Karly Sheehan was a three-year-old Corvallis girl who died in 2005 as a result of neglect and abuse from her mother’s boyfriend, Shawn Field. Karly’s situation was brought to the attention of the Department of Health and Human Services, who interviewed Karly twice and concluded that her injuries were not a result of child abuse. Karly’s tragic story shocked and aggrieved family and strangers alike. In 2007, a new law, entitled, “Karly’s law,” was passed which requires that children with suspicious injuries during the course of an abuse investigation receive medical treatment within 48 hours. The Oregon Department of Human Services and trained medical providers must assess the injuries. The law sets protocol and procedures if abuse is suspected.
David Sheehan, a native of Ireland, married Sara Brill in October 1998. Their daughter, Karly, was born Jan. 4, 2002. In the summer of 2002, David and Sara separated, and subsequently divorced in 2004. In September 2004, Sarah met a man named Shawn Field and they soon began to live together. Karly died on June 3, 2005 at the home Sara shared with Shawn Field. The months following Karly’s death which culminated in the criminal conviction of Shawn Field in November of 2006 were a nightmare for Karly’s dad, David.
How does a father cope with the grief of losing a daughter in such a manner? For David, the answer was to create something positive for the community.
In an initial outpouring of compassion from community members, David received numerous donations along with sympathy cards. “What happened to Karly was pretty shocking, even to people who didn’t really know us,” said David. “So I’d get sympathy cards from people and there could be $25 in there —one of my co-workers gave me a check for $100. I wanted to do something with it.” He wanted to use the money, plus some funds of his own, to build a small playground in Avery Park where he and Karly had spent many happy hours. He approached the Corvallis Parks & Recreation Dept., and they completely supported the idea. David was planning and installing the playground during preparations for the trial that sent Karly’s murderer to prison. The playground was ready for eager young children to test it out by spring 2006. “Karly was all about ladybugs,” said David. “We’d go play in fields and we’d have ladybugs crawling all over each of us —as many as we could find.”
Once the playground project was complete, David still wanted to do more. About that time his friend, John Hogan, held a spaghetti feed to raise funds for ongoing maintenance of the play structure. The fundraiser was quite successful. “As a result, I had this other pool of money,” said David. After giving it some thought, he got John’s agreement to divert those funds to another purpose and instead enrolled some friends in performing annual maintenance on the playground.
His sister in Ireland participated in a 10K run as a fundraiser, and David had some money set aside for Karly’s college fund. Together with another personal donation, he had enough to create an endowment. He first considered setting up his own private foundation, but discovered it would be a time-consuming undertaking and he felt his time would be better spent focusing on his job and earning money to put toward the fund. When several people mentioned BCF, David researched it and decided it would serve his purpose quite well.
“Having the infrastructure of the foundation is a huge asset,” he said. “The fact that you can name the fund and help direct where the money goes—it seemed to suit me well in that respect. And I wanted it to stay as local as possible—that’s really why I chose the foundation.”
So in 2007, David established the Karly Sheehan Memorial Fund. Proceeds from the fund support ABC House, CASA—Voices for Children, and Linn Benton Food Share. David hopes that the fund will ensure that other children don’t get caught in the same situation Karly faced in her short life. “I really think—and this is a lofty goal and I’m not sure it’s even attainable—but I think every kid should have an equal shot at life,” he said. “I think it’s a pretty sad reflection of our society that there are certain fundamentals that kids just don’t have. I just wanted to try to do a little bit to level that playing field. Hopefully these three agencies will be able to benefit from the endowment.”