Detroit, MI – Wyatt Rewoldt will celebrate his third birthday Monday.
Nearly two years ago, it was unclear if the St. Clair Shores boy would survive after authorities said he suffered severe brain injuries at the hands of his father’s then-girlfriend who unbeknownst to Wyatt’s family had a history of child abuse.
Today, just days shy of Wyatt’s birthday, his mother, Erica Hammel, stood with three Michigan legislators to announce proposed bills to create an online public, searchable statewide registry of those convicted of child abuse – the first of its kind in the country.
“It’s a vicious cycle that needs to stop,” Hammel said of child abuse — such as the abuse that left her son temporarily blind and now requires two more upcoming surgeries for his eyes and a shunt that is permanently installed in his brain.
Wyatt’s Law is a package of three bills that will require people convicted of first, second, and third degree child abuse, all felonies, to register for 10 years and for those convicted of misdemeanor, or fourth-degree, child abuse to register for five years, said state Rep. Derek Miller.
Miller is a former Macomb County assistant prosecutor who once prosecuted Rachel Edwards for child abuse involving another boy before she was accused of assaulting Wyatt in 2013.
Miller said those required to register would have to pay a $50 annual fee to help with the cost of the database. For example, he said, the state’s sex offender registry costs about $1.3 million a year.
The bills, co-sponsored by Rep. Sarah Roberts of St. Clair Shores and Rep. Vanessa Guerra of Saginaw, would make it a four-year felony for those who do not register, update their registration information or pay the registration fee.
Roberts said one of the bills requires state police to create a public searchable website with the convicted person’s name, address, date of birth, employment or school, picture and summary of the convictions. It also requires state police to create a more extensive registry for law enforcement purposes.
Guerra said that such a registry would fill a gap – giving parents or guardians a place to see if someone their child is coming into contact with – such as a new neighbor, babysitter, someone dating an ex-spouse – has any prior child abuse convictions.
There is no companion bill in the state senate at this time.
Miller said it took a while to get the bills in place because they wanted to be careful because of negative attention of the sex offender registry, which can hinder sex offenders for the rest of their lives.
The 10-year and five-year registrations hope to give people information they need and allow the offenders to have time to possibly rehabilitate, Miller said.
Guerra said there have been 1,200 convictions for child abuse cases in Michigan in the last three years. Hammel – whose effort started with an online petition that she said netted more than 16,000 signatures – said that child abuse is up 30% in Michigan.
Among those child abuse convictions are some involving Edwards. Had such a registry existed when Hammel was doing online searches for information about Edwards, Hammel said, perhaps Wyatt may have not have been abused.
Edwards, herself a mother, was sentenced to 33 months to 10 years in February after pleading no contest to second-degree child abuse in Macomb County Circuit Court in the case against Wyatt.
Unbeknownst to Hammel at the time of the assault on her son, Edwards had pleaded no contest to third-degree child abuse in 2011 and was found guilty by a Warren district court jury of fourth-degree child abuse in 2013, just days before Wyatt was shaken. The victims were the sons of men Edwards was dating.
Edwards’ attorney said after sentencing in Wyatt’s case that Edwards maintains her innocence.
Christyne Kadlitz, whose son was the victim in the other two cases involving Edwards, said “child abuse need not be a secret anymore.”
Wyatt was attending his regular, special education school this morning and wasn’t at a news conference in the circuit court announcing the bills. He continues to attend physical, occupational and speech therapy.
Wyatt is improving, but still can’t handle eating textured food. He walks with the help of leg braces.
Earlier this year, Wyatt couldn’t say one word. Now, he can say 25 to 30 words, including horse, and make animal sounds, said Mark Piepsney, his speech therapist at the DMC Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan.
This summer during a speech therapy session, a picture of Hammel was mixed in among flash cards Wyatt was identifying.
For the first time in what appeared to be a conscious moment with meaning for Wyatt, he said “momma.”
“That was a very powerful moment,” Hammel said.
Hammel said she doesn’t want what happened to Wyatt to define him.
“I tell him his smile will change the world because it’s changed mine,” she said