Top 10 Saddest Cases of Child Abuse Resulting in Death

There are kids who were raised to live happy and satisfactory lives, then there are those who tragically fell in the hands of irresponsible parents where they received unfair treatment that stretched to extreme cases, even to the point of death. There are over 3 million cases of child abuse being reported annually in the United States, with thousands dying annually. These children not only end up traumatized, but end up with having lower education, anxiety, depression, lack of self-esteem, and lower cognitive ability. Children are our future, and without children, there would be no future. This list's purpose is not only to pay tributes to abused children, but to raise awareness of child abuse. Here are 10 examples of children that have tragically perished due to extreme cases of child abuse.

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The Top Ten
1 Sylvia Likens Sylvia Likens suffered horrendous abuse at the hands of Gertrude Baniszewski and her children in 1965 in Indiana. Sylvia and her sister were left in the care of Baniszewski by their carnival worker parents, but Sylvia quickly became the focus of escalating abuse and torture, including being starved, burned, and forced to ingest harmful substances. Her demise came after months of horrific abuse, and her case is considered one of the most shocking examples of child abuse in American history.

At the tender age of 16, Sylvia Likens was a teenage girl whose family led a nomadic lifestyle. They moved from location to location so often that they were sent to live with their relatives to maintain consistency in their schooling.

By the time she turned 16, Sylvia was living with her sister Jenny and their mother. However, her parents had recently divorced, and her mother had been sent to jail for shoplifting. Consequently, their father, Lester, sent both Sylvia and Jenny to live in a poorly maintained shelter with Sylvia's friend, Gertrude.

The problem was that the shelter was home to seven children who needed care. Moreover, Gertrude had a history of mental illnesses due to multiple failed marriages. Occasionally, Sylvia and her sister were coerced into nudity and subjected to physical abuse. However, it was Sylvia who was particularly targeted. She was frequently harassed and falsely accused of stealing items.

The situation only deteriorated. Gertrude even encouraged her children to humiliate and physically abuse Sylvia for their own amusement. This included pushing her down the stairs and hurling household objects at her.

One particularly disturbing incident involved Sylvia being forced to eat a hot dog that was so over-saturated with condiments that it made her vomit. Immediately afterward, she was forced to eat her own vomit.

As time went on, Sylvia continued to be falsely accused of various acts, such as prostitution. These false accusations served as a pretext for Gertrude and her children to physically abuse her.

The turmoil didn't stop there. Gertrude even invited people, including Sylvia's classmates and neighbors, to participate in tormenting Sylvia. These actions inflicted not only physical injuries but also included tying her up, hurling objects at her, using Sylvia as a practice dummy for judo sessions, inflicting lacerations, forcing her to eat feces, pouring boiling water on her, inflicting burns... more

2 Elisa Izquierdo Elisa Izquierdo was a six-year-old girl whose life ended in 1995 due to the brutal abuse by her mother, Awilda Lopez, in New York City. Her tragic story became symbolic of the failure of the child welfare system as several reports to authorities about her abuse were not acted upon appropriately. She suffered from severe physical, emotional, and possibly sexual abuse, which finally resulted in her death due to a blow to the head.

Elisa was born on February 11, 1989, and tragically succumbed to abuse by her mother on November 22, 1995. The child abuse case is considered "the worst case of child abuse they had ever seen". Her six years of life were filled with constant suffering and misery.

Her father, Gustavo, was of Cuban descent who migrated to America, where he met her mother Awilda in a homeless shelter in Fort Greene. Awilda was an addict who constantly used drugs even during pregnancy. At the time when Elisa was born, Awilda continued to abuse drugs. Concerned by this, Gustavo notified social workers and was given full custody of Elisa. Despite his lack of parenting skills, Gustavo was an extremely caring father and wanted to provide the best care for his daughter - even asking for advice from his relatives. Elisa then attended preschool, where she was described as a very loving person according to teachers.

However, things changed for the worst in November 1991. Awilda was granted permission to care for Elisa unsupervised, stating that her addiction was "cured" according to a social worker. After this incident, Awilda's eldest children notified relatives that Elisa had been treated unfairly by her mother but surprisingly did not inform authorities about the event. Teachers reported that Elisa suffered bruising while she was heading home; the child confessed that she was beaten and locked into a cabinet. Later on, her father reported that Elisa was bed-wetting as well as showing a lack of control in her bowels. To make matters worse, Awilda proudly confessed the abuse to her social worker.

