The Re-emergence of Karen Diehl Revives Horror of Abused Child
Buried somewhere in one of the cardboard boxes near my desk is an old reporter's notebook with spare the hose clamp, spoil the child scrawled on the cover.
It is the sort of thing a queasy newspaper reporter would scribble when she couldn't bear to look at any more autopsy photos of a 13-year-old.
I wrote those words back in 1987 when I covered a portion of the trials of Karen and Michael Diehl, who were ultimately convicted of crimes relating to the death of their adopted son.
Anyone who remembers the case would be stunned to learn that Karen Diehl - who served six years of a 31-year prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter, abduction, child neglect and assault and battery - was now the associate director of a program for the elderly in Waynesboro.
Spare us the claptrap about rehabilitation and paying one's debt to society.
Far more important is society's sacred duty to protect its most vulnerable members.
Just as convicted sex offenders ought to be kept away from day-care centers and women's shelters, so, too, should people convicted of violent felonies be kept away from the helpless elderly.
The last time the Diehls were entrusted with the care of a vulnerable person, he wound up nude, restrained with hose clamps, forced to eat his own feces, and ultimately dead.
For those who weren't living in Hampton Roads back in the late 1980s, here's the nutshell version of how these campground Christians came to harm their son:
Karen and Michael Diehl arrived in Virginia Beach from Idaho in 1986 with their 17 - you read that correctly - kids in tow.
Four of those children were their offspring.
The others were adoptive children with a variety of disabilities.
The Diehls lived in a school bus in a campground. Their only visible means of support was a patchwork of government checks and charitable handouts.
You'd think such a bizarre living arrangement would have raised suspicions.
You would be wrong.
The Diehls were media darlings. For a while you couldn't turn on the local news or open a newspaper (including this one) without finding a fawning story about the big-hearted family.
All that changed when Dominick ``Andrew'' Diehl died and the public got a horrifying peek inside that school bus.
Andrew was severely disturbed and disruptive. Yet some social service meatheads tossed this fragile child to this overloaded family, who then drove cross-country offering parenting advice to anyone who would listen.
The abuse Andrew Diehl suffered at the hands of his parents is almost unspeakable.
Testimony at the trial of his parents revealed that the boy had been shackled, usually naked, to the floor of the bus for more than a month before his death as punishment for his antisocial behavior.
Even though testimony in the trials showed that Karen Diehl administered most of the boy's beatings, and forced Andrew to eat his own bodily waste, it was Michael Diehl who received the harshest punishment: a first-degree murder conviction and 41 years behind bars. He remains in prison.
Two years ago, Karen Diehl was hired by the Valley Program for Aging Services Inc.
She didn't volunteer that she was a felon.
Her employers never asked.
Now that they know, they don't care.
Augusta County Supervisor Tom Sikes told me he might spearhead an effort to cut county money - which totals between $30,000 and $35,000 a year - to the Valley Program if Diehl isn't dismissed. The program is private, although it receives public funds.
``You wouldn't hire a sex offender to run your after-school program,'' Sikes told the Daily News Leader of Staunton. ``This is the same kind of situation. ''
Diehl's employers insist she is a model employee.
They say she's conscientious and that ``her performance over the past year, which is working with older adults, has been excellent.''
That may be true.
But it's worth remembering that back in 1986 - before the tragedy - everyone in these parts was mightily impressed with Karen Diehl, too.
Reach Kerry at 446-2306 or at kerry.dougherty(AT)att.net