Cause of Death

By Jan Banning

Amber was born on 29 September 1988. Only a few close friends know who the father was. But since Christina was still married to James Bennett, Amber got his surname. Over the days preceding her death on Tuesday, whenever Amber was alone with David, the girl had suffered bruises, scratches and bumps.

Christmas 1991, Amber 3 years old

On Friday, David had explained a large bump on Amber’s forehead by saying that Amber had run off, fallen and hit her head hard on the curb when he had parked his car outside Christina’s apartment. Amber had confirmed David’s explanation in simple child’s language: ‘I fell Mommy.’ Bruises and scratches sustained the next few days were also explained by both as the result of falls. Amber didn’t seem to be suffering any ill effects, just like when she fell from her tricycle – an incident witnessed by Christina.

Page form the Times Georgian

The explanations didn’t sound unlikely, as Amber was inquisitive and wild. Christina: ‘She was the kind of kid that would stick something in an electrical socket if you didn’t block it up, just to see what would happen.’ And according to Christina, ‘Amber was very outspoken. She could tell you exactly what she wanted, what she liked and what she didn’t like. She had to show me all the boo-boos.’

Immediately after Amber was pronounced dead, David was arrested on suspicion of child abuse. The medical examiner who wrote the autopsy report concluded that Amber had died as a result of ‘blunt-force trauma of the head and abdomen’. During David’s interview, Detective Thomas had stated: ‘The actual thing that caused her to die could have occurred a day or so before.’ On April 16, 1992, the Times Georgian, Carroll County’s daily newspaper, printed this: ‘The child’s death appears to be the result of injuries sustained over time.’

Thus, Christina’s absence during the last six hours of Amber’s life became irrelevant. She was also arrested and accused of murder and cruelty to children.

Amber’s grave

Artist-photographer Jan Banning has had more than 80 solo exhibitions in more than twenty countries, on four continents. His work is included in many public and corporate collections including those of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, the Forward Thinking Museum in New York City, and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. His photographs have been published in dozens of newspapers and magazines worldwide, including The New Yorker, Time and Newsweek. His book ‘The Verdict’ is available in both Dutch and English. Click here for more information about the exhibtion in Rotterdam. There is also a podcast, called ‘Jan & Christina’.

Click here for part one of this series, Amber’s Death.