A Mother's Mission Is Part of the Healing Process

Brenda Slaby wants to warn parents about the dangers of kids in hot cars.

Oct. 2, 2008 — -- A hummingbird feeder is what Brenda Slaby and her husband have to remind them of their 2-year-old daughter, Cecilia, after Slaby accidentally left the child in a hot car that resulted in her death more than a year ago.

"On the anniversary, we went to a family cottage and we hung a hummingbird feeder. And there was a hummingbird right next to it waiting. And so now we can think of Cecilia being right there with us," said Slaby, who said Cecilia loved hummingbirds.

Slaby still holds unbearable guilt about her daughter's death.

"I know I can't blame myself because I know I didn't consciously do this. I know that. But in my heart... how does a mom do that? "

Today, the former Ohio middle school assistant principal broke her yearlong silence in the hopes of preventing other parents from going through the same tragedy, though some of her friends thought she shouldn't approach the subject.

She appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" Wednesday and also talked to ABC News TV affiliate WCPO in Cincinnati.

"The advice of all my friends was, 'It's died down. Don't start it up again.' I had heard about two kids dying in Texas. I was at a local grocery store one day soon after that and the car I pulled up next to had a baby in the back seat — right up from my house — and I think it was at that moment in time that I said, 'I have to do this.' If I can help anybody out there, then whatever criticism I get it's going to be worth it. I couldn't stay quiet any longer," Slaby told WCPO.

The Back Story

Slaby's nightmare began in August 2007, when she backed her sport utility vehicle up to the school entrance. She unloaded doughnuts from her vehicle and walked past Cecilia, sitting in the back seat on the driver's side, more than a half dozen times, as recorded by surveillance video.

The then-40-year-old Slaby went into the school at 7 a.m. Eight hours later someone discovered the toddler in the parking lot and teachers frantically called 911 before attempting CPR. But it was too late for Cecilia.

Police said the temperature inside the SUV could have reached 140 degrees because the temperature outside hovered near 100 degrees all day.

"Forgetting is the worst word, to think that you could forget your daughter ... and I've spent a year trying to figure that out why, why this happened," Slaby said. "There was so much going on, life was so hectic at that point. Along with being busy it's routines that we get used to and our brain. Over time I think our brain checks things off where I thought she was at the sitters."

In the hours after the fatal accident, Slaby broke down during a police interview.

"I was trying to be everything to everybody and I failed my daughter," she cried during police questioning. "Good mothers don't do this. I don't know how I could live my life without my kids."

"They are my life," she said. "I don't know how you go on ? having done this to one of your kids ... and ever forgive yourself."

A Divided Community

Authorities did not file charges against Slaby because they concluded the occurrence was an accident.

But the story ignited an intense debate among parents. Slaby had a reputation of being a good mother and some moms supported her. But others were adamant about their anger toward her.

"My friends and family witnessed a lot of hate directed toward me. It's very hurtful and I don't think that convicting any loving parent whose brain turns against them in a sense," Slaby said. "No good will ever come out of putting someone like that in jail."

Slaby said she lost her job because of what happened.

But Slaby just wants to educate others so that they don't repeat her mistake.