In 1993, Gustavo planned a flight back to Cuba with his daughter; it was scheduled that they would fly in May 1994, but unfortunately Gustavo died on May 26 due to complications with his lungs. This seized any opportunity for Elisa to escape from her abusive mother. Clueless, Elisa asked her mother where his father was, only for her to be screamed back - stating that "Your... more

3 Victoria Martens Victoria Martens was a ten-year-old girl from Albuquerque, New Mexico, whose life ended in a shocking and gruesome manner in 2016. The young girl was drugged, assaulted, and killed on her birthday, with her body later dismembered. Victoria's mother, Michelle Martens, along with Fabian Gonzales and Jessica Kelley, were arrested and charged in connection to her death, revealing harrowing details of systematic abuse and torture.

Victoria Martens was a 10-year-old girl who lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Like any other kid, she had a passion for baking, swimming, and gymnastics. However, a deeper look into her life revealed unexpected family issues. Her parents had divorced at a young age, and Victoria suffered from poor hygiene and a lack of food every few days.

Her mother, Michelle, was reported to be very abusive towards her daughter and was also a drug addict. Despite frequent notifications, Child Protective Services saw no concern of child abuse. There were days when Michelle not only physically and verbally abused her daughter but violated her constantly. She even allowed some of her male partners to do the same acts as her, deriving amusement from her daughter's maltreatment. This abuse also extended to Victoria's sibling.

To exacerbate the situation, Michelle used a dating site to find more abusers, compromising her children's privacy online. The men she dated were coerced into violating Michelle's daughter. This continued for months.

Near Victoria's 10th birthday, neighbors notified the authorities after they saw Kelley (one of the perpetrators) enter the apartment following screams. When interrogated, Michelle claimed that Kelley was trying to attack her. Upon arrival, authorities discovered Victoria's body and pronounced her dead. Despite the horrific circumstances, the perpetrators showed no regret and celebrated Victoria's death by committing acts of debauchery with each other.

Following the incident, all of the perpetrators were charged with murder and are awaiting trial. The Police Chief Eden described the murder and abuse as "the most gruesome act of evil I have ever seen in my career."

4 Teghan Skiba Teghan Skiba was a four-year-old North Carolina girl who experienced severe abuse over a ten-day period in 2010 at the hands of her mother's boyfriend, Jonathan Richardson. She was subjected to horrific physical and sexual abuse, leading to her death due to complications from the sustained injuries. Her case shed light on the extreme vulnerabilities children face, especially in environments where caregivers fail to protect them from harm.

Also nicknamed "Teggy," Teghan was a bright 4-year-old born to her parents, Jerry and Helen. Like any other child, she loved making necklaces, swimming, and was fond of ladybugs. However, she was separated from her family shortly after birth due to Jerry being imprisoned on drug charges. This unfortunate circumstance led Teghan into the hands of a psychopath.

In January 2010, Helen started living with Jonathan in a shack that lacked access to a bathroom or tap water. There, Jonathan inflicted every despicable act known to humanity on Teghan. She was reported to have been whipped with a cord and had a black eye due to a "fall."

Shortly after turning 4, Jonathan forced her to recite the sentence "When I have to pee, I promise I will tell someone" several times while recording her. He coerced her to "speak up." Things took a turn for the worse when Jonathan subjected Teghan to physical bouts of abuse after she reportedly defecated on him.

When Teghan was taken to the hospital, it was reported that she had suffered a severe head injury and numerous lacerations from bite marks, resulting in a loss of 70% of her blood. In total, she suffered 144 wounds at the hands of Jonathan. The severity of her injuries shocked even nurses and attorneys. After the incident, Jonathan was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.

5 Olivia Gant Olivia Gant was a seven-year-old girl from Colorado who passed away in 2017 after her mother, Kelly Turner, claimed she had a terminal illness. Investigations later revealed that Kelly had fabricated Olivia’s medical conditions, a case of medical child abuse, often referred to as Munchausen by Proxy. Olivia’s unnecessary medical treatments, starvation, and the forced use of feeding tubes led to her untimely death.

Olivia Gant lived a seemingly normal childhood, with typical interests such as playing with dolls. However, a deeper look into her life reveals a bizarre case unlike most child abuse incidents. Olivia was one of the few children who was unfortunately depicted as terminally ill by her mother, despite being seemingly healthy.

Born to her abusive mother, Kelly, Olivia was initially sent to the hospital due to a case of constipation. After this issue was resolved, Kelly sent her to the hospital again, complaining that Olivia wasn't able to eat any food. As a result, Olivia underwent multiple surgeries, including one that "fixed" her intestines into a bag attached to her stomach. At that time, she was connected to three feeding tubes.

