a to z challenge: The Tragic tale of Terrell Peterson

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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.

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.

The Joyous Living: Remembering Terrell Peterson a Child Abuse Victim #atozchallenge


  • 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.

Sharing is Caring

We Must Stop Child Abuse #childabuse #childmurder #children #murder #truecrime #terrellpeterson #inmemory #atozchallenge #thejoyousliving

Child abuse and murder of Terrell Peterson. Learn from the story of Terrell Peterson about the signs of child abuse. Never forget the true story of Terrell Peterson who was abused and murdered before his 6th birthday. #terrellpeterson #childabuse #truestory #truecrime #thejoyousliving

Continue the Conversation

How can we stop child abuse and murder like happened in the case of poor Terrell Peterson?

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    1. Joy

      April 19, 2016 at 8:43 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Caz!

  1. Kathleen Valentine

    April 19, 2016 at 9:07 pm

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

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    1. Joy

      April 20, 2016 at 7:12 pm

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

  2. betty

    April 20, 2016 at 3:27 am

    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. Joy

      April 20, 2016 at 7:13 pm

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

  3. Anna - Alina

    April 20, 2016 at 9:18 am

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

    1. Joy

      April 20, 2016 at 7:13 pm

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

  4. @IsaLeeWolf

    April 20, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    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. Joy

      April 20, 2016 at 7:20 pm

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

  5. A Tarkabarka Hölgy

    April 20, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    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. Joy

      April 20, 2016 at 7:14 pm

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

  6. Carrie-Anne

    April 20, 2016 at 5:55 pm

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

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    1. Joy

      April 20, 2016 at 7:14 pm

      Indeed. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Susan Gourley/Kelley

    April 20, 2016 at 7:34 pm

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

    Susan Says

  8. TheCyborgMom

    April 21, 2016 at 8:28 pm

    This poor boy…how 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. Joy

      April 23, 2016 at 12:34 am

      To think it could have been prevented is what hurts the most 🙁

  9. Courtney Turner

    April 23, 2016 at 12:32 am

    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. Joy

      April 23, 2016 at 12:34 am

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

  10. Christine Weis

    March 7, 2020 at 1:33 pm

    As a teacher and a mom, this breaks my heart. Unfortunately being in an elementary school we hear so many cases like this where parents are NOT taking care of themselves and their children. All the people, staff and teachers, in schools do care and we take these types of family situations very seriously. I’m so sorry to read this. Keep raising awareness.

  11. Stepnen

    March 8, 2020 at 1:45 pm

    Living in the town where a group systematically abused young girls over the years, it’s not hard to see how a series of faults can lead to these results, however, it’s still upsetting to hear such sad stories

  12. Kristine Nicole Alessandra

    March 8, 2020 at 6:01 pm

    This is so heartbreaking. No child should have to go through what Terrell experienced. It made me cringe when I read about his poor little feet. These people who harm children have a special place in hell reserved for them.

  13. littlemisadvencha

    March 8, 2020 at 8:08 pm

    i read about this news all over facebook. this is really horrible! this baby didnt deserve this. hope that he may rest in peace. </3

  14. khoingn

    March 9, 2020 at 8:40 am

    Poor the baby. This is the thing I never want to hear or know about. So sad it happens on earth.

  15. Melanie Frost

    March 9, 2020 at 9:56 am

    This makes me so furious and sick. What is wrong with people?! I am very glad that you are bringing awareness to this issue. No child should have to experience this kind of abuse.

  16. Kuntala Bhattacharya

    March 9, 2020 at 10:45 am

    It is really so painful and horrific. You are a noble person who has taken such an initiative to spread awareness. I appreciate and respect your thoughts.

  17. Dominique Walton Brooks

    March 9, 2020 at 11:15 am

    I remember hearing about this case. There are many places to blame here. It’s so sad! I do like the law about taking custody of a child in the hospital. When I was a resident, I did see a few cases of suspected shaken baby — I was never called to testify. These poor babies!

  18. katrina Kroeplin

    March 9, 2020 at 7:28 pm

    justice was not served for him at all. breaks my heart how monsters get away with hurting innocent children like this.

  19. Lily

    March 9, 2020 at 10:01 pm

    I am so happy that woman is serving a life sentence. I cant stand people who abuse children how can they do such a thing. Truly heart breaking story, but there is an entire medical Act named in his honor if a doctor needs to take temporary custody of a child.

  20. Rosey

    March 9, 2020 at 10:41 pm

    I cannot even imagine the pain and suffering, not to mention the heartbreak this precious child must gave gone through. God rest his soul.

  21. Emman Damian

    March 10, 2020 at 2:03 am

    It’s so scary and awful. I feel so bad about this case. 🙁 No child should experience the same fate as this boy.

  22. ashley

    May 21, 2020 at 10:13 am

    This is so sad and heartbreaking. As a mom of one with another one on the way this was hard to read. May his precious soul Rest In Peace.

  23. Surekha

    May 21, 2020 at 11:43 am

    This is beyond disgusting! Their JOB is to PROTECT these children! Why didn’t they do their job? Heartbreaking, but I’m glad you shared it. We need to know about these things, no matter when they happened.

  24. Tonya

    May 21, 2020 at 12:02 pm

    This is so very sad…He would be around my kids age if he was still alive. I hate knowing that while my kids was safe at home, this poor lil guy was not. 😪

  25. Brianna

    May 21, 2020 at 6:40 pm

    Oh my gosh, this is just so sad!! I wish I could’ve helped this little boy!

  26. Paolo

    May 21, 2020 at 7:27 pm

    This is so horrible. May he rest in peace. I just watched a nexflix documentary about child abuse and it was so sad

  27. Marie Phillips

    May 22, 2020 at 5:27 am

    What a horrific story. I truly don’t understand how the system (or the people involved) can see things like this and not do something about it. It feels like complicity to me. Absolutely horrific.

  28. Steven Morrissette

    May 22, 2020 at 6:25 am

    So many terrible things that happen to kids it’s sad to think about it. We need some change to make sure every kids are well-taking care.

  29. Ave

    May 22, 2020 at 10:49 am

    What a heartbreaking story. No child should go through what Terrell and his siblings did. There is so much we should do, to make the family and children services work better.

    1. Trot.World (Harshi & Aman)

      May 22, 2020 at 1:54 pm

      This is just heartbreaking. 🙁 Child abuse and every other abuse needs to stop. This is just so disgusting and infuriating, no one should have to ever go through this.

  30. Emmanuel Damian

    May 22, 2020 at 6:18 pm

    Child abuse must really end. It’s a social injustice. I hope I can help in sharing this info!

  31. Dreams Abroad

    May 22, 2020 at 9:54 pm

    Such a sad story of Terrell Peterson. I hope his family can be peaceful. Child abuse is the worst.

  32. Shannon Gurnee

    May 24, 2020 at 4:24 pm

    That poor baby. It makes me sick to think that people are even capable of such evil acts. Child abuse should end!

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