Joshua Allen VanHoutan (Courtesy of Anoka County Jail.)
A baby girl died Sunday night at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis, several days after she was shaken so violently that she went into cardiac arrest.
Her father, Joshua Allen VanHoutan, 25, of Coon Rapids, whom authorities accused of injuring her, was initially arraigned Friday for assault and malicious punishment of a child. He could face more serious charges. He remains in custody at the Anoka County Jail.
The baby girl, identified as AKV in a criminal complaint against VanHoutan, had been admitted to Mercy Hospital on Wednesday with retinal hemorrhaging and bleeding on the brain - injuries consistent with shaken baby syndrome.
"It is probably one of the most preventable forms of child abuse," said Amy Wicks, spokeswoman for the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome. "It's not typical abusers. It's people who react poorly to the stresses of caring for an infant."
Simply telling new parents not to shake their babies is an ineffective tactic, Wicks said, because most would never do so on purpose.
But when a healthy, normal 2-month-old can cry for up to five hours a day, some parents reach the end of their patience, Wicks said.
New education tactics include telling parents so much crying is normal - and wanting to get away from the stress is all right.
"If you reach your breaking point, it's OK to put your child down in a safe place and walk away for a few minutes," she said. "Doing that doesn't mean that you've failed or that it's a sign of
weakness. It's just being able to cope with it in a productive way." Wicks said there is no central reporting registry for shaken baby cases, but estimates from states where statistics have been collected show that nationwide up to 300 children die each year from being shaken. Another 900 to 1,100 are injured and left with varying degrees of disabilities, including shortened life expectancy and loss of cognitive and motor skills.
"And some do remarkably well after," Wicks said.
According to a criminal complaint filed last week in Anoka County District Court, the baby's mother, Tina Ginter, told police the baby had been sleeping in the Coon Rapids home she shared with VanHoutan and their two other children - including AKV's twin - when Ginter left for work about 4 a.m. At about 9 a.m., she got a call from VanHoutan saying "something was wrong," she told investigators. VanHoutan called again an hour later to say the baby would not wake up and that "her arms would flail," the complaint said.
Ginter left work and took the baby to Mercy Hospital at about 12:30 p.m. She was transferred to Children's and underwent surgery to relieve pressure on her brain.
"Doctors advised that AKV's injuries could be fatal," the complaint said.
Investigators questioned VanHoutan. He initially said the baby was crying "a little bit," according to the complaint, so he set her down to sleep some more. About two hours later, he said, he noticed she was limp and "not particularly responsive."
VanHoutan went on to say he actually took the baby into the living room to play after she woke up.
"The defendant described AKV as 'more fussy' than her twin and indicated that when AKV gets mad, there is nothing they can do to please her," he told investigators.
VanHoutan then admitted to shaking the baby twice "because she would not calm down," the complaint said. He put her down in her crib and called Ginter several hours later after noticing the child was ill.
He was arrested Friday.
The Anoka County attorney's office said Monday that it was evaluating medical reports to determine if there would be additional charges against VanHoutan.
If there were more charges, VanHoutan would be arraigned Wednesday morning in Anoka County District Court.