Seven-month-old Aaden Moreno’s lifeless body was recovered from the Connecticut River in Middletown on July 7, three days after he was thrown from the Arrigoni Bridge by his father, Tony Moreno.
At a court appearance for the father, who faces criminal charges, a lawyer called the death of the child “a bottomless tragedy,” a description that suggests it could not have been prevented, and its reverberations through countless lives will be never-ending.
The senseless death of a child at the hands of a protector is a mind-numbing tragedy. But as a responsible society, we can and must look closely at how two young parents could be so completely failed by a system that had the tools and the knowledge to intervene, but never made the right connections.
By all accounts, Aaden’s parents had a difficult relationship, made more stressful with the arrival of a child. Court records and text messages between the two also reveal there were concerns about mental instability and the potential for violence. Yet the mother’s plea for a restraining order was rejected, and there is no evidence of any referrals for counseling or treatment.
In the health care and social service community, we know a lot about mental illness and domestic violence. We have come a long way in understanding the causes and contributing factors, in seeing the warning signs, and in providing care and protection for families and partners.
We know, for instance, that the period of time just after a partner stands up to escalating violence or threats can be the most dangerous for that individual and those nearby. We understand the arc of behavior that can start with verbal threats and abuse and lead to devastating violence.
We also know how to provide treatment, protection and support for individuals struggling with mental illness or domestic violence. In shelters and community clinics across the state, people get medication and treatment, counseling and support services that in many cases are the difference between life and death.
But that knowledge and skill means nothing if the people most in need of services don’t know it’s there, and the front line responders and the courts don’t know how to identify the need.
We will never know if programs like one that provides counseling and support for young parents would have saved Aaden Moreno. But it would have given him and his parents a chance.
We need more education about the signs of mental illness and domestic abuse at every level of police response, health care and in the judicial system; and an understanding of what services are available and how to access them. Programs like Mental Health First Aid, for example, sponsored by the National Council for Behavioral Health and provided in Connecticut by local organizations. That program raises awareness and can help avert a crisis through early intervention and referral to effective community programs.
In 1983, Tracey Thurman was attacked, stabbed and nearly killed by her husband, after Torrington police refused to take her pleas for protection seriously. Her subsequent lawsuit changed the way police departments in this state and across the country treat domestic violence.
Aaden Moreno can also be a force for change.
The death of 7-month-old child is indeed a bottomless tragedy. But we can learn from this case. We have the know-how and the skill – we need to share it and use it.
Jeffrey Walter is Interim CEO of the Connecticut Community Providers Association.