For most of her life, Olivia was given heavy doses of narcotic drugs and was under anti-seizure medication despite never having had a seizure in her life. Furthermore, her mother often reported that Olivia was constantly sick and used this as a ploy to trick charities into giving her money.

Kelly also requested a "Do Not Resuscitate" order, which some doctors refused to sign. When she found another doctor willing to sign it, Olivia was placed in hospice care where she died weeks later due to intestinal failure.

It was later discovered that Olivia wasn't actually "sick". Upon this revelation, Kelly was charged with first-degree murder and sentenced to 16 years in prison. It has also been reported that Olivia visited hospitals over 1,000 times before her death.

6 Dennis Jurgens Dennis Jurgens was a three-year-old boy who died in 1965 due to extensive abuse inflicted by his adoptive mother, Lois Jurgens, in Minnesota. Dennis suffered from severe malnutrition, numerous burns, and beatings which eventually led to his death due to peritonitis from a perforated bowel. His tragic death highlighted the deficiencies in the adoption system and prompted reforms in child protection services.

It's common for young teenagers to experience life difficulties after a child is born at such a young age, and Dennis Jurgens' parents are a prime example of that. Born on December 6, 1961, Dennis was put up for adoption in the hope that he would be treated with good care. Unfortunately, the opposite happened. Dennis was one of the unlucky children who fell into the hands of a noted child abuser, Lois Jurgens, known for abusing six children.

Although he was well-treated in the first few days after being adopted, Lois suddenly turned sharply and began to show immense dislike for the child. Upon arrival, he received intense maltreatment from his sadistic foster mother. This included force-feeding him food he did not like to the point that he turned purple and suffocated from his foster mother's punishment.

Lois put emphasis on his weight, often calling him "sloppy fat" and prohibiting him from being adequately fed. Not only was he inflicted with burns, but he also had adult bite marks around his body. Lois showed no remorse for abusing Dennis and continued her punishment under the guise of religious belief. She believed she was a dedicated Catholic and that she was doing God's favor with her actions.

Dennis would be trapped reciting the rosary and would face punishment until the rosary was correctly said. Due to her continuous abuse, Dennis finally died. Lois was then sentenced to prison, where she would be released eight years later.

7 Nixzmary Brown Nixzmary Brown was a seven-year-old girl from New York who died in 2006 after enduring prolonged abuse by her stepfather, Cesar Rodriguez, and her mother, Nixzaliz Santiago. She was subjected to extreme physical abuse, starvation, and was bound and confined to a small space. Nixzmary's tragic death provoked outrage and led to significant reforms in the city’s child welfare system.

Nixzmary Brown was a seven-year-old girl who was considered sweet by her relatives. She lived a happy life until that precious life took a 180-degree turn when her mother married a man named Cesar, who had a history of anger issues.

Cesar would not only beat up Nixzmary, but her mother and siblings as well. Unfortunately, Nixzmary received the most maltreatment, due to her being seen as a troublemaker. Most of the time, Cesar would lock her in a room where he could physically abuse her habitually, even duct-taping her mouth so no words could come out. He abused her physically with a belt and committed violating acts against her.

One day, Cesar's actions pushed beyond a limit. When he discovered that his printer had been broken and yogurt was missing from the fridge, Cesar immediately blamed Nixzmary. She was brutally beaten and then dragged to the bathroom where he trapped her in a bathtub with cold water and shoved her head under the water, followed by several more rounds of beatings.

The next day when the parents came to check on Nixzmary, they found that she was unresponsive. As a result, the paramedics were called, yet tragically it was already too late to resuscitate her. Both her mother and father were arrested, with the father being sentenced to 29 years in prison and her mother being sentenced to over 40 years in prison.

8 Judith Barsi Judith Barsi was a successful child actress in the 1980s, known for her roles in various films and television series. Tragically, her life was cut short at ten years old when she and her mother were murdered by her father, József Barsi, in 1988, following years of severe physical and emotional abuse. Her case exposed the hidden atrocities of child abuse within seemingly prosperous and successful families and highlighted the need for effective interventions.

Judith Barsi was a child actress who starred in multiple commercials and most notably took part in the movie Jaws: The Revenge as Thea Brody and Land Before Time. Her career started at the early age of 5. By the time she entered fourth grade, she was already earning over a hundred thousand dollars a year.

However, her father, Jozsef, became jealous as he saw his child's success becoming more prominent. He had a history of anger issues and trouble with the law. One time, when she was getting set for Jaws 4, her father threatened her with a knife. Later on, she exhibited signs of paranoia and disruptive behaviors, including plucking out her eyelashes.

As these signs became evident, she was taken to a child psychologist. She was noted for abuse and child protective services were informed. Yet the investigation stopped when her mother began to file for divorce against her husband and they were planning to move to another location away from him.

