It has been three years since Chandler police responded to what they said was the worst case of severe child abuse they had ever seen. This week, the 3-year-old girl who died from the beatings police say the boyfriend of the child’s mother gave her, is still being remembered.
At 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, the Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Coalition will hold a memorial service for Schala Vera, who died on Aug. 31, 2009.
Police say Schala was beaten to death by Dauntorian Sanders, and prosecutors are pushing for the death penalty against him. A hearing in the case is next scheduled for Sept. 7 in Maricopa County Superior Court.
Both Sanders, 26, and Schala’s mother, Susan Witbracht, 29, have been charged with first-degree murder. Prosecutors contend that Witbracht is just as responsible for her daughter’s death as she did not report previous incidents of Sanders beating Schala — incidents that included him forcing her to hold out her arms while he beat her across her body with a belt and also dropping her on a hard floor, according to police and court documents.
The memorial service will be held in the third floor conference room at Mercy Gilbert Medical Plaza, 3420 S. Mercy Road in Gilbert, featuring speakers of the Child Abuse Awareness Coalition, and doctors and nurses who were involved in trying to save Schala’s life.
Sanders, who had served in the military, beat Schala over the head and face with a belt buckle that ultimately led to her death, according to police.
Sanders had called 911 to report that Schala was unresposive. When officers responded to the scene, they discovered Schala’s body between the sink and toilet in an upstairs bathroom of the home where she tried to hide, according to Chandler police.
Sanders admitted to police that he had beaten Schala over a period of months and that day the beatings “got out of control.”
Nearly every part of Schala’s body was covered in bruises. Her death at a local hospital hours later made a significant impact on the professionals who treated Schala and investigated the case.
There were 70 children died in Arizona during 2010 as a result of child maltreatment, according to statistics from Child Protective Services.
On average, one child is abused or neglected every hour in Arizona. In state fiscal year 2011, Arizona Child Protective Services received over 34,500 reports involving the alleged maltreatment of approximately 54,000 children. Nationally, five children die per day from child abuse.
The Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Coalition is a multi-disciplinary effort to raise awareness and prevent child homicide and abuse in Arizona. With major funding support from First Things First, more than 56 agencies are involved in the coalition, bringing together government, private industry and public sector and non profits to fight against child abuse.
The coalition was started after Schala’s death, the year Chandler saw an alarming amount of severe child abuse cases.
In 2009, half of Chandler’s six homicides were from severe child abuse involving victims ranging from three weeks old to three years old.
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