On Jan. 19, Athiyan Sivakumar died from a fractured skull at the Yale-New Haven Hospital Pediatric Emergency Department. His babysitter, who was watching him at the time, initially claimed the child had sustained the head wound from slipping on the floor. But following further investigation babysitter Kinjal Patel, 26, was arrested on manslaughter charges, according to the arrest warrant affidavit.
“Any homicide is a tragedy,” New Haven Police Department Chief Dean Esserman said in a statement. “None however is more tragic than that of an innocent young child. His death was senseless and has affected us deeply.”
After days of questioning, Patel admitted that after Athiyan made a mess while eating and spat water in her face, she picked up the boy and slammed him unto the floor three times before repeatedly shaking his head, the affidavit said.
Though Yale-New Haven Hospital doctors tried saving Athiyan in surgery, he died three days later. His death was attributed to blunt force trauma with multiple impact sites, according to the state chief medical examiner.
Patel had been under investigation from the Department of Children and Families for an incident in December when Athiyan was brought to the Yale-New Haven hospital with cuts on his lip and a bruise on his chin. A neighbor interviewed at the time of the first incident told police Athiyan was dropped off at Patel’s house four or five times each week.
Athiyan’s parents, Thenmozhi Rejendran, 24, and Mani Sivakumar, 33, had agreed after the December incident to stop hiring Patel. After Athiyan’s death, both parents first told police the mother had been watching him on the day he fractured his head. On Jan. 30, the child’s parents were arrested for interfering with the police and “risk of injury” to the child.
“It’s a very, very sad situation,” said Charles Tiernan, the parents’ attorney. “I think the parents are suffering and it’s unfortunate that they have to go through this process in addition to having lost their child.”
Tiernan, who said he expects the child’s parents to plead not guilty, described the situation as a “tragic set of facts.”
Mani Sivakumar, Athiyan’s father, was working as a mechanical engineer. Both parents were Indian nationals; the father moved to the United States four years ago, followed by the mother two years later, Tiernan estimates.
Athiyan’s funeral took place Monday at Iovanne Funeral Home, and the child’s organs were donated to four different children in need of transplants, said Tiernan.
Dr. Andrea Asnes, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine who is contracted by the Department of Children and Families to consult cases of child abuse, said around 45 percent of the 50 to 60 inpatients she and her partners directly evaluate are diagnosed with physical abuse.
Many other children bear symptoms of maltreatment through neglect or sexual abuse, she added.
In 2010, 10,846 children were victims of abuse or neglect in Connecticut, an 11.2 percent increase from the year before. Of these victims, 6.1 percent were physically abused, according to a study published in that year by the Administration on Children, Youth and Families under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“It’s important to recognize that most kids who end up with serious or fatal abuse have superficial signs of that abuse earlier on,” she said. “My work centers on helping front-line providers recognize those injuries and intervene.”
Asnes, who said she had “some degree of involvement” in Athiyan Sivakumar’s case, said that in her nine years of experience working with abused kids, she has found that parents and other family caregivers are far more likely to be perpetrators of physical abuse than people outside of the child’s family. She added that babysitter perpetrators are “relatively rare.”
In 2010, four children in Connecticut died due to abuse or neglect, according to the same Administration on Children, Youth and Families study.
“We’d much rather prevent it than diagnose it, but this is part of our job,” Asnes said.
The parents will appear in court Feb. 18.