Haunted by Juli-Anna: An 'agonizingly painful' preventable death
By the time Juli-Anna died at 27 months, the neglect was well-known in community
They vowed there would never be another Jacqueline Brewer.
Left alone in her crib for days, with nothing to drink and no one to love her, Jackie's body lay lifeless for more than nine hours before anyone noticed.
Her death at 28 months led to promises of more social workers and better training to detect neglect.
Then it happened again.
Juli-Anna St. Peter was a month younger than Jackie. And, as happened with Jackie, warning after warning — at least 16 — poured into social services about Juli-Anna's family.
The complaints came from the mayor of Canterbury, an emergency room doctor and the children's grandmother, among others.
But a formal child protection investigation into Juli-Anna's family was never launched.
And in the early morning hours of April 13, 2004, Juli-Anna stopped breathing.
She was rushed to hospital in Woodstock, but doctors could not save her. They were too late.
A grandmother's worries
As soon as she got the call, Donna Hitchcock knew something was wrong with one of her granddaughters, who no longer lived with her son, Allison.
Hitchcock was living in Alberta but often worried about the girls. Who were they staying with? Were they getting enough to eat? She fielded calls from back home in New Brunswick, from people who told her the children weren't wearing coats or shoes in winter.
Before Hitchock moved away, it wasn't unusual for the girls' mother, Anna Mooers, to drop them off, promising she'd be gone a few hours but not returning for days.
Sometimes, Juli-Anna and her older sister would wander alone down the road to their grandmother's house. When Hitchcock visited them, she would find the girls in dirty diapers, eating Cheezies for supper.
Juli-Anna died after a pen-like toy got into her small body, perforating her bowel. It's not clear, even after a trial, how the pen ended up inside her body.
Mooers told the court she loved her daughter. She never thought she was sick enough to die, she said.
"This case is not about a lack of love," Justice Paulette Garnett said in her sentencing decision. "It is about a lack of care."
She sentenced Mooers to 27 months in jail, the length of time her daughter lived.
An 'agonizingly painful' death
Hitchcock estimates she called social services between 10 and 15 times to complain about the treatment of her grandchildren. One week, she called every day.
She wanted someone to show Mooers how to take care of them.
"They would check it out, was pretty much all I got," Hitchcock said.
"Then it got to the point of, 'Well, you're just the grandmother. Maybe you're just taking things out of context.'"
The referrals to child protective services came from credible sources, yet officials deemed them unsubstantiated every time.
"The department had tons of opportunities to protect that girl," said Bernard Richard, New Brunswick's former child and youth advocate. He now holds a similar position in British Columbia.
More than that, she should have been saved.
Medical evidence, Richard wrote, showed Juli-Anna was very sick for at least three days before she died "and would have suffered greatly."
"Her death was agonizingly painful."
A grandfather of eight, Richard thinks of Juli-Anna often. He's visited her grave several times.
Her face stares back at him from a portrait on the wall of his office, and motivates his work as the watchdog for British Columbia youth.
"A needless death of a 27-month-old little girl," he said.
Nearly a decade later, Richard wonders if enough was learned from Juli-Anna and Jackie. If history will continue to repeat itself.
'I'm really sad because she died'
A little girl stands under the haze of two dark storm clouds. It's raining and she's crying.
"I'm really sad because she died," the girl tells a social worker. "It feels like the world is empty without her."
"I wish I could see her again."
The girl, only a child herself, was the de-facto caregiver for Juli-Anna, making sure she was fed and happy.
When Juli-Anna refused to eat or drink for several days, her sister — whose name is protected by a publication ban — tried desperately to save her.
She lay in a bed a few feet away as Juli-Anna slowly slipped away.
Only four at the time of her sister's death, the girl blamed herself.
Juli-Anna was the "ultimate victim," the girl's foster mother wrote to the court. But there were other casualties.
"The children who survived will forever have the challenge of rising above the pain and despair that the actions of Miss Mooers has had on their lives."
The foster mother called for the girl's death to mean something.
"May the death of Juli-Anna St. Peter be a new beginning in the way we respond to child neglect, so that her legacy will come to mean more than just the awful circumstances around her death."
Reminders of Juli-Anna
Grief and guilt have haunted Hitchcock too.
Shortly after returning to Alberta, she saw two girls about the same age as Juli-Anna and her sister. She burst into tears and had to take time off from her job at Tim Hortons.
More than a decade later, Juli-Anna still crosses her grandmother's mind every day. Some days are good. Others are bad.
"What if I had have stayed there? What if I hadn't come out to Alberta? Would she have still been alive? Would she have been with me? That's always on my mind, wondering."
Hitchcock doesn't believe her granddaughter got justice. She was "just a name" in headlines, she said. Maybe now a forgotten one.
"I just hope that all of this will save other children, that they will open up their eyes and realize they have to go in there," Hitchcock said.
"They have to help these children. Nobody else can help them."
Juli-Anna is buried in a small graveyard overlooking the St. John River in Hillman, near Woodstock.
Her gravestone is marked by lyrics from an old gospel song.
"There'll be no sadness, no sorrow / No trouble, trouble I see / There will be peace in the valley for me, for me."
Juli-Anna would be 15 now.
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