Priest buries child victims when no one else is there to bear witness to their lives.
They are the stories that turn your stomach and break your heart. Sweet, young faces fill the screen as horrific facts are divulged, always too late.
The guilty are usually their parents or their caregiver or the state agency that failed to save them.
Only a handful of child deaths make the headlines each year in Georgia, but the numbers are much higher than most people realize, and now one man is taking a stand for Georgia’s children, and asking others to do the same.
Father Joshua Case, a priest at Holy Innocents' Episcopal Church in Sandy Springs is bearing witness to the loss of Georgia’s children and he says placing the blame on one group is missing the point.
“It is easy for people to point the fingers at the Department of Family and Child Services when children die whose families have had contact with them because somehow as a culture we believe that we've outsourced our care for our neighbor and our children to those bureaucracies.
The name of his church, Holy Innocents' comes from the biblical story of King Herrod, the tyrannical ruler who ordered the slaughter of young male children in an effort to stop the recently born king of the Jews, Jesus, from taking his throne. The children who perished became known as the Holy Innocents.
“We keep the names of the children following our vigil we have for them.”
Father Case is giving a tour of his church. He says what is happening to children in Georgia is a modern day Holy Innocents.
Georgia's Child Fatality Review Unit reports 307 children died in Georgia in 2015 from murder and maltreatment. Poverty, that great divider in our state, claims the lives of many more children.
At the back of Father Case’s church is a thick book with the name of each child who has died. He points to one name. “The mother and father were charged with abuse.”
The book, which has only the names from the past two years, contains more than a thousand names.
A book was not enough.
Case began performing funerals for children who die by violence in Fulton County. In the past 10 months, he has buried 24 children, often alone at the graveside because no one showed up.
“It's hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact no one is there and that child is part of the family of God, and part of my work in standing there with them is to acknowledge that they're part of my family. For me as a priest, all I can say is that there is a grace to it. You don't get used to it.”
Father Case is asking us to consider that we are responsible for one another. He is asking us to consider our state's children.
“If we as people of faith would take up talking about what it means to care for children and for our neighbors, the story would be different. we would live in a different place.”
Almost every week, the phone rings. He is told just enough to know that the worst has happened, again. Sometimes parishioners from Holy Innocents' accompany him to the funerals. Slowly, the circle of mourners for these lost children is widening.
Father Case’s hope is that more Georgian’s realize that we can all help fix those who are broken, before it’s too late for our children.
“If we don't bear witness to the burial of children in our neighborhood, in our county, in our state, I don't know who will.”