Why Did the Schaibles Let Their Children Die?
Brandon Schaible first seemed really ill on Monday, April 15th. He had vomited from Friday night into Saturday morning, had some diarrhea, but neither seemed serious. On Monday he was still drinking milk, but his breathing wasn’t right. He scratched his head—remnants of a yellow, scaly rash, possibly cradle cap, that he’d had for months. Cathy had looked it up in the dictionary.
Brandon had been to a doctor just once: He was born at home, but when he was 10 days old, Cathy and Herbie took him to a city health-care clinic on Cottman Avenue to have him checked out—part of the terms of their probation after Kent’s death in 2009.
Kent’s pneumonia had started with what the Schaibles thought was a cold. For better than a week, they prayed for him; on the 11th day, Herbie found him dead in his crib. Herbie called a funeral director, who is required to inform the city’s medical examiner’s office when the deceased is a young child, which moved the ball to the district attorney’s office. In a preliminary hearing, the medical examiner noted that Kent’s pneumonia had been treatable. The Schaibles were convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years’ probation, with the stipulation that they take the rest of their children for regular medical examinations and seek medical help should one fall seriously ill.
By Tuesday night, April 16th, Cathy was a little concerned. Brandon was growing restless, fussy. She told Herbie that Brandon’s breathing had gotten heavy; his nose was stuffed up. He was eating less. That night, she laid him next to her in bed.
Brandon woke up every hour. He was crying a lot. Cathy would coax him back to sleep.
That night, Herbie called Pastor Clark and asked him to pray with them, over the phone, for Brandon to be healed.
Assistant pastor Ralph Myers, Cathy’s maternal uncle, came to their house on Rhawn Street Wednesday morning a little after eight, after getting a call from Pastor Clark. Brandon’s breathing had gotten worse. Cathy and Herbie were going to ask Pastor Myers to anoint Brandon, but Herbie decided not to. Instead, the pastor and Herbie and Cathy stood together, and the pastor prayed for Brandon to be healed. The pastor was there for about 45 minutes.
Herbie stayed home from teaching that day. Through Wednesday, Brandon’s breathing got worse. He was crying and fidgety. Most of the time, Herbie and Cathy took care of him in the living room. They rocked him on the recliner. Herbie asked his brother Dave to call their other siblings to pray for Brandon.
Herbie called Pastor Clark again, and asked him, too, to pray for Brandon. Pastor Clark testified in June that he said that maybe Herbie could call his probation officer, given the terms of their probation about seeking medical help. During sentencing in the 2010 trial, Cathy’s lawyer had pleaded with the judge for active DHS oversight of the Schaibles to make sure the remaining children got medical care, because it was obvious the parents would continue turning to God instead of doctors. The judge rejected that idea out of hand. Mandating social-service oversight, she said, wasn’t the role of the courts.
Now Herbie said to Pastor Clark that if they called anyone, it would be a denial of faith in God to heal Brandon.
The boy’s breathing, Wednesday into Thursday, became more labored; he took a few ounces of whole milk, and some water. Herbie and Cathy thought the milk might be too strong. He wasn’t eating solid food. They took turns holding Brandon. They had to hold him because he was fussy and kept trying to scratch his scaly scalp.
From about 12:30 on during the day on Thursday, Herbie looked after his son. Brandon took only a few swigs of milk. His coloring was bad.
A little after 4:15, Cathy was in the living room, and Herbie told her to pray. It seemed that Brandon had stopped breathing, but they weren’t going to give in. He was still warm, and they prayed for him. They had all of their children pray that their baby brother would be restored.
Herbie called Cathy’s parents, and they came from their house on Roosevelt Boulevard. Herbie’s brothers Dave and Richard came, too. Herbie was holding Brandon. He had to be strong for his other children. He couldn’t break down crying.
Pastor Myers got the call from Cathy’s father: Brandon hadn’t shown any movement for two hours. Herbie wanted him to come.
Pastor Myers called Pastor Clark and told him that Herbie thought Brandon had passed, that he was going to the house and would let Pastor Clark know what he found when he got there. Pastor Myers called Pastor Clark from Herbie and Cathy’s house: Brandon appeared not to be breathing, not to be living. Did Pastor Clark want him to call a funeral director?
Pastor Clark told him that was really up to Herbie. Herbie said yes, make the call. Pastor Myers called the funeral director, who in turn called the medical examiner.
That evening, police took Brandon to the medical examiner’s office. He appeared to be severely dehydrated. His eyes were sunk in their sockets. His lips were dry. His scalp had a scaly or flaky rash, without much hair. His cheeks were yellowish, with a cobblestone texture, perhaps because of dehydration or as part of the rash he had on his scalp. Tests revealed that he’d died from bacterial pneumonia in combination with dehydration, due to a strep infection.
“The manner of death in this case,” the medical examiner would testify at a June preliminary hearing, “was homicide.”