Little Albany child abuse victim given fresh start
"You know how at the end of winter, the snow is all dirty and starts to melt, then the flowers come out and bloom and the season is anew, that's what I'm thinking of for our future," said Lanette Grant, the grandmother and caretaker of Strider Downs-Skidgel. Grant said she thinks of Strider when she thinks of spring because his birthday is when the flowers start to bloom.
Strider, who turns 4 on May 28, has recovered from life-threatening injuries he suffered nearly 15 months ago at the hands of his mother's boyfriend, Justin Roy. After the assault, on Dec. 19, 2011, Strider and his younger brother, Gallagher, were placed in the custody of their biological father, Edward Skidgel, and grandparents Lanette and Larry Grant in Maine.
A jury of seven men and five women found Roy, 34, guilty on Feb. 4 on all 10 charges related to the severe beating of then-2½-year-old Strider and lesser assault charges involving Gallagher and their older brother, Zander.
Roy is scheduled for sentencing in Carroll County Superior Court in Ossipee, N.H., on April 2. Because of the ages of the victims, some of the charges allow for enhanced sentences of up to 20 years each in prison. Combined, Roy faces a potential prison term of more than 100 years.
The boys' mother, Heather Downs, faces trial this spring on four counts of child endangerment and one count of felony witness tampering. Downs was living with Roy and the three boys at an Albany, N.H., mobile home park until the morning after the assaults. The boys were placed in the custody of family members pending an investigation. Zander went to live with Downs' mother and stepfather' in Glen, N.H.
Strider suffered life-threatening injuries to the abdomen and intestines. He required three surgeries and remained hospitalized at the Barbara Bush Children's Hospital at Maine Medical Center for three weeks before he was released. Strider required a surgically implanted feeding tube for almost a year. The tube was removed in November, and according to grandma, his appetite is better than ever.
"He's feeling good. He's eating everything and anything. If you didn't know, you wouldn't think anything had happened to him," Lanette Grant said.
Christmas was a special time at the Grant household - both Strider and Gallagher received miniature ponies. Grant said the family needs a larger barn where in the future the boys can ride and care for their new animals. The ponies are from the Heart and Horses Therapeutic Riding Center in Buxton. Riding may be especially therapeutic for Strider, Grant said, because it will strengthen his core.
Grant said the boys attend a comprehensive weekday pre-school program at a center operated by the state of Maine where they engage in educational, speech and physical therapy.
Out of school, Strider is an energetic kid.
"He loves being outside. He loves Tonka trucks, and he loves being out with the horses. He worries about Gallagher - he wants to be the big brother," she said.
To prove it, Strider suggested the pose for a Christmastime photo - him pulling Gallagher in his little red wagon.
With a hearing pending regarding permanent placement of the boys with their father and the Grant household, the family declined to talk about the New Hampshire Division of Children, Youth and Families' role in present or past investigations. Grant did say that Downs had not seen the boys since her arrest in April, per conditions of the bail agreement. And for now, it is not known when Downs could next see Strider or Gallagher. According to testimony at the trial, she does visit Zander at her parents' house.
Future visits will be affected by the assessment of a child counselor, Grant said.
"A lot depends on the counselor, and to where the boys are emotionally. As of right now, the boys say no, they don't want to see her. They want to stay here," she added.
"They are feeling safe and secure," said Grant.