When proud parents Ali and Derek Dodd welcomed their second son into the world, they felt that their lives couldn’t get much better. Their firstborn, Presley, five, was happy to become a big brother, and the young couple took adorable footage of baby Shepard settling in at the family home in Oklahoma.
Given that his parents had struggled with fertility problems for some time, Shepard was a “special baby” for the Dodds. Following several miscarriages, Ali, 33, had finally given birth to a healthy son – and she was delighted with her beautiful new boy. “[Shepard] had a life ahead with limitless possibilities,” doting dad Derek, a teacher, wrote on YourTango.
So, when it was time for mom to return to her work as a physical therapist, deciding on suitable childcare was something that the couple took very seriously. After speaking to friends about quality day-care in the local area, they decided on a provider who specialized in looking after the children of teachers.
Her in-house services particularly suited Derek’s work schedule, as his teaching position allowed him to stay at home with the children during school breaks. Given that the childcare provider was unavailable during those periods, employing her to watch Shepard made both practical and financial sense for the growing family.
And so in April 2015, aged 11 weeks, the Dodds’ youngest son was left in the trusted care of the recommended daycare provider in Edmond, Oklahoma. “Shepard was an unnaturally happy and healthy 11-week-old baby boy,” Derek wrote on YourTango. “He would smile until something needed to be corrected. And then he would smile again.”
April 6, 2015, was Shepard’s fifth day being watched by the caregiver. Apart from having a slight cold, the baby appeared to be in a good mood and was deemed well enough by his parents to attend daycare. His doting dad gave him the usual kiss goodbye before heading off to work.
But unbeknownst to the father-of-two, it would be the last time that he would see his son alive. “I left for work early and was able to kiss Shepard and Ali goodbye,” Derek recalled in a video that he posted on Facebook. “I will never forget him looking over for me and smiling.” The next time that he would kiss his son, however, the baby would be cold.
According to Derek’s account of the day for YourTango, Shepard’s runny nose over the weekend had left him congested, causing the baby’s mom concern about him sleeping on his back during naptime at daycare. She spoke to the carer about letting Shepard sleep in a slightly inclined “rock-n-play” chair, so that he would be more comfortable while his nose was blocked.
The child minder agreed to this request, despite being chastised by the Department of Human Services only days before for allowing unsafe sleep practices in the children in her care. The warning had referred to swings and carseats, as they are deemed unsafe places to sleep for a baby that is not yet able to hold up their head. If the infant’s head should fall into the chin-to-chest position, their airways can become blocked, which might cause death by suffocation.
The warning was apparently not heeded, however, and Shepard tragically died from what has since been termed “positional asphyxiation,” according to US Weekly. A police report stated that in this case the baby had been wrapped in a blanket before being placed into a car seat. It was also alleged that the infant was not strapped in with a safety buckle.
Furthermore, the car seat holding Shepard had reportedly been placed on the floor in a room with the door closed. It was claimed that the sleeping infant had then spent two hours alone in the room before being checked on. According to an interview with Dodd by KFOR-TV, when the caregiver entered, she discovered that Shepard had turned blue.
As a result, the carer called 911, and police and EMTs attended the scene. She then contacted Ali and told her to come quickly. After speaking to an EMT over the phone, the baby’s mom knew that the situation was serious and phoned her husband at work. He took the call mid-class and immediately headed for the child-minder’s home.
In a heart-wrenching account later posted on Facebook, the distraught father recalled the moment that his life changed forever. “I ran to the truck and drove way too fast to the daycare provider’s home,” he wrote. “When I arrived, they were wheeling out my son on a stretcher. They were still working on him, but told me that they had yet to get his heart going or him breathing on his own.”
Despite medics preforming CPR for two hours, baby Shepard died in hospital. “I kissed him all over his face and apologized hundreds of times,” Ali told US Weekly. “When your child dies, you wish you could die.”
The grieving couple have been left with only memories of their son’s short life and just one family photo. Their lives will never be the same again. According to US Weekly, the Dodds believe that their son’s death could have been prevented. However, no charges have ever been brought against the childcare provider.
Furthermore, the caregiver was allegedly allowed to continue providing a daycare service for months after Shepard’s death, although apparently her license was eventually withdrawn by the state. In addition, according to KFOR-TV no record of the tragedy has been mentioned in the carer’s public file, meaning that parents would be unable find evidence of it ever happening should her services resume at a later date.
In an interview with KFOR-TV, Ali said, “It’s just unthinkable that these choices were so easy to make.” The heartbroken mom also told US Weekly, “When you lose a baby, you lose their whole life. You lose birthdays, you lose Christmases, you lose kindergarten and the first day of school – you lose everything.”
Speaking to MailOnline, Ali stated that the family wants to ensure that their son’s death educates others regarding the safe sleeping of infants. The couple, who have since had a daughter, Esme, are hopeful that Shepard’s passing will leave some kind of positive legacy. They pray that their experience will prevent other parents from going through the same unthinkable loss.
Inspired by the suggestion of big brother Presley, the family wore green – Shepard’s favorite color – every day after the funeral. They also created Shepard’s Watch, a social media group highlighting the dangers posed to babies when carers are not safe sleep-aware. Information provided by the Fetal Infant Mortality Review board claims that more than one hundred Oklahoma City-area babies have died because of unsafe sleeping conditions since 2011.
Furthermore, over 5 percent of these babies were left sleeping in a car seat or something of similar incline. As a result of the Dodds’ campaign, on March 30, 2016, “Shepard’s Law” passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives. It states that childcare providers must not have loose bedding, including blankets, or toys in sleeping areas used by infants.