A local mother is fighting to fix a broken system that leaves children vulnerable to extreme abuse at the hands of repeat offenders.
"It was like oh my God. My worst fears came true. I was right. His case came into the prosecutor's office as a homicide because they didn't expect him to pull through,” says Erica Hammel, who’s son nearly died as a result of physical abuse.
Today, Erica’s son Wyatt lives with major injuries that have impacted his day to day life.
“That's the heartbreaking thing for me. He can't just be a typical 5-year-old kid,” says Erica.
Her 5-year-old son was victimized by his father’s girlfriend Rachel Edwards. Rachel had a violent past involving children, but sadly records to document her history were not readily available to Erica.
"She was convicted in 2011, and believe it or not convicted again of 4th degree child abuse 10 days before she almost killed Wyatt,” says Erica.
Erica says the problem is statewide. Countless children are still in danger. For that reason, she’s pursuing a new bill to correct the giant problem.
Her own nightmare dates back to November 1st, 2013.
"Wyatt had been rushed to Children's Hospital. He had suffered a major brain bleed. Fractured skull and would need immediate emergency surgery,” says Erica.
At that point, as a 1-year-old on life support, he’d sustained major brain damage and blindness in the left eye.
After 6 surgeries, he still suffers from seizures, impaired learning ability and extreme sensitivity to light and sound.
"You have a head injury of this capacity, the little noise or sound can set him off and like his neurosurgeon says can cause him immense pain and discomfort” says Erica.
She adds, "Wyatt will always need my help. Live with me. Never be able to hold a job or manage money. I'll have to take care of him the rest of his life."
While Rachel is now locked up for child abuse, Erica hopes this painful story can lead to real change.
"I believe we have a right as parents, as guardians to know who these people are so we can keep our children away from them,” says Erica.
After more than 4 years, some lawmakers in Michigan are rallying around the idea of creating a statewide database to track child abusers, similar to the sex offender registry.
"We don't want child abusers out there getting hired to be babysitters. We don't want them hired anywhere where they're going to be around children,” says state senator Rick Jones.
But, Jones acknowledges the problem of funding to operate the database. There’s also opposition from the ACLU, who disagrees on this type of solution.
“They have to report vehicle information, phone numbers, email addresses and that info might make people feel safer, but it has a terrible connotation for individuals,” says Attorney Kimberly Buddin.
Buddin advocates instead for improved use of an existing website known as IChat. It currently charges $10 per search of a person’s criminal history, but you have to know the person’s date of birth.
"Erica would have been able to go online and type in the person's name and see their criminal history, and see they were convicted of child abuse in the past,” says Buddin.
For Erica, it’s simply about stopping more tragedies from happening.
"Child abuse is up 30% in this state. It's an epidemic that's not going away. What we have in place does not work,” says Erica.
So far, there's no timeline for passing Wyatt's Law in both the house and senate. However, Erica believes raising awareness, could help make it happen soon.