'Kirk's Law' passes after toddler dies in care of babysitter with criminal record
04/18/2016 11:15 am PDT
It's something that parents everywhere worry about: Finding a good day care provider. For the parents of little Kirk Coleman, they thought they found just that with a trusted family friend.
Anissa Garza didn't set out to save lives.
"I just don't want anyone to go ever have to go through what I went through," said Garza.
She was too busy being a single mom, working to make ends meet.
Before she headed off to work, Anissa Garza took her toddler son to daycare in New Paris, Indiana, on Oct. 29, 2014.
"I dropped him off like always and I get him out of the car seat and he laid on my shoulder and I told him I loved him, and he was like, 'Love you too Mom,'" said Garza.
The daily routine felt comforting: 19-month-old Kirk would spend his day with Jackie Rolston, a family friend who ran an at-home day care. She had been watching the little boy for 11 months.
"She took him and he was perfectly fine when I left," said Garza. "I was at work, I looked down at my phone at 11:30 and my phone was going off and it was Rick, Jackie's husband, telling me that Kirk was on his way to the hospital because he was choking."
The toddler was rushed from his babysitter's house to the hospital. Once inside, in the end, the news was not good.
Garza raced to the emergency room to see her little boy.
"About what felt like forever, I don't really remember how long it was, a coroner and everyone came in and told us my son was gone," said Garza.
Her son was gone -- Anissa Garza was stunned. She couldn't even comprehend what that meant.
"I wasn't allowed to pick him up, I got yelled at for touching his hair," said Garza. "I asked if I could have five minutes alone with my son so I could say bye, and the nurse said 'I'm not supposed to but I'll let you,' so I went in and I didn't even get two minutes, and she came back in and said I couldn't hold my son or nothing."
And then, just days later, when Kirk's family couldn't imagine anything more heartbreaking, they got devastating news: Kirk's death was ruled a homicide, caused by extreme blunt-force trauma to the head.
But the only person that was with Kirk before he died was her trusted friend Jackie, the boy's child care provider.
Garza couldn't believe she'd hurt him.
"I just could never picture her harming a child or harming anyone," said Garza.
But shockingly, Jackie Rolston had harmed a child before, a 2-year-old, about the same age as little Kirk. She was charged with felony battery and child neglect in 2006 after the toddler in her care showed signs of abuse. Even more astoundingly, her charges were eventually reduced to misdemeanor child neglect, and she received only one year of probation.
Tragically, Anissa Garza never knew this when she placed Kirk in her care.
"I don't think anyone can understand how I feel," said Garza.
Now Jackie Rolston is facing one count of battery on a child resulting in death, and has entered a plea of not guilty to the charges while awaiting trial. She was able to post a $100,000 bond and is still living at the home where she once cared for children.
Crime Watch Daily reached out to her attorney and received no response, so we tried to pay her a visit and ask for an explanation of what happened to Kirk that tragic day, but never got a chance to ask her any questions.
Exactly what happened to Kirk when he was in Jackie's care? We may never know. She says he was choking while eating -- an autopsy says that's a lie. The fact is, Jackie Rolston has a lot of explaining to do, and we wanted answers face to face. But the "no trespassing" signs on her property make it impossible for Crime Watch Daily to go on her property.
Kirk's family hasn't gotten any answers either, from Jackie or anyone else.
"We still at this point don't know all the details and we won't know until we go to court," said Angie Garza, Kirk's grandmother.
Kirk's grandmother is as heartbroken and devastated as everyone else who loved this little boy.
"The hardest part for me as a mom is that I lost my grandson, but now my daughter is lost, my daughter is in pain and I can't fix it, I can't make it better," said Angie Garza.
Who does she blame?
"Jackie Rolston. She was the last person to see him alive," said Angie.
Does she believe that Rolston belongs in prison?
"Yes, I do," said Angie. "Where she can't hurt anybody else."
But as they await a trial and jury decision in a courtroom, Kirk's death inspired his family to fight for a much larger justice -- not just for Kirk, but for all other children in day care too.
They've pushed for state legislation to reveal child-abuse and sex-offense convictions on a child-protection registry so that anyone sending their kids to a home-based child care can do research online.
"There's home-based child day cares all over the state of Indiana and rightfully so, I don't have a problem with that, but there's absolutely no way of monitoring what is going on there," said Indiana State Senator Carlin Yoder.
"Kirk's Law" would help fix that. But still, the law met some resistance over privacy concerns.
"My response to that is 'Don't harm a kid and I guess you won't have to worry about it,'" said Yoder.
Kirk's grandmother, once overcome by grief, soon became a forceful champion for change to enact the law statewide.
"We have to keep pushing forward," said Angie. "Kirk would want this."
Angie Garza was the driving force that convinced a state senator to sponsor the bill, and got the governor of Indiana to sign it.
"I sign Kirk's Law for little Kirk and for all the precious little ones his law will protect," said Indiana Governor Mike Pence.
The law, signed this month, goes into effect this summer, just after Jackie Rolston is scheduled to face trial.
"If this would have been known, maybe Kirk's life would have been saved," said Angie. "To me, it's Kirk's legacy, it's to honor my grandson, to let him know that he didn't die for nothing."
Kirk's grandfather also hopes the law will help erase the pain his loved ones are suffering.
"It's a heartache that just doesn't go away ," said David Coleman. "I wouldn't want anybody -- grandfather, father, mother, parent, anybody -- to go through this again."
Kirk's mother is now comforted only when visiting his grave.
"I go by myself, that's my quality time," said Anissa Garza. "His grave is never empty. I make sure there's something on it."
"If we can save just one child, to not have their family go through what our family has gone through the last year and a half, it's well worth it," said Angie Garza.