|Account of an innocent girl’s murder serves as plea to end rampant child abuse|
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ON Friday afternoon, Sept. 21, 2007, Miriam Gallegos approached a stranger in a parking lot in Denver’s Golden Triangle and asked to use her cell phone.
Miriam, who held a little girl’s coat in her hands, said that someone had just stolen her baby.
It was a lie spoken too late.
Neveah, her three-year-old daughter, was already dead — and she knew it.
Miriam thought up the kidnapping ploy to give her boyfriend and registered sex offender Angel Ray Montoya time to dispose of the body.
What sounds like a bizarre plot best reserved for crime fiction mirrors the growing epidemic of child abuse fatalities in America.
An average of between four to seven children die every day due to child abuse and neglect in the US, according Childhelp, a national organization.
Annual reports of child abuse in this country alone involve more than six million children.
Neveah and the Angel of Death is Harlan Abrahams’ riveting account of one innocent girl’s murder, the dynamics of abuse, holes in child protection services and legal obstacles that denied Neveah justice for five years.
The book, written in honor of Neveah, is a plea to end rampant child abuse and child murder so that all children grow up unafraid, unharmed and free.
“In our Jewish community, we often hear the saying, ‘If you save a single life it’s as if you save the world,’” he tells the IJN on a frosty morning.
“I have learned that the written word can trigger powerful actions. If this book saves one child, it will be worth every minute of work I devoted to it.”
ABRAHAMS, an attorney, a former law professor and local author, followed Neveah’s case closely from day one. Unlike the majority of observers, his interest was multi-pronged.
The writer in him was initially drawn to Neveah’s story “because it’s a compelling true life tale that provides a great narrative,” Abrahams says.
“Secondly, I’m a survivor of considerable child abuse myself.”
His expression is open, unaltered.
“And as a former constitutional law professor, I had the ability to demystify some of concepts for the reader without interrupting the narrative flow.”
The trajectory of the case, “however sad, has some redemptive justice at the end. And it was a great vehicle to take on an issue that I’ve wanted to address without addressing my own childhood.”
Abrahams didn’t commit to the book until he heard the closing arguments in 2012. “When I heard the story in its entirety, I realized it had the bones of a good tale from a storytelling standpoint.”
The press publicized Neveah’s photograph from her supposed abduction to the gruesome discovery of her body in a Lakewood gulch four days later.
Her dark eyes speak a secret language understood by too many children.
“She’s beautiful,” Abrahams says. “Her image is haunting. Children like Neveah live in fear. During this holiday season we need to remember that the children who suffer from abuse don’t have good holidays.
“Holidays trigger stress, and stress triggers abuse. These children fear the family time we crave because time with their family means exposure to abusers.”
Abrahams is unable to say what set off Angel Ray that awful day, but he’s convinced that Miriam saw ample warning signs on her daughter: bruising; lethargy induced by blunt trauma; fear.
Miriam chose Angel Ray over Neveah. It was that simple, and incredulous.
“It was not a single event that ended this child’s life,” Abrahams says. “Neveah went through hell her last few days.
“I do know that abuse often arises out of frustration that has nothing to do with the child. From my own experience I can say there is a point where you can look into an abuser’s eyes and see the moment he loses control.
“It’s almost like a light switch is being thrown, which pushes them over the edge from anger to loss of control.
“Abuse is rarely connected to dishing up discipline to a three-year-old or 12-year-old. It’s about gratification, whether sexual or physical or emotional.
“The alleged link between physical abuse and discipline is an excuse without merit.”
ABRAHAMS’ fluency in the law clarified obscure terminology, and his personal history allowed him to dig deep into the inner turmoil of the main characters. “I went beyond who said what, beyond when and where, to see how people really felt,” he says.
“The players’ feelings at different points are not something that gets explored on the witness stand. Emotions provide a dimension that many true crime stories lack if you just study the cold transcripts.”
He compassionately interviewed the family — “ lawyers call them witnesses, defendants or prosecutors, but for a writer they are characters.”
Miriam’s mother Janet Gallegos, her sister Cathy and her aunt Vera, the “triumvirate” that tried to protect Neveah from Miriam and Angel Ray, opened their hearts to him.
DA Mitch Morrissey, Det. Mark Crider, physicians and others also spoke to Abrahams in depth — not just about the facts but the pain behind them.
In one passage, Crider explains how it feels to carry a dead child up a gulch.
The language is so real you can touch it:
“And for me, it was like . . . halfway up that hill, you realize what you’re carrying. Not that you forgot it was a body, but it just clicks, it hits.”
Abrahams, 63, grew up during the Vietnam and Civil Rights era, which generated “a healthy distaste for the police and the military,” he smiles.
“It wasn’t until I worked with prosecutors and police on the Neveah book that I saw a different side to what they do,” he says. “I came to really admire the people who are serving us now — the police, the homicide detectives, Mitch Morrissey.
“I have been blown away and enriched immeasurably by learning how satisfying it can be to perform a public service.”