Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Little Girl Lost

Earlier this month marked the fifth anniversary of four-year-old Lauren Key’s terrible death from a 120-foot hurtle off a Pacific coastal cliff. Lauren’s plummet appears to have been the result of being thrown by her reluctant father, Cameron Brown, who has been sitting in jail for over two years awaiting trial. None of us would want to blame a father for such an unnatural and inconceivable act, but the evidence that was presented to the Grand Jury leaves us little choice.

At the very least, Brown is guilty of astonishing negligence and stupidity for taking his daughter to an obviously dangerous area in the first place. There is not one among us who wouldn’t have, upon discovering the treacherous conditions, grabbed up our child and headed back down the path in an instinctive, adrenalin surge. As a contrast, in the Brown case, the lack of Lauren’s footprints or any sign of her playing along the edge of Inspiration Point throwing rocks, as he claimed, leads us to conclude that he carried her up there. As the mother of three girls, I believe it is more likely that Lauren complained or ran out of steam earlier in the mile and a half hike from the playground to the cliff side.What could Cameron Brown have been thinking as he carried that little girl up the path with his unspeakably cruel intentions? Was he hoping nobody was up there? Hoping he had a clear shot and no witnesses to see his awful act? Did he hesitate at any point? Did Lauren struggle in his arms, or did she lean passively against his shoulder as he spoke softly to her about what a neat view there would be or what treats awaited her at the end of the hike?

I impose Brown’s imaginary dialogue and apprehension to this extraordinary scenario because I have no place in my experience from which to draw actual words and thoughts. None of us does. None of us can even think about it without sensing a sharp ache in our hearts or feeling our throats constrict with panic. We clench our minds trying to fathom for a moment Lauren’s final terror as she fell from the cliff, or Brown's thoughts as he watched her disappear. It’s a doorway to a bleak madness we are paralyzed from opening; these are dark places we dare not go.

According to a reporter from The Breeze assigned to the trial, there has been yet another postponement until some time early in 2006. The next hearing is scheduled in early December, but there are no official court documents to explain the delays – whether from the People or the defense. I hope to have a copy of the autopsy report to share with the readers before trial. Meanwhile, Brown will spend his third Thanksgiving and Christmas in county jail; a small consolation when we recall that if Lauren were alive, she would be a whimsical, happy nine-year-old looking forward to the holidays, as my Lauren is.

At every turn, Sarah Key-Marer faces a painful reminder of her loss. In August, Lauren’s birthday; in November, her death; in December, she spends another Christmas missing the surprises and joy Lauren would have brought to the occasion. Time has probably not healed the wounds, yet, and the trial delays may only prolong the unremitting grief. In our days ahead of family gatherings, celebrations, and holiday miracles, take a moment to send healing and serene thoughts to Sarah, and remember her little girl lost.

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