Babysitter, 59, is charged with murder 37 YEARS after shaking baby that left him with brain trauma


Terry McKirchy, 59, (pictured) is now being charged with first-degree murder, thirty-seven years after she aggressively shook Benjamin Dowling, 35, when he was an infant

A former Florida babysitter has been charged with murder – decades after she shook a baby boy so violently in 1984 he was left with permanent severe brain damage – following his death at the age of 35. 

Benjamin Dowling was left with such serious head trauma, he never mentally development past the age of five-and-half-months. 

Despite his injuries, he survived into adulthood, under the constant care of his family, until he died at his family’s home in Bradenton, Florida, in September 2019.

A Manatee County medical autopsy confirmed his death was a result of the injuries he received as an infant under the care of his babysitter Terry McKirchy, now 59.

This month, McKirchy was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. She is currently awaiting extradition back to Broward County, Florida to face the charges. 

McKirchy was 22 when she claimed Dowling fell off a couch while she was watching him at her home in Hollywood, Florida on July 3, 1984.

His parents, who had arrived to pick him up from McKirchy’s home, were immediately concerned. 

The family told the Sun Sentinel they noticed their son was acting unusually;  Mrs. Dowling told police her son’s hands were clenched and he was turning blue, in addition to his breathing being shallow and him staring blankly at her. 

Due to the incident, Dowling (pictured) was left with severe trauma that he never progressed in development past 5-and-half-months.

Dowling (pictured)  passed away at his family's home in Bradenton, Florida, in September 2019, due to injuries associated with the 1984 incident, according to a Manatee County medical autopsy.

The Medical Examiner’s Office referred Dowling’s case to the Hollywood Police Department, which then referred it to the State Attorney’s Office

Mrs. Dowling immediately rushed her son to the hospital, where doctors determined Benjamin had Shaken Infant Syndrome, now commonly referred to as abusive head trauma.   

McKirchy was later arrested and found guilty of first-degree attempted murder and aggravated battery on a child. 

However, after taking a plea deal, McKirchy, who was pregnant at the time of sentencing, escaped a 15-year prison stay. 

Instead, a Broward judge ordered McKirchy to report to jail only on weekends until her baby was born. 

But after Dowling’s death in 2019, new murder charges were filed after the Medical Examiner’s Office ruled his death was caused by the injuries he suffered as a baby and referred his death the local police which passed it to the State Attorney’s Office. 

In 1984, McKirchy, who was 22-year-old at the time, claimed Dowling fell off a couch.

In 1984, McKirchy, who was 22-year-old at the time, claimed Dowling fell off a couch.

Benjamin's injuries were so severe, he needed to have a feeding tube placed in his abdomen when he was 18-months-old, where it remained until he died

Benjamin’s injuries were so severe, he needed to have a feeding tube placed in his abdomen when he was 18-months-old, where it remained until he died

The family told the Sun Sentinel that Benjamin progressed normally through his first 5½ months of life, but that his life as neve the same after the incident. In this photo, Benjamin is pictured with a family member

The family told the Sun Sentinel that Benjamin progressed normally through his first 5½ months of life, but that his life as neve the same after the incident. In this photo, Benjamin is pictured with a family member

Despite those efforts, Benjamin's family said he was unable to accomplish the simplest of functions or even comprehend any form of communication after the incident

Despite those efforts, Benjamin’s family said he was unable to accomplish the simplest of functions or even comprehend any form of communication after the incident 

‘The passage of time between the injuries sustained and the death of the victim were considered by the forensic experts who conducted the autopsy and ruled the death was directly caused by the injuries from 1984,’ the State Attorney’s Office said in a statement. 

‘The facts speak for themselves, and this case was presented to the Grand Jury, which determined that this was a homicide,’

Although the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution claims no one can be prosecuted twice for the same crime, murder and attempted murder are two separate crimes. 

The U.S. does not have a statue of limitations for murder and filing new charges after death is very common, Javis states.

McKirchy was arrested in Dowling’s death on July 2, 2021, after U.S Marshalls tracked her down at an auto parts store in Sugar Land, Texas where she was working. 

The U.S. Marshals Office did not have a home address for McKirchy in Sugar Land and are uncertain of how long she had been residing there. 

The new charges may bring some peace to the Dowlings who believe it weren’t for the 1984 incident, their son would’ve lived a normal life. 

‘Benjamin never progressed in development beyond a 5½-month-old infant. Benjamin never crawled, fully rolled over, walked, never talked, never fed himself, he never enjoyed a hamburger or an ice cream cone,’ they told The South Florida Sun Sentinel. 

'Benjamin never progressed in development beyond a 5½-month-old infant. Benjamin never crawled, fully rolled over, walked, never talked, never fed himself, he never enjoyed a hamburger or an ice cream cone,' they told The South Florida Sun Sentinel.

The Dowlings believe it weren't for the 1984 incident, their son would've lived a normal life

‘Benjamin never progressed in development beyond a 5½-month-old infant. Benjamin never crawled, fully rolled over, walked, never talked, never fed himself, he never enjoyed a hamburger or an ice cream cone,’ they told The South Florida Sun Sentinel.

The family told the Sun Sentinel that Benjamin progressed normally through his first five-and-a-half months of life, but that his life as never the same after the incident.

Benjamin’s injuries were so severe, he needed to have a feeding tube placed in his abdomen when he was 18-months-old, where it remained until he died.

In addition, he also had metal rods placed along his spine because he could not hold himself upright. 

He also attended numerous schools for children with special needs.   

Despite those efforts, Benjamin’s family said he was unable to accomplish the simplest of functions or even comprehend any form of communication.

‘Although he lived to be 35 years old, the life we would have lived as a family was forever altered,’ the family added. ‘We cherish our time with and memories of Benjamin, and we continue to support him through our belief that there should be justice for Benjamin.’

McKirchy remains in Texas where she awaits extradition to South Florida.  

 

What is ‘Shaken Infant Syndrome’?

Also known as abusive head trauma, shaken impact syndrome, inflicted head injury or whiplash shake syndrome,  ‘shaken infant syndrome’ is a severe brain injury that results from forcefully shaking an infant or toddler. 

It is a form of child abuse that causes critical brain damage, resulting from as little as five seconds of shaking.

It often occurs out of frustration or anger, usually because the child won’t stop crying.

Because infants have soft brains and weak neck muscles, shaking a baby or toddler can cause their brain to repeatedly hit the inside of the skull.

This can trigger bruising in the brain, bleeding in the brain, and brain swelling. 

Other injuries may include broken bones as well as damage to the baby’s eyes, spine, and neck.

While shaken infant syndrome is more common in children under age 2 – with cases occurring among infants 6 to 8 weeks old – it can affect children up to age 5.

Symptoms of shaken baby syndrome include:

– difficulty staying awake

– body tremors

– paralysis

– trouble breathing

– discolored skin

– vomiting

–  seizures

–  coma

A doctor will diagnose by searching for the three conditions that often indicate shaken baby syndrome. 

Those include, encephalopathy, or brain swelling; subdural hemorrhage, or bleeding in the brain; and retinal hemorrhage, or bleeding in a part of the eye called the retina.

The doctor will then order a variety of tests to check for signs of brain damage, such as a CT scan or skeletal X-Ray.  

 

 

 



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