Advertisement
  1. News

Kathleen Steele case: What happens to a 6-year-old who kills his own baby sister? (w/video)

Kathleen Steele, 62, is charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child. Her sons are in state custody.
Published Aug. 16, 2016

What happens to a 6-year-old boy after he kills his own baby sister?

That is the question being asked after the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said a 6-year-old boy beat a 13-day-old infant to death on Monday. She died, deputies said, while the mother left her three children alone in a minivan for about 30 minutes.

Experts say it will take years to find the answers.

Dr. Kristopher Kaliebe, a University of South Florida professor and forensic psychiatrist, has spent the past decade working with children in Louisiana's juvenile justice system.

Related: Sheriff: 6-year-old beat infant sister to death

It is possible, he said, for children to overcome the grief, trauma and shame of acts they committed at a young age.

"I've dealt with a lot of kids who have done horrible things," Kaliebe said. "But it's amazing how some of them do."

It all depends on how stable a support system the boy will receive in the future, Kaliebe said, how good his future home life will be.

For now, though, the 6-year-old boy's home life has been splintered apart.

He and his 3-year-old brother will not soon be reunited with their mother, 62-year-old Kathleen Steele, who faces a charge of aggravated manslaughter of a child. The Tampa Bay Times is not naming the boys because of their age.

The 6-year-old was Steele's first child, born after she announced her pregnancy on a TV reality show titled I'm Pregnant and … 55 Years Old. After her husband died, she gave birth to two more children via artificial insemination, using his frozen sperm. Her infant, Kathleen Bridget Steele, was born July 26.

The mother was released from jail on $100,000 bail Friday night. But instead of returning to her North Redington Beach home, the Raymond James & Associates broker was expected to be transferred to a mental health center.

Related:Romano: The deadly lesson Americans refuse to learn about kids in cars

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Saturday that jail medical workers initiated Steele's placement in the mental health facility. Because of health care privacy laws, he said, he could not comment on whether she had been held under the Baker Act, which allows for the involuntary commitment of patients possibly experiencing mental health emergencies.

Before her release, a judge ordered that Steele be placed under house arrest, wear a GPS monitor and stay away from children — unless she obtains a court order allowing it.

Her two sons were placed in therapeutic foster care, deputies said, but in separate homes. Department of Children and Families spokeswoman Jessica Sims said therapeutic foster parents are licensed by the department to provide a high-level of care and are available "24 hours a day."

The 6-year-old will also not be returning to his school, Lakewood Elementary, where he just started the first grade.

Pinellas County School District spokeswoman Lisa Wolf said the school system will work with DCF to lay out an educational plan for the child. But right now it's unclear what that will entail.

"It's an unprecedented situation," she said.

The 6-year-old, according to the Sheriff's Office, said that while left alone in the locked minivan, the baby started to fuss and cry. He picked her up and said he tried to mimic how his mother would calm the baby.

Instead, he punched, slammed and tossed the infant around, deputies said, leaving her skull fractured. Investigators believe the baby died in the minivan, though she was officially pronounced dead at a hospital hours later.

"Sometimes people make very big mistakes," the boy told investigators.

Kaliebe warned that if the 6-year-old is bounced between caregivers or group homes, it could be catastrophic to his ability to grow into a successful adult.

Right now, the psychiatrist said, the boy is likely traumatized and feels terrible about the situation.

Another expert, USF Director of Pediatric Psychology Kathleen Armstrong, said that as the boy grows and starts to understand what he did to his baby sister, he will struggle.

She has counseled 6-year-olds who have killed small animals. She said at that age they typically don't realize what harm they've inflicted.

"At 6, children are too young to understand life and death yet," she said. "A lot of little children that age would think, kind of magically, if they did anything they'd come back (to life)."

Armstrong said the rarity of such cases means her profession's literature on this phenomenon is limited. Still, she said, it's not hard to imagine how it could have happened.

Young children, she said, just have poor impulse control.

"You're left sitting in a hot car and you're alone and you don't know what to do and the baby starts crying," she said.

