Date: 1994-06-22


Martin Gottlieb
June 22, 1994
Dayton Daily News
Events have conspired to pack trauma into one little life, that of Isaiah Carroll.

At 11, he has become the center of a controversy of momentous importance and universal fascination. But that's only a tiny part of the trauma.

He cannot speak or control much about his body.

He is physically fragile and is confined to a wheelchair, but has an active functioning mind. He is described remarkably often as "a prisoner of his body."

He has been bounced from home to home, having recently gone from adoptive parents to a foster home.

He is surrounded by death - four children in his home in nine months - and by the resulting, endless warfare over guilt, innocence and responsibility.

And - if his input now is to be taken at face value - he has witnessed murder.

And been sexually abused.

His is a life - and mind - we have difficulty identifying with. What happens to a child who has been through so much so fast?

Prosecutors say Isaiah claims to have seen his adoptive brother James, 17, smother their adoptive brother Josiah, 12.

Isaiah is also reported to be communicating that he fears James, having been sexually abused by him.

But a friend of the Carroll family - a minister who has stood by the parents through long and enormous turmoil - says that Isaiah, far from being afraid of James, relates to him warmly and enthusiastically.

The Rev. Wesley Brubaker is present for many of the meetings between the members of the Carroll family, who live apart because of a custody arrangement that followed the four deaths in their household.

Some background: Kathleen and Timothy Carroll, a deeply religious, fundamentalist couple, have adopted 10 children, most of them severely handicapped. James was tried in the death of one of their children, but not convicted.

Isaiah's new input about James is about one of the other deaths. That input developed after Isaiah was put in a foster home last year.

The adult Carrolls have stood by James. And many church friends have stood by the Carrolls.

Prosecutors are now bringing forth witnesses - including a speech pathologist, a cerebral palsy expert and Isaiah's teacher - who say that Isaiah has communicated certain points through "yes" and "no" questions and the use of pictures.

Most specifically, Isaiah is officially reported to have communicated - more than once - that he was in a bedroom with Josiah when James came in and smothered Josiah.

But to hear Rev. Brubaker tell it, that and the talk about sexual abuse make no sense.

Brubaker says that when James visits Isaiah - along with the Carroll parents - Isaiah eagerly "wants James to be a part of things."

The younger children in the family think James is terrific, Brubaker says; they reach out to him.

When Isaiah's damaging input about James was revealed this month, a lawyer for the adult Carrolls cast doubt upon Isaiah's ability to communicate, saying that the adult Carrolls are best equipped to interpret him.

But Brubaker vouches for Isaiah's ability to communicate well enough to make a point. But Brubaker also believes the child is emotionally fragile and easily manipulated.

At any rate, the recent developments in the Carroll story constitute a remarkable scenario.

Isaiah first communicated the damaging story about James in December, according to the prosecutor's office. But the allegedly comfortable visits of James and the other Carrolls to Isaiah have been taking place a couple of times a week ever since.

Brubaker emphasizes that the family's relationships are exceptionally warm, with none of the sibling rivalry that is visible in other families.

Some of the meetings have happened at a place arranged by county workers, in what Brubaker calls a "sterile environment."

Maybe the conflicting pieces of evidence about Isaiah's attitude toward James can be squared. Conceivably, Isaiah is comfortable around James so long as others are present too, but not otherwise.

However, it's reasonable to have doubts about Isaiah's story. The court record so far doesn't record whether the people he communicated with believe the story or even believe that Isaiah believes it - only that he communicates it.

Ultimately, the speech pathologist, cerebral palsy expert and teacher will presumably say that they made no effort to push the child toward any particular story. But questions will still exist about what's going in the child's mind.

Imagining what it might be is not easy.


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