Their Children
- Ted Bundy and the Fascination with Serial Killers
- Best 2 Ann Rule TV Movies to Watch
- Olive Oatman’s Hellish Ordeal
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Continue the Conversation
How can we stop child abuse and murder like happened in the case of poor Terrell Peterson?