Discover more from This Week in the Triangle
Justice for Baby Gunner #1: What we know, and why I doubt
It's a shocking story: a young father kills his 3-week old son at the WakeMed hospital in Raleigh as his wife is with the baby's twin in the NICU. That's the consistent narrative coming out in the tragic death of Gunner Bliss, from the abuse and murder charges filed by the WakeMed police to the exclusive interview given by the mother to WRAL.
But, what if the story is flipped on it's head? What if a grieving father is being falsely accused of one of the worst crimes imaginable, killing his own newborn child? What if the infant's death was not a homicide at all, but a medical complication related to his premature birth?
We don't know a whole lot of facts at this point, but what has come out is enough to make me suspect that the charges against Noah Benjamin Bliss may be false and motivate me to pursue further investigation. This article will serve as a starting line, with both an overview of the facts as we know them at the present moment, and an explanation of why this case makes my investigatory sense tingle.
What we know
Most of the details we have are from an exclusive interview that the mother, Savannah Bliss, gave to WRAL. These facts are coming 3rd or 4th hand: from the nurses/medical personnel, to the mother, to WRAL, to us:
According to Savannah Bliss, nurses told her Gunner's injuries indicate he was shaken by his father.
Medical staff told Savannah Bliss that Gunner had no external injuries or broken bones, but the infant suffered a brain bleed and swelling, and he was deprived of oxygen due to the head trauma he sustained.
Sept. 15 - Gunner and Madelyn Bliss are born prematurely at 34 weeks, placed in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)
Oct. 3 (approximate) - Baby Gunner released from the NICU
Oct. 6 - Baby Gunner suffers brain bleed/swelling, leading to oxygen deprivation
Oct. 13 - Noah Bliss, the father, charged with Intentional Child Abuse-Serious Bodily Injury (NC General Statutes 14-318.4(A3)) by the WakeMed Campus Police
Oct. 16 - Baby Gunner removed from life support
Oct. 16 - Noah Bliss charged with First Degree Murder (NC General Statutes 14-17) by the WakeMed Campus PoliceBliss is currently being held in jail without bond.
Why I doubt
The accusation of "shaking the baby" immediately stood out to me, as I was already passingly aware of the scientific, medical, and legal controversy of "Shaken Baby Syndrome".
In 2015, the Washington Post published an in-depth piece, "Shaken Science", on the "disputed diagnosis" which has formed the basis for the conviction of hundreds of caregivers in the 50 years since the concept of Shaken Baby Syndrome was proposed. Suffice it to say, brain injuries suffered by an infant may not constitute such solid evidence of abuse/murder as prosecutors and some medical professionals may suggest. Even some experts who once testified on the side of prosecutors in such cases have come around to doubt the scientific validity of the theory.
It is far too early in this investigation to say with certainty that Noah Bliss is one of the parents who has been falsely accused (he was charged with murder just last week). The lack of evidence available so far, outside of Baby Gunner's injuries themselves, is not necessarily indicative that there will not be such supporting evidence presented in the future to conclusively prove that Baby Gunner's death was indeed a homicide.
However several elements of the fact pattern so far indicate to me that this is a path of investigation worth pursuing:
According to the WRAL article, "medical staff told Savannah Bliss that Gunner had no external injuries or broken bones"
Baby Gunner's premature birth and low birth weight (associated with twins) are both risk factors for certain types of brain bleed/swelling. For instance, according to an article in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics:
"Post-hemorrhagic hydrocephalus (PHH) remains a major morbidity of premature birth resulting from intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH)."
(Intraventricular hemorrhage = a type of "brain bleed", hydrocephalus = swelling)
And from another article: "[Germinal matrix]/[intraventricular hemorrhage] remains a significant cause of both morbidity and mortality in infants who are born prematurely"
The mother, despite believing the "medical staff" that her husband was responsible for Baby Gunner's death, still did not describe him as being prone to abuse or violence:
"I never thought this would have happened...I trusted him, that was his daddy...he loved his babies."
Justice for Baby Gunner
Justice does not merely mean that the guilty are punished, it also means that the innocent go free.
As I pursue this investigation, I will endeavor not to let my personal biases or preconceptions prevent me from following the evidence where it leads. If Noah Bliss is guilty of killing Baby Gunner, I want Noah Bliss to be found guilty. If Noah Bliss is not guilty of killing Baby Gunner, I do not want Noah Bliss to be found guilty.
As usual, I rely y’all to reach out to me with tips, thoughts, feedback, etc: firstname.lastname@example.org