On July 25, 1988, her father's anger shot beyond limits. When both Judith and her mother were sleeping, he grabbed a gun and shot both Judith and her mother before finally committing suicide.

9 Gabriel Fernandez Gabriel Fernandez was an eight-year-old boy from California who endured relentless torture and abuse at the hands of his mother, Pearl Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, before his death in 2013. The abuse included being shot with a BB gun, forced to eat cat litter, and being locked in a cupboard. Gabriel’s tragic case exposed serious failings in Los Angeles County's child welfare system, leading to reforms and the conviction of his abusers.

I can't even imagine the pain and suffering this little innocent boy went through. The fact that he still loved his mother and even wrote her Mother's Day cards breaks my heart. She and her boyfriend beat him every day and forced him to eat cat feces and his own vomit. Rest in peace, Gabriel. You are in a better place.

Gabriel Fernandez was tortured over months and murdered by his mother, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre. Thankfully, after being charged with first-degree murder, the mother was sentenced to life in prison without parole, and her boyfriend is facing the death penalty.

10 Terrell Peterson Terrell Peterson was a five-year-old boy from Atlanta who died in 1998 after enduring prolonged abuse and neglect at the hands of his foster parents. Despite multiple reports and contacts with child protective services, the severe abuse, including starvation and beatings, continued until his tragic death from a blow to the head. Terrell’s heartbreaking case brought to light numerous systemic failures in the child welfare system and prompted reformations to better protect vulnerable children.

Terrell Peterson was born on March 1, 1992, in Atlanta, Georgia. He was brutally beaten to death by his foster mother, Pharina Peterson. At the time of his life, around 800 children had died due to either illnesses or accidents, with some being attributed to murder like this case. It's been reported that his mother was depriving them of food and water and was addicted to drugs.

When Terrell presented to the hospital emergency room, it was noted that he had suffered cuts, bruises, and cigarette burns. It was reported during the investigation that he had been tied up. His regular treatment would be eating oatmeal for breakfast and getting grits for both lunch and dinner, with his hands tied up at all times.

Eventually, Pharina was arrested due to Terrell showing apparent signs of maltreatment according to his teacher. Yet Terrell wasn't present when Peterson arrived at the trial. The caseworker Elmore, who had responsibility for the case, instead stated that there were no signs of child abuse and that Terrell was in good condition.

Terrell returned to his class where he was spotted stumbling while walking. When his teacher removed his shoes, he saw that his feet were burnt. Although there were no investigations until the murder of Terrell, Peterson was charged with murder. His grandmother and aunt, Pharina and Terri respectively, were both sentenced to life in prison. It has also been reported that Terrell had weighed only 29 pounds before his death from cardiac arrest.

The Contenders
11 Ame Deal Ame Deal was a ten-year-old girl from Phoenix, Arizona, who died in 2011 after suffering egregious abuse from her family members. Her final ordeal involved being locked inside a small box overnight in sweltering conditions as a form of punishment. Ame's harrowing death exposed the extent of the abuse she and other children in the household faced and resulted in multiple family members being convicted and sentenced.

Born in Pennsylvania, Ame Deal was a 10-year-old child of parents Shirley and David at the time of her murder. It is not known if David was Ame's true father, but unfortunately, Ame fell into the hands of an abuser named John. According to neighbors, Ame was frequently physically abused. She was not only coerced to run around the sidewalk in a hot climate barefoot but was also forced to eat dog droppings.

Whenever she wet the bed, she would be forced to sleep in a bathroom confined to a shower stall. Eventually, Child Protective Services were called due to schools reporting signs of abuse many times. The children in the home reported having formulated plans to get Ame into trouble and would often lie to evade consequences, including claiming that she was mentally challenged.

On July 12, 2011, John forced Ame into a footlocker where she died of suffocation. When interrogated by the police, the family stated that they were playing hide and seek. However, they later confessed to the crime, stating that they were responsible for locking Ame into the trunk as punishment. Both perpetrators - Sammantha and John - were sentenced to death by lethal injection.

12 Brianna Lopez Brianna Lopez was a five-month-old girl from New Mexico who endured horrific abuse and ultimately died in 2002. She was subject to repeated sexual assault, beatings, and neglect by her parents and uncle. Brianna’s short, tragic life revealed the extent of brutality that can be inflicted on the most vulnerable, leading to outrage and prompting legislative actions aimed at strengthening child abuse laws.

It's absolutely horrific and makes my stomach turn that humans are capable of hurting a 5-month-old baby.

