Lakewood, CO - This is a story that is getting press now because of recent interviews given by the in-laws and the investigation that followed Dave O’Shell killing his wife and then himself after he was accused of abusing his infant daughter. Later tests revealed the baby’s injuries may have been the result of a rare genetic disorder.
Tiffany and Dave O’Shell were Lakewood (Colorado) Police officers who, after meeting on the job, got married. Tiffany, an Army reservist, had attended the University of Northern Colorado studying child physical therapy. William David O’Shell was a National Guard reservist who was working on a doctoral degree in philosophy in his spare time.
“They got married, had the baby. Everything was going great for them,” Tiffany’s father, Paul Cuin, said. “Until all this happened.”
Alyssa was their baby. She was born in the spring of 2008. On the morning of June 16, 2008 – when Alyssa was about 3 months old – Tiffany reportedly noticed that Alyssa cried when her right leg was lifted during a diaper change. Alyssa then went to sleep in her swing, so Tiffany reportedly dismissed it, dropped Alyssa at her mother’s house for daycare, and went to work.
Tiffany’s mother, Jackie Cuin, also found Alyssa to be fussy that day and noticed that she cried whenever her right leg was moved. Jackie mentioned this to Dave when she dropped Alyssa by their home later. He reportedly saw no swelling so he decided to simply watch Alyssa closely that evening.
After he fed her, it was reported that she went to sleep. By the next morning Alyssa’s leg had swollen and Tiffany called her pediatrician. X-rays were inconclusive, so the pediatrician’s office sent Tiffany and Alyssa to Children’s Hospital in Denver for more tests. Dave met them there.
Although there were reportedly no outward signs of abuse, the hospital X-rays of Alyssa’s body would reveal 11 fractures in various stages of healing in her legs. The hospital called the Adams County Human Services Department.
Because the care of the baby was shared while Tiffany worked, the entire family became the subjects of a child-abuse investigation. Child protection workers took Alyssa, assigned her to a foster home, and opened an investigation.
A hospital report called her injuries “highly suggestive of nonaccidental trauma,” and noted that nothing in Alyssa’s medical history or physical exam pointed to a different cause.
Based on recommendations from both the hospital social services staff and the family pediatrician, though, two days later on June 19, an Adams County judge reportedly ordered “emergency medical testing” of Alyssa for genetic illnesses. The family was informed by Adams County child-abuse investigators that those “emergency” genetic tests had been scheduled for October.
The abuse investigation appeared to focus on Alyssa’s father, Dave. Tiffany had told an investigator that “the only thing that he’s done that I tell him not to do is hold her upside down. She is way too little for that.” According to reports, Dave readily acknowledged picking up Alyssa by her legs to kiss her belly — and questioned if that could have hurt her.
“Did I hold her too strongly whenever I was holding her by the legs? That’s the only thing I can think of,” Dave said. “I’d give her a kiss and put her back down.”
“Did she cry when you put her back down?” the investigator asked.
“No, she liked it. She gave a little smile,” he said.
Dave and Tiffany O’Shell were allowed to see their daughter only once in the two weeks that followed. Dave reportedly heard he would be arrested on felony charges — and become a police officer behind bars. According to the family, he said that he would “be fired, discharged from the military, lose his house, his wife, everything.” Dave was also told that he would need a criminal defense lawyer and about $50,000 for bail. The family said that he was growing more despondent day by day.
Tiffany, who had her own lawyer, told others that her lawyer recommended filing for divorce if she wanted her baby back. She reportedly talked wildly of going to jail herself, living on welfare in her grandfather’s basement, and Alyssa growing up without a father.
Sometime on the night of June 29, forensic investigators would determine that Dave retrieved two handguns from inside his house. While Tiffany was sleeping, he put one to the right side of her face and shot her twice. Then he stuck both guns in his mouth and pulled the triggers. Tiffany’s mother would find them the following day after Tiffany and Dave both missed appointments with their lawyers.
Coincidentally, on the same day that Tiffany and Dave were found dead, Alyssa’s foster mother – concerned about the baby’s lack of physical development and breathing – brought Alyssa back to Children’s hospital and independently requested the genetic tests that the judge had ordered 11 days earlier.
On July 9, those test results would confirm that Alyssa had spinal muscular atrophy, a debilitating genetic disease that afflicts about one of 10,000 children. If the symptoms appear after a child’s first birthday, the consequences are less severe — poor muscle tone, weak legs and arms, a risk of broken bones and living in a wheelchair. If the disease appears prenatally or in a newborn baby, it’s reportedly considered to be a death sentence. I am sure that some of you can attest or refute this.
Tiffany’s parents say that Adams County Social Services were informed of the diagnosis but did not change opinion that Alyssa should remain a foster child.
“This diagnosis does not rule out the physical abuse that Alyssa suffered,” the caseworker wrote, because the types of fractures in her legs “are usually obtained when someone yanks or twists the limbs forcefully.”
At a child-abuse hearing on July 16, Adams County social services asked the judge to leave Alyssa in its care. Judge Katherine Delgado noted that Tiffany’s mother had been cleared as a child-abuse suspect and immediately ordered Alyssa turned over to Tiffany’s parents and granted them temporary custody.
In September, the family received an opinion from a specialist that the broken bones in Alyssa’s legs were attributable to her illness.
“I have spent 3 hours reviewing the xrays and the reports. The fractures are consistent with subjects with SMA,” spinal muscular atrophy specialist Dr. Gary Chan said in a Sept. 19 e-mail. “I would guess some of these fractures may occur at time of delivery, but most occurred after birth from normal handling. It does not surprise me that Alyssa had fractures noted at 3 months of age.”
On Oct. 28, 2008, Alyssa’s skin reportedly turned blue.
“She died upstairs in my arms,” Tiffany’s father, Paul, said.
The Cuins sued – seeking admission that the child protection team had played a role in their family tragedy – but they lost without reaching a jury. The hospital argued successfully that a murder-suicide was not a foreseeable consequence of a child-abuse investigation. Adams County social services also countered that government agencies are immune unless their behavior is willfully and wantonly wrong.
Tiffany’s father still struggles to forgive Dave. “He was a wonderful man. I loved him dearly,” he said. But “he had choices. He made the wrong one.”
That, he did.Tags: Child Abuse, Colorado, Dave O'Shell, Murder-suicide, police officer, Tiffany O'Shell