Mother on quest to stop Shaken Baby Syndrome

BLACKFOOT – There are some things a mother should never see. Three years ago Diana Empey received a panicked phone call from Patricia Widerburg, the woman caring for her two children. Empey rushed to the daycare to find a street lined with fire trucks, ambulance and police.
“The cops grabbed me and said this is mom. Trish [Widerburg]looked like a zombie and just kept saying ‘I’m sorry...I’m so sorry..’ and then a paramedic grabbed me and said ‘can you keep it together? This is going to be horrifying.’ I was so confused – I had no idea what was going on,” said Empey.
“I stepped into the ambulance and saw Hannah. She had one eye pointing straight and the other was rolling, her limbs were flailing and there was a horrid sound. I wish I had known then what I know now. It was so obvious to everyone else and I was so confused.”
Empey’s 20-month-old daughter, Hannah Isabelle Covington, was pronounced dead at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center. She died from Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) at the hands of her care provider.
The horrors that Hannah’s mom watched during the ambulance drive are too explicit for publication. However, those images are lodged in her mind and fuel her determination to do anything she can to prevent SBS.
Last week, on the third anniversary of Hannah’s death, her family announced that Hannah has been selected as the “poster child” for Shaken Baby Prevention of Idaho. Hannah’s grandma Karla Covington, mom Diana Empey and her aunts met with a production crew in Pocatello Thursday to work on a Public Service Announcement designed to prevent SBS.
Empey says the PSAs will include video footage of Hannah, a beautiful blue-eyed girl with curly blond hair, and her face will appear on billboards around Idaho.
“We are really excited about Hannah being named as the poster child,” said Covington. “It allows Hannah to live on. It turns something so ugly into something positive.”
Empey says while they understand this will be difficult to do they finally feel empowered to help protect Idaho babies.
“I do not feel like Hannah got justice,” said Empey. “She [Trish] killed her with her bare hands... would it be different if she had got a knife? It was not a peaceful death. People think it’s only druggies or crazy ex-boyfriends that shake babies. NO! People do unimaginable things.
“She was at the end of her rope that day,” said Empey. “She should not have had my child! I want people have a backup plan. If she had just said ‘I shouldn’t watch kids today,’ then I would still have my baby today.”
Widerburg entered an Alford plea on Oct. 18, 2010 and was sentenced to three- to seven years in prison for involuntary manslaughter. Empey says Widerburg served just four months, has been released, and is on probation.
“My focus is to get the word out there—never shake, never shake, never shake,” said Covington. “The majority of people who shake babies aren’t evil. They’re people who make a split second decision. A split second decision can result in a child’s death or lifelong disabilities.”
In addition to her involvement with the poster child PSAs, Covington is now a member of the Shaken Baby Prevention of Idaho board. She also met with Gov. Butch Otter last year when he declared April “Shaken Baby Month” in Hannah’s honor.
“It’s been three years since we lost Hannah and it is heartbreaking, but we are taking back control,” said Covington. “You can’t turn a death into a positive, but her life can have a positive impact. Prevention is our goal –– Shaken Baby Syndrome is 100 percent preventable!”
“I plan to go before the legislature because I want the state to have a uniform way of charging for this crime,” said Empey. “I believe she (the care giver) should have been charged with murder.”
Hannah’s family agrees that education is key to protecting Idaho babies from SBS. Visit for more information or Hannah’s family now lives in Blackfoot.