PARK CITY — One had eyes that "sparkled like diamonds" and had a magical sense about her. Another was a silly baby, small for her age, who loved to give and receive hugs and kisses.

Both were daddy's girls. Both died before their second birthdays, victims of shaken baby syndrome.

"A father is supposed to a protector of his children and family," said Darryl Gibbs, whose youngest daughter, 8-month-old Cynthia, died Nov. 17, 2000. "From a father's perspective, I have lost my daughter to the most violent form of child abuse, shaken baby syndrome. From a father's perspective, I have lost my child forever."

Gibbs, Christopher Castens and Steven Rath took part in a moving panel discussion Thursday at the North American Conference on Shaken Baby Syndrome.

According to the Ogden-based National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, an estimated 1,200 to 1,400 children are shaken each year. About one-quarter of the children die from their injuries, while the rest are left with some form of brain injury.

"As a father, as a victims' advocate, as a shaken baby syndrome educator, I believe that everybody in our nation should know about these dangers," Gibbs said Thursday. "It has to become common knowledge that shaking, slamming or throwing a child will injure or kill that child."

Gibbs has spearheaded efforts in his home state of New York to increase educational efforts and penalties for offenders. Working with federal lawmakers, he has helped push the Shaken Baby Syndrome Act, which will be introduced in Congress sometime this month.

Cynthia's caregiver, a long-time family friend and certified day-care provider, was sentenced to five to 15 years in prison.

Castens' daughter, 18-month-old Cassandra, died Feb. 2, 2001, almost two weeks after she was hospitalized with severe swelling in her brain. Doctors and Castens, who was not with his daughter when she was injured, were told the baby fell from her high chair, though Castens said her injuries were inconsistent with such a fall.

No charges have been filed in the case, which was recently reopened.

"The case seems to be making an optimistic turn," Castens said. "It so hard to move on in life without justice for Cassie."

Moving on is something the Rath family of Reading, Pa., has had to do after their son, Dawson, suffered life-threatening injuries in May 1999. Steven Rath was called to the home of his son's caregiver after the 14-month-old boy was discovered unresponsive and barely breathing.

Now in third grade, Dawson Rath suffers paralysis on the left side of his body and walks with a distinct limp but "has more fun than anybody I know," his father said.

But Dawson's parents have suffered mightily, including briefly being considered responsible for their son's injuries. No charges were ever filed in the matter.

"I'd like to tell you as I stand here today that I am less angry, but that is absolutely not the case," Rath said.

All three men have become advocates for children and on Thursday encouraged conference attendees, who include medical professionals, law enforcers and child-welfare officials, to continue their work to prevent shaken baby syndrome.


E-mail: awelling@desnews.com