Shore investigators searching Internet for possible cause of 2 babies' deaths With tainted food ruled out, police seeking similar cases


Nearly a month after two infants died in bed at their day care provider's home on Kent Island, investigators still don't know why the seemingly healthy babies stopped breathing during an afternoon nap.

Police say toxicology reports have ruled out tainted food, which at first was believed to be a possible cause. Frustrated detectives from the Queen Anne's Sheriff's Department have turned to the Internet for help.

"We have searched the Internet, looking for similar cases," said Capt. Curtis Benton, a department spokesman. "So far, we haven't had any luck with that either. If it had been one child, you might think it was a case of SIDS [Sudden Infant Death Syndrome], but with two babies, that seems unlikely."

Dr. Jodi Shaefer, director of the Center for Infant and Child Loss at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, says she is not surprised that police have found little on the worldwide computer network to aid their investigation.

"On the Internet, I have not observed anything similar," Shaefer said. "There was a report in 1986 of twins who died, but these were unrelated babies. This is a very different situation."

Matthew Willis Harrison and Ian Walden Denny, each almost 6 months old, died May 13 in the Stevensville day care home.

Shaefer said medical examiners often need two to eight weeks to determine the cause of an infant's death.

"This kind of [testing] takes place in Maryland whenever an infant dies," she said. "They are systematically going through all the evidence. There's a great deal of interest because two children died. But this is normal, the way every investigation is handled."

Last month, medical examiners tested peaches that had been fed to the two boys, but found nothing that would have posed a danger to the children. Testing of food containers at the FBI laboratory in Washington also failed to provide answers.

Police say they have seen no evidence of foul play in the babies' deaths.

Queen Anne's investigators met last week with state medical examiners to go over information they had shared early in the case.

"We met with them to look again at everything and make sure nothing was overlooked," Benton said. "If it's not the food, then obviously, you look for other possibilities. We had to rule out the food first."

Dr. John E. Smialek, the state's chief medical examiner, will not comment on active cases, said Michael Golden, a health department spokesman.

"The investigation is continuing, as it has for the last few weeks," Golden said. "The medical examiner's office isn't going to speculate. There is no timetable for completing this investigation."

There is a possibility that the children, who were sleeping in a full-size bed, may have accidentally suffocated, Benton said.

"The only thing we know for sure is that they were put down for a nap, and they stopped breathing," he said.

Pub Date: 6/11/98

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