The horrifying tale of a badly abused 5-year-old Citrus County child has implicated more than just his mother and her live-in boyfriend. It has also revealed an abdication of responsibility by a dozen neighbors, not one of whom seized the initiative to vigorously insist law enforcement authorities intervene. Because they were too feckless to help, a child lingered literally locked behind death's door.
The public does not know the name of Crystal Jean Ciampa's youngest son. But with her arrest and that of her boyfriend, Joshua Louis Heater, on charges of aggravated child abuse, neglect and witness tampering, the boy's physical trauma has come to light. The boy, whose misfortune was to allegedly remind Ciampa of her ex-husband, was frequently beaten and spent lengthy periods locked away in a 4- by 4-foot closest. He was forced to eat his own feces and drink his urine.
Also revealed is that at least 12 neighbors who lived near the child's Homosassa residence knew about and even witnessed the abuse over a two-year period but now admit to the investigating detective that they never called the police or child abuse hotline, where they could have left a tip anonymously. On four occasions when deputies did respond to vague calls, they found little evidence to warrant a further investigation beyond some bruising. The child was rescued only when authorities investigating Heater on an unrelated matter and discovered the full extent of the abuse.
A civilized society requires citizens to step forward to help those in grave distress. This child was failed first by his primary caregivers and then by those neighbors who were aware of his nightmarish plight and did nothing to stop it. It wouldn't have taken much. The Florida Department of Children and Families provides an abuse hotline, 1-800-962-2873, where callers can report suspected child abuse anonymously.
The judicial system will decide the ultimate legal fate of Ciampa and Heater. But a lifetime of repairing the psychological damage inflicted on a little boy denied a childhood is only just beginning.