Dealing With Grief -- and Blame
"People assume this is happening to bad parents, people who take drugs or use alcohol, maybe abusive parents," says Janette Fennell, the founder of Kidsand cars.org, a nonprofit advocate of car safety for children. Blogs and online forums are filled with hatred for moms like Parks; some even say they should die the same grisly way their children did. "I think people so want to distance themselves from ever thinking that this could happen to them that they really demonize or think these are bad people," Fennell says. "But the exact opposite is true. It's like 95 percent of the people this happens to are wonderful -- let me go so far as to say doting parents."
These parents and other caregivers come from dozens of states and span the full spectrum of ethnic groups. They are rich, poor, and in between. Their jobs range from soldier to social worker, postal clerk to pediatrician. Among them are Jodie Edwards and Raelyn Balfour. Like Parks, both of these moms have always been safety fanatics. Baby gates, outlet plugs, crib monitors: You name it, they've bought it. When Balfour and Edwards first heard news accounts about kids dying in hot cars, they felt sorry -- but immune. "I thought this couldn't happen to me because I love my children and I'm a very cautious and overprotective person," says Edwards, a professor of graduate counseling in Wyoming, OH. "In my mind, it was like, 'Obviously those parents don't have their priorities straight,'" echoes Balfour, who owns a cleaning service in Charlottesville, VA.
Eventually, though, Edwards and Balfour each lost a child the way Parks did, for some of the same reasons: a shift in routine; a silent, sleeping baby; no reminders in the front seat. Balfour's son Bryce, a cheerful soul who "used to just go crazy in his bouncy toy," was 9 months old when he died. Edwards's daughter Jenna, who loved watching butterflies and wiggling to music, was almost 11 months. Both babies died in their moms' cars, parked outside their office buildings. "I knew to protect a child in my home," Edwards says. "But I didn't know I needed to do more to protect her in the car."