WORCESTER — The family of an 18-year-old Auburn man accused of shaking his 11-month-old cousin, causing skull and spine fractures, said Tuesday that they did not believe he was capable of the act and that state child welfare authorities last year deemed him safe to live with his family.
Christian M. McFadden appeared dazed and disheveled as he was ordered held for psychiatric testing Tuesday in Worcester District Court after being found not competent to assist in his own defense. He is charged with assault and battery on a child, causing injury.
Relatives said the young man has multiple special needs and has the mind of a child. They said the state Department of Children and Families had allowed him to be reunited with his family after a stay at a residential treatment facility about a year ago, adding that DCF staff had visited the home since then.
A department spokeswoman declined to comment on the family’s assertion that the department was involved with McFadden before the assault of the baby, but she said the agency moved swiftly when it learned of the injuries to the baby.
“When we received allegations of abuse in the home where Mr. McFadden was residing with his mother, we immediately investigated and took swift and appropriate action to remove all of the children from the home to ensure their safety,” DCF spokeswoman Cayenne Isaksen said in a prepared statement. “DCF also made a referral to local law enforcement for further investigation, which led to the arrest of Mr. McFadden.”
The child welfare agency has been under scrutiny for a number of high-profile cases, including its handling of Jeremiah Oliver, a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy who has not been seen since September. An investigation showed that a social worker had failed to properly monitor the boy’s troubled family.
On Tuesday, a portrait emerged of another family in turmoil, with a young baby found severely injured last week in Auburn, near Worcester.
McFadden lives in a house on Hill Street with his mother, grandmother, two brothers, and two young cousins, including the 11-month-old, according to family members.
Assistant District Attorney Courtney Price said an anonymous witness reported seeing McFadden pick the baby up from her crib and shake her back and forth last Wednesday night. When the baby was examined, doctors found compression of her cervical spine, two skull fractures, hemorrhaging in both her eyes, and two old fractures to her left arm that have healed.
Family members said the baby is still hospitalized but is doing well. The family identified her as Becca Byrne.
Price painted a picture of a chaotic home, where she said McFadden sometimes became aggressive toward his mother and grandmother, once injuring his grandmother’s shoulder. He punched holes in the walls, Price said, and tore doors off their hinges.
“There were times [McFadden’s mother] had to restrain Mr. McFadden, herd up the other children that were in the house into another room so that they weren’t a part of the restraint,” Price said.
But in interviews, McFadden’s mother, grandmother, cousin, and uncle defended him, saying that he has never been prone to violence against other people, and that he was never left alone with the baby. All those family members said that DCF had been involved with McFadden.
“There was kids in that home, his brothers in that home,” McFadden’s cousin, Patrick Mongeau, 24, said after the court hearing. “They cleared him safe to come home. Why is it now that all of the sudden he’s unsafe and he’s made to be a monster? And if he’s that monster, why did they release him back to our family?”
“He is a big kid,” Mongeau said. “He still plays Power Rangers with his 13-year-old brother.”
McFadden’s mother, Peggie, said her son has schizoaffective disorder, mild mental retardation, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit disorder. She first called DCF when her son was 10 years old, she said, because he began running away, had lost the ability to tie his shoes, and had refused to shower or care for himself.
He spent seven years in and out of foster homes, group homes, hospitals, and a residential treatment facility, she said, and returned home about a year ago. He has learned coping strategies, she said, and would never have hurt the infant.
“Christian is not like that,” she said. “If he has a fit, he’ll go in his room and punch a wall and scream into a pillow.”
His uncle said that while McFadden would sometimes get upset when he did not get his way, he was most likely to break his own toys or throw his clothes out the window.
The 11-month-old came into Peggie McFadden’s custody last summer because the child’s mother could not care for the infant, the family said. The child’s mother is McFadden’s niece. The family said the baby’s mother has mental health and substance abuse problems.
Christian McFadden doted on the baby, his family said, holding her on his lap while she cooed and blew kisses just weeks before the abuse allegations surfaced. His profile picture on his Facebook page is a photo of the little girl dressed in a red jumper festooned with a monkey holding a heart that says, “I love you.”
McFadden still does not know why he was arrested, said Mongeau, his cousin.
“That kid sitting in there is exactly that, he’s a kid,” Mongeau said after the arraignment. “He’s not an adult standing trial like you see in the news, who beat the heck out of their kids and put them in the hospital. This baby was just jumping around the day before he was arrested.”
McFadden will be taken to Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital for psychiatric evaluation, according to Tim Connolly, a spokesman for the Worcester district attorney’s office.
Family members wept and hugged one another in a hallway after the arraignment, and shielded his trembling grandmother from the media with a jacket.
“I’m that little girl’s uncle,” Mongeau said, “and I want justice for that little girl. But I also want justice from the state.”