Follett, Britten and Cherokee Ballard. Charleston, S.C.: BookSurge Publishing, April 2010. ISBN 9781439266601. $19.99.
Many people in Oklahoma know who Kelsey Smith-Briggs is. For those who don’t, Kelsey is a two-year from Meeker, Oklahoma who was physically abused over time and eventually murdered. According to the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office, the abuse eventually led to her death. She has become the face of child abuse in Oklahoma, if not across the nation.
This book by Britten Follett and Cherokee Ballard, both of whom are professional journalists in Oklahoma, is devoted to finding the truth about this terrible case of child abuse and presenting it to the public. The authors have researched the public record and utilized a variety of other sources on this case. Both authors also reported on the case for the news agencies they have worked with. Additionally, the book features personal, and at times intimate information from Kelsey’s paternal family, the Briggs.
Kelsey Shelton Smith-Briggs was born December 28, 2002 to Lance Briggs and Raye Dawn Smith. She was murdered October 11, 2005. She was physically abused by her mother, and the abuse was documented by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. However, she was allowed to remain with her mother instead of being removed from her and placed into the care of her father and his family.
This failure is discussed throughout the book. The book also demonstrates that many things were overlooked or ignored which could have prevented Kelsey’s death. One of the most compelling things it reveals is the hatred between the two families that have been feuding over Kelsey.
The situations that the books reports on are very heart wrenching and at times very horrendous. The story makes the reader wonder, “how could a mother do such things to her child?” But, as the evidence shows, this did indeed happen and Kelsey’s mother is not alone is doing such things to a child.
The authors present the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation’s interview of Raye Dawn Smith Porter and Michael Porter and then use “flashbacks” to tell the horrendous story. The book is very well written and the reader will have a hard time putting it down. Unfortunately Kelsey’s story may disturb the reader’s sleep. The reader will ask over and over “why did this happen” and “why did the authorities mess up so badly?” And while this book presents a captivating and tragic story, it should be noted that it is no light read. It is not recommended for all readers because of the gruesome nature of the topic.
Since Kelsy’s death, the Briggs family helped to found the Kelsey Briggs Foundation which gives out a scholarship in the little girl’s honor. The family also has been involved with Kelsey’s Purpose, is a grassroots watchdog of Oklahoma Department of Human Services and other agencies charged with looking out for the interests of children.
The book also features a centerfold of black and white photos of Kelsey and her family. Some pictures show the results of abuse. The most famous photo of the toddler with her two broken legs in casts is among them. There is no bibliography or works cited page. If the book had this it would have really strengthened its case. There is no index either.
This well-written book is highly recommended to those interested in Kelsey’s story and about child abuse and murder. However, the reader should think twice about picking up the book if they know they will be bothered by the grim reality it presents.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.