Expert: difficult to prevent child abuse

Many questions remain surrounding the death of a 3-year-old girl in Amherst, but experts say there are ways we all can help prevent further tragedy.

The abuse that led up to the death of Mayouna Smith highlights a terrifying problem. An autopsy showed the little girl was killed by blunt force and there were signs of physical and sexual abuse.

Debra Merrifield serves as the Executive Director of the Family Help Center in Buffalo and has a long history working to prevent child abuse.

“There were indications there were older injuries to the child,” she said. “These are the most horrific cases.”

As a toddler, Smith was very vulnerable. Unless they are in preschool or daycare, Merrifield says children that age could go days or weeks without anyone outside the home seeing them and any abuse could go unnoticed.

“Already children under 5 are the most likely to be abused to the point of serious impairment or death, but you add in sex abuse and that child is a sitting duck,” she said.

When police found Smith Saturday morning, she was with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. There are have been no arrests and police say they are still trying to determine who caused the abuse and what led up to her death.

Asst. Police Chief Charles Cohen said, “We are just going to continue to interview outer and further layers of people who would know the parents, the history of the family, things of that source. Hopefully something will shake loose.”

Merrifield says the community needs to do its part to prevent another tragedy.

“Some sex abusers are extremely dangerous people and we need everyone’s help in the community,” she said. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review. Note: Comments containing links are not allowed.

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