Kaliebe said often children who act out violently have a troubled home life, leaving authorities to try to unravel the complex circumstances that could lead a young child to commit violent acts.

Gualtieri, the sheriff, said the mother tried to turn her 6-year-old son into a sort of surrogate father for his younger siblings. He said deputies also believe the mother appeared to act aloof, moments after discovering her baby's injuries, and later while being interviewed by detectives.

"The family is going to need a lot of care, a lot of support," Armstrong said. "This little child has done something unspeakable and when he's old enough to understand it is probably going to haunt him for the rest of his life."

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Reynaldo Figueroa-Sanabria, accused of stabbing and killing John Travlos and Germana Morin aboard their houseboat in 2013, testified on his own behalf at his murder trial in Pinellas County this week. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    It took the jury about four hours to find Reynaldo Figueroa-Sanabria guilty. Next they must decide whether to send him to Florida’s death row.
  2. Harold Fritz, 75, was awarded the nation's highest and rarest honor, the Medal of Honor, for his actions in 1969. The Army lieutenant saved his platoon during an ambush in the Vietnam war. He spoke to students at Farnell Middle School in Tampa. MARLENE SOKOL  |  Times
    Harold Fritz wanted to talk about teachers’ salaries and education. The kids wanted selfies with one of the 71 living recipients of the nation’s highest honor.
  3. PDQ's new Trinity location features a self-serve sauce bar with seven signature sauces perfect for dipping chicken tenders. Courtesy of PDQ
    Both chains are expanding locally and held grand opening celebrations this month with giveaways and free food.
  4. Casey Cane has resigned as chair of Pinellas County’s Housing Finance Authority in the wake of a Tampa Bay Times story about his failure to disclose an arrest for a financial felony when he was 19. He also serves as a Palm Harbor fire commissioner. Casey Cane
    Casey Cane failed to disclose his arrest for a financial felony in 2006. He said he didn’t think he had to reveal that information.
  5. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor speaks to about 75 people Tuesday at a city conference on innovation and collaboration. (City of Tampa photo by Janelle McGregor) Janelle McGregor
    City Hall brought together startups and the nonprofits that nurture them for a discussion of possible ideas to improve city operations and service.
  6. Scott Purcell, a senior geophysicist with GeoView, left, and Mike Wightman, president of GeoView, use ground-penetrating radar to scan a portion of King High School campus in search for Ridgewood Cemetery. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Preliminary answers from the ground-penetrating radar could come as soon as next week.
  7. A federal judge gas stayed the Nov. 7 execution of death row inmate James Dailey, 73, for the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio. Left: Dailey at his 1987 trial, where he was convicted and sentenced to death. Middle: Dailey in 1993, when he was again sentenced to die. Right: The most current photo of Dailey on Florida's Death Row. Tampa Bay Times
    Dailey was set to be put to death Nov. 7. A judge ordered his execution to be postponed to give his attorneys time to present their claims. But the state can appeal.
  8. Markeith Loyd, suspected of fatally shooting a Florida police officer, attends his initial court appearance Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, at the Orange County Jail, in Orlando, Fla. Loyd spoke out of turn and was defiant during the appearance on charges of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend. He was injured during his arrest Tuesday night following a weeklong manhunt.
    The same jury found Loyd guilty last week of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting 24-year-old Sade Dixon outside her home in 2016.
  9. The new owner of a dilapidated mobile home park on Gandy Boulevard has sued the city of Tampa over a record-setting fine levied against the property for a massive tree removal in August. [CHARLIE FRAGO | Times]
    A Gandy Boulevard mobile home park owner is suing the city of Tampa over a record $420,000 fine .
  10. Dashboard camera video shows a Tampa police cruiser pursuing Dusharn Weems through a parking lot. A second later, Weems is fatally injured when the car strikes him. Courtesy Haydee Oropesa
    The family of Dusharn Weems, 23, claims an officer intentionally struck him after he was spotted driving a stolen car.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement