It was hot as hell inside the car the day 21-month-old Remington Engler’s mother mistakenly left her behind. There’s no doubt she suffered in the hours leading up to her death by vehicular heatstroke.
It was a horrible way to go.
It’s only natural for those left behind to vent their anger on the mother whose actions that morning proved fatal to her daughter. But here’s the thing: Poor little Remington wasn’t the only one who suffered an unimaginable horror that day.
Nicole Engler was plunged into a hell that day from which she may not ever be able to recover.
Engler told police she believed she had dropped her daughter off at Cobb Street School day care. She parked in the lot of Evergreen Family Medicine in Roseburg, where she works as a family nurse practitioner, and put in her day’s work. She didn’t realize her mistake until she returned to her car a little after 4 p.m., when her workday was done, and found her daughter still in the car, unconscious and blue.
Her coworkers will be forever haunted by her screams as she rushed in with her daughter, as they tried, and failed, to save the girl. The mugshot taken after Engler was arrested for manslaughter reveals the face of a woman who’s just experienced a mother’s worst nightmare.
Some who’ve commented on this story on Facebook and elsewhere, suggested Engler should have the book thrown at her. More extreme voices suggested she be hanged, or even shut in a hot car to die.
The loss of a child like this pains the whole community. It’s devastating. It’s unacceptable. We just can’t stand it, even if we never met the girl. Even if we weren’t there when it happened.
It’s natural for us to want someone to pay. Our desire for retribution is magnified by our desperate need to believe we could never find ourselves in Engler’s shoes, that we could never forget our child in the car.
But for every person who reacted with fury, there were two more who counseled mercy. Friends have her on a suicide watch now that Engler is out on bail. Her boss is telling everyone who will listen what a wonderful mother she was and urging the community to rally around her. Patients, and even complete strangers, offered up prayers.
Is there room for forgiveness here?
We think there is. Frankly, we aren’t certain what purpose it serves to charge Engler with a crime. It seems that the police do not believe Engler intended to harm her daughter. The charge she faces is manslaughter, not murder. If the case goes to trial, the arguments are likely to center around whether she was negligent. If she’s convicted, she’ll face a mandatory minimum sentence of 75 months in jail.
Now, if the story was that Engler had decided to leave her daughter in the car, and take a chance that she’d be OK, we would feel differently. But Engler said she didn’t think her daughter was in the car. Our best guess is that Engler was weighed down with the concerns of a demanding job and driving on autopilot to work because she didn’t usually take her daughter to daycare in the morning. Possibly, she was lulled into complacency by the silence of a sleeping daughter in the backseat, and just forgot she was there. Until it was too late.
The thing is, in many jurisdictions across the country, events like this are treated not like crimes, but like the horrible accidents they are.
We can’t see any purpose to trial and punishment here. After all, what punishment by jail or fine could ever be worse than the punishment of losing your beloved child forever, and knowing it was your mistake that ended her life? And if the goal is to deter parents in the future from doing the same thing — well, we don’t see how this would accomplish that. Because the next parent who’s convinced she left her daughter at daycare and mistakenly leaves her in the car won’t be thinking, ‘Oh, I’d better not leave her in the car or I might get arrested.’ She’ll be thinking she left her child at daycare. Just what Engler thought.
Unless there are some facts that we don’t know about which contradict our understanding of what happened, we hope the district attorney will see this the same way we do, and choose to drop the charges.
And what are the rest of us to do with our emotions? Check the backseat, every single time. Treat our kids like every day counts. And let Engler and her family grieve in peace.