13 Gypsy Rose Blanchard Gypsy Rose Blanchard was a victim of severe medical child abuse by her mother, Dee Dee Blanchard, who made her undergo unnecessary medical procedures and convinced her she had multiple severe illnesses. In 2015, Gypsy Rose conspired with her online boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn, to murder her abusive mother. Although Gypsy Rose is alive, her case illustrates the severe impacts of medical child abuse and has raised awareness about Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome.
14 Anthony Avalos Anthony Avalos was a ten-year-old boy from California who suffered extensive abuse before his death in 2018. He was tortured, starved, and isolated by his mother, Heather Barron, and her boyfriend, Kareem Leiva. Anthony's tragic death highlighted the systemic failures in child protective services, as multiple abuse reports had been made, and led to calls for reform in the child welfare system to better protect children from abuse and neglect.

Anthony Avalos was a 10-year-old boy who was unfortunately subjected to continuous torture for years. This included belt whips, being locked in a room, being restricted from a bathroom, and even having hot sauce poured into his eyes and mouth. Avalos was so abused that according to Jon Hamati he stated that he "could not walk, was unconscious lying on his bedroom for hours, was not provided medical attention, and could not eat on his own."

15 Leelah Alcorn Leelah Alcorn was a seventeen-year-old transgender girl who died by suicide in 2014 in Ohio after facing rejection and abuse from her family due to her gender identity. Leelah's suicide note, posted online, described the isolation, conversion therapy, and transphobic abuse she suffered, leading to increased awareness about the struggles faced by transgender youth. Leelah's tragic death sparked conversations and led to calls for reforms to protect LGBTQ+ youth from conversion therapy and family abuse.

Leelah Alcorn was a transgender girl who faced discrimination from her parents due to their religious background.

16 Takoda Collins Takoda Collins was a ten-year-old boy from Dayton, Ohio, who faced severe abuse leading to his death in 2019. He was subjected to extreme physical abuse, isolation, and neglect by his father, Al-Mutahan McLean, and McLean's two partners. His death shed light on the limitations and failures in the child protection system and emphasized the need for improvements in reporting and intervention mechanisms to protect vulnerable children.
17 Adrian Jones Adrian Jones was a seven-year-old boy from Kansas who experienced horrifying abuse, torture, and neglect leading to his death in 2015. His father and stepmother subjected him to starvation, physical abuse, and confinement. Adrian's gruesome death exposed critical lapses in child protective services, and it underscored the urgent need for systemic reforms to prevent such atrocities from occurring to vulnerable children.
18 Omaree Varela Omaree Varela was a nine-year-old boy from Albuquerque, New Mexico, who died in 2013 after enduring chronic abuse by his mother, Synthia Varela-Casaus. His life ended due to blunt force trauma, after being kicked by his mother. Omaree's tragic and preventable death spotlighted significant shortcomings in New Mexico's child welfare system, leading to reforms to better protect at-risk children.
19 Aurore Gagnon Aurore Gagnon was a ten-year-old Canadian girl who suffered severe and sustained abuse from her father and stepmother, leading to her death in 1920. Known as "the martyred child of Sainte-Philomène," her case is one of the earliest high-profile instances of child abuse in Canada. Aurore’s harrowing life story has had a lasting impact, inspiring works of art and literature, and has contributed to the ongoing dialogue on child protection and welfare reforms.
20 Elisabeth Fritzl Elisabeth Fritzl, while not a case of death, endured 24 years of captivity and abuse by her father, Josef Fritzl, in Austria from 1984 until her discovery in 2008. Elisabeth bore seven children as a result of the abuse, with one dying shortly after birth due to lack of medical care. This case horrified the global community, shedding light on the extreme consequences of familial power dynamics and coercion, leading to discussions about the necessity of vigilance and intervention in suspected abuse cases.
21 Jeanette Maples Jeanette Maples was a fifteen-year-old girl from Oregon who died in 2009 after enduring prolonged, horrific abuse by her mother and stepfather. Jeanette faced extreme physical torture, starvation, and neglect, ultimately succumbing to her injuries. Her case exposed the deficiencies in the child welfare system and underscored the imperative for reform and the necessity of proactive intervention to protect children from abuse.
22 Lacey Fletcher Lacey Fletcher was a ten-year-old girl from Indiana who died in 2005 due to extreme physical abuse inflicted by her mother and stepfather. She suffered repeated beatings, burnings, and was often restrained, which ultimately led to her tragic death. Lacey’s heartbreaking story highlighted the urgent need for effective child protection measures and intervention to ensure the safety and well-being of at-risk children.
23 Elena Hembree
24 Timothy Ferguson
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