On June 3, 2005, in Corvallis, Oregon, three-year-old Karly Sheehan died after being abused and tortured.

In A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder, the author, an investigative journalist, details the events leading up to this death, including the numerous failures of the system along the way.

Karly’s parents, David and Sarah Sheehan, were divorced, and although David, an Irish immigrant, was the primary caretaker, the two alternated care. Sarah’s relationship with Shawn Wesley Field was the turning point in Karly’s life, but the ability of Sarah to deflect, to charm her way out of uncomfortable situations, and her apparent narcissism, were factors that did not end up in criminal charges against her in the end. Shawn Field was held on numerous counts and found guilty. He is serving a lengthy sentence.

Because the author had known and even cared for Sarah for a period of time during her teens, she felt a vested interest in the events and spent a great deal of time compiling facts of the case when writing this memoir.

Because of her relationship with Sarah, she knew the young woman’s flaws and did not buy into the “victim” stance afforded Sarah during the trial.

It was only after the trial that the author even learned of Karly’s death, as she had not been living in Corvallis at the time. The fact that Sarah did not reach out to her, or the very strange manner in which she reported the death to the author when she happened to run into her one day, set off red flags. Why had Sarah not protected her daughter? How did she so readily turn a blind eye to what was happening to her daughter?

Other questions certainly arose during her investigation and had arisen during the trial: why had the system failed to take certain steps to ensure the child’s safety? And how had Karly’s case fallen through the cracks?

April is Child Abuse Protection month, and it behooves us all to be more aware of the most vulnerable members of society.

In this quote, the author provides some statistics:

“Every five hours, a child in the U. S. dies from abuse or neglect, according to a 2011 investigation by the BBC journalist Natalia Antelava. The U.S. has the highest child abuse record in the industrialized world. America’s child abuse death rate is triple Canada’s and eleven times that of Italy…”

As a retired social worker and child protective services professional, I have encountered many alarming cases over the years. One would think I might become desensitized to the abuse, but, in fact, the opposite is true. Throughout Zacharias’s story, I found myself tearing up over and over at the alarming facts of the case. In telling Karly’s story, the author flashed between the past and present to weave in details of David’s story, as well as Sarah’s, showing the reader the very real characters and how their lives and choices impacted the victimized child. I found the reference to the protectiveness of mockingbirds an example of how far we, as humans, have yet to go to reach that level of safekeeping. Five stars.


I was provided a review copy by the publisher, which, in no way, has impacted my review of this book.




  2. We tend to see child abuse in third world countries or China but forget that it’s happening in North America too. I also worked in the system and worked with such cases. It turns my stomach, even more so now that I am a mom. I don’t know that I would be able to read this though, right now. It sounds very emotional and heartbreaking.


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