Last Sunday was the first anniversary of the death of Djuana Knight Edwards' 2-year-old daughter.
Edwards wanted to visit April Knight's grave, but she had to work. Her heart was torn.
When she got home from work that evening, Edwards turned on the news, and her pain multiplied.
A child had died of hyperthermia, or heatstroke, after apparently being forgotten in a hot car the day before. It was the same way her bouncy, happy toddler had died.
April died on June 20, 2009, after she was left in a hot car by her paternal grandparents.
"To find out another child died the same way hurt my soul," Edwards said. "My heart goes out to the family. I just wish things like this wouldn't happen. In my eyes, it's not supposed to happen."
But it does.
Child hyperthermia does not happen as often as, say, fatal car accidents, but experts say it's more common than many people realize. It's also one of several dangers that kids face in hot weather. Drowning deaths also happen every year during summer months.
Whether a child dies in a hot car or drowns in a pool, a determination must be made as to whether the death was accidental or criminal.
It's often a tenuous line that separates the two.
A majority of drowning and hot-car deaths fall under the category of "supervision neglect," said Jim Grace, assistant director of the state's Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
Lexington police Sgt. Jesse Harris, supervisor of the Crimes Against Children unit, said his detectives team up with the cabinet when the cases result in an injury or death.
Criminal charges are issued on a case-by-case basis, Harris said. Whether a charge is filed often hinges on circumstances surrounding the injuries or deaths. Detectives must figure out whether the tragedy was a result of intentional or wanton acts.
An intentional act, for example, would be "a case where someone goes to a shopping mall or someplace and intentionally leaves a child in a car" or "someone intentionally takes a bunch of drugs or uses a lot of alcohol when he's supposed to be supervising a kid," Harris said.
Charges can range from a misdemeanor, endangering the welfare of a minor, to felony wanton endangerment if the child doesn't die. If the child dies, it could result in a felony charge of second-degree manslaughter. The cases can be prosecuted in criminal court or family court, or both.
Gone for a minute
Even before the official start of summer Monday, Kentucky had seen an uptick in injuries and deaths, mostly in swimming pools.
On May 26, Chloelynn Collier, 2, drowned in a pool at her grandparents' house in Laurel County after her mother had gone inside to make dinner, authorities said.
On Memorial Day weekend, four people drowned, including 3-year-old Preston Ray Madison of Smiths Grove.
And on June 20, Anarae Lefau, 2, who had been pulled from a swimming pool in Burgin several days earlier, died from drowning injuries at the University of Kentucky Hospital.
Grace said that in many of the cases in which a child drowns, parents say the same thing: "I was only gone for a minute."
"Things can happen literally in the blink of an eye," Grace said. "A child who is more mobile can get away very quickly."
Few people in Kentucky are more familiar with this than Chad Stephens, 28, of Pulaski County, whose 2-year-old daughter, Emma, has nearly drowned twice within a year at the same swimming pool.
This year, it happened the morning of June 20. He and Emma and his stepdaughter, Haley, were at the home of friends Tracey and Lynn Addington.
Emma and Haley were in the pool. Stephens and Lynn Addington were sitting on the deck. The kids had been in the pool 40 minutes to an hour before everyone decided to take a break to go inside and get a drink.
Someone took off Emma's standard blow-up rings and flotation vest while the group took a break. Stephens said he went to the bathroom, and when he came back, Emma was not in the house.
Stephens described his little girl as a fearless kid, full of energy. Emma likes to hide and she is very fast, he said.
"Fifteen people couldn't keep up with her. She was right there, and then she wasn't. There ain't nobody to blame," Lynn Addington said of his friend's daughter.
Emma had gone back to the pool and gotten in. The group estimated that she was gone less than a minute but had already inhaled a lungful of water.
When they pulled her out, her lips were black and she wasn't breathing. Addington performed CPR. Emma was breathing again before she was airlifted to University of Kentucky Hospital. She was released Tuesday.
Pulaski County Sheriff Todd Wood said his office is investigating whether supervision of the child was adequate.
"To happen twice in a year's time certainly is an alarm to authorities," he said.
Stephens says he's just thankful his daughter is still alive.
"I believe the Lord's got something special for that child," he said.
According to Jan Null, adjunct professor of meteorology at San Francisco State University — one of the only organizations that tracks child hyperthermia deaths — 18 children have died in hot cars across the country this year. An average of 37 such deaths occur each year.
Data shows that it happens to parents of all races, ages, social status and education levels.
"It's common to have a history of neglect, although that's certainly not always the case," said Harris. "Sometimes a person you might describe as a model parent or a model citizen makes the mistake of leaving a kid in a car."
On June 19, 5-month-old Holland Judy apparently was left in a car at a duplex on Candlelight Way. She was taken to University of Kentucky Hospital, where she died June 20. According to the coroner's report, the cause of death was hyperthermia.
As of Friday afternoon, no charges had been filed against Holland's caretakers. The death is being investigated as accidental, the coroner's report said.
According to Bryan's Law, which was passed in 2000, a person can be charged with second-degree manslaughter if he or she "wantonly causes the death of another" through operation of a vehicle or by leaving a child in a hot car. Lesser penalties can be applied if the child doesn't die.
Bryan's Law was named after Bryan Puckett, who died in 1999 after his baby sitter left him in her car while she went shopping. Karen Murphy, the sitter, was sentenced to 13 years in prison.
Statistics show that similar legislation nationally has not had an apparent effect on the number of hot-car deaths. In Kentucky, since 2005, at least one child a year has died after being trapped in a car.
And although numbers don't seem to have gone down, thankfully, Grace said, they haven't gone up either.
"We haven't seen any marked increase in those fatalities or near-fatalities," Grace said.
Even in cases when there is no heat risk, Grace said, children should not be left unattended in cars.
"There can be many other dangers: a child knocking a car out of gear, a potential predator coming and taking a child," he said.
When criminal charges aren't filed, sometimes civil penalties are levied.
Grace said the state's child welfare investigators "take a two-pronged approach" when investigating supervision neglect: evaluating what happened, and evaluating what effect, physical or emotional, the event has had on a child.
In most cases, correcting potential abuse is simply a matter of helping a parent take care of children by setting them up in day care or after-school programs. In extreme cases, a child can be removed from a parent's custody.
"We weigh every aspect," Grace said. "We ask, 'does the need of the child outweigh the need for a child to stay with their family?'"
An unhealed heart
Djuana Knight Edwards said she doesn't think caregivers should let themselves get so busy and distracted that they forget about a child.
"I would love for parents to just pace themselves. Just take it easy at times," she said. "I know it's hard out here nowadays, but we can't put off our children for our daily living. They are our everyday reason to live."
Edwards, 23, said her life has been a constant struggle over the last year.
April, who lived in Madison, Wis., with Edwards, was visiting her father in Lexington over the summer. The toddler's grandparents had taken her to Jacobson Park for the day. When they returned, they thought another young relative had gotten April out of the car. Two hours later they found her unresponsive. No charges were filed.
Edwards said April's death has affected her whole family. She no longer speaks to the grandparents who were supposed to be watching April when she died. Her oldest daughter, Sabrina, 7, often acts out and cries when Edwards' 1-year-old daughter, Amilya, stays with family.
"She asks, 'Will Millie come back?'"
Edwards has since moved to Lexington and gotten married, but she said April's death has left a void in her heart that doesn't seem to be healing.
"An aunt of mine had told me the Bible quote, 'This too shall come to pass,'" she said. "But even though the Bible quotes it, it's not necessarily the past, because this is something I have to live with the rest of my life."