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Children Battered; Children Starved : Laura Lynn’s Skull Was Fractured 3 Times in 2 1/2 Years

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Associated Press

A little more than a year ago, in the darkest days of winter, Laura Lynn Lazarovich lay in a hospital bed fighting for life.

Her skull was fractured; her right side paralyzed; her right arm and collarbone snapped like twigs. Two front teeth had been gouged out; both her hazel eyes were swollen shut; dried blood caked her lips, and her body was mottled with bruises from forehead to ankles.

A monitor watched over her heart. Intravenous tubes sprouted from her pitifully broken body.

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Laura Lynn was 2 1/2 years old.

Prosecutors say her tormentors were her parents.

Moreover, this was the child’s third fractured skull in 28 months. Laura Lynn was a double victim, not only of especially brutal beatings, but also of a bureaucratic bungle that returned her home for the last, almost fatal attack.

Judge Orders Her Return

Even as assault charges were pending in New Jersey against her parents, Roger and Janice Lazarovich, a Family Court judge there had ordered her returned from the temporary custody of her maternal grandparents to the Lazaroviches in Massachusetts.

Now the law has caught up with the Lazaroviches, who had Laura Lynn and two sons over three years, moved three times from three states and were divorced in February.

Today, both are in jail: Lazarovich, 25, is serving 15 to 20 years after his conviction for mayhem and assault; his 23-year-old wife, who had been scheduled to stand trial on the same charges May 2, won a delay last month and will be tried in September.

Superior Court Judge Charles Alberti, with 16 years on the bench, said in sentencing Laura Lynn’s father: “I don’t know if I’ve dealt with a case, by virtue of this child’s tender years, where the child has been more brutalized.”

The two still face extradition to New Jersey on two counts of aggravated assault, Camden County prosecutor Sam Asbell said.

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Daughter Unconscious

The Lazaroviches drove 20 miles through heavy snow that Saturday, Jan. 24, 1987, to bring their unconscious daughter from their western Massachusetts trailer home to a Pittsfield hospital. They said she had “fallen off her potty seat,” according to court papers.

But prosecutors said she had been beaten for more than a week. Court papers said that she had been bitten and choked and that her head had been repeatedly slammed into a countertop from about Jan. 16 to Jan. 24.

Laura Lynn’s maternal grandmother, Pamela Christopher, could not recognize the battered child when she visited her in the hospital several days later. “She didn’t look like the little girl who had left us,” recalled Christopher, who with her husband, Arthur, had cared for the girl for about a year.

Christopher asked if she could hold her, thinking it might be for the last time. “I questioned whether she would live,” she recalled. “They had to prop her up to put her in my lap.”

Laura Lynn spent eight months in the hospital and a Boston rehabilitation center. Upon her release in September, the courts granted the Massachusetts Department of Social Services temporary custody of the girl and her brothers, Anthony, 2 1/2, and Timothy, 1 1/2.

No Visitation Rights

Laura Lynn was placed in a foster home in western Massachusetts. Her brothers are together in another home in the same region. The Lazaroviches have not been granted visitation rights and say they do not know their children’s whereabouts. No allegation of abuse of the boys was ever raised.

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“Laura Lynn is doing remarkably well,” said Joseph Landolfi, a spokesman for the social service department. “The boys are in very good shape.”

Medical experts testified that Laura Lynn suffered permanent damage in the beating, including partial paralysis of her right arm and loss of peripheral vision in her left eye.

After her release from the hospital, she began showing signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is most commonly seen among combat veterans who relive war experiences and exhibit anxiety, irritability and rage.

In Laura Lynn’s case, she took to hitting, kicking and biting her foster parents. In court records, a psychologist who treated Laura Lynn last December quoted the child as saying: “I don’t like Mummy. Mummy hurts me. Mummy pinches me and kicks me and hits the wall with me.” Of her father, she was quoted as saying: “Where’s my very bad Daddy?”

Girl Severely Traumatized

Cynthia Monahon, the psychologist, said Laura Lynn’s recovery from injury has been encouraging and she has made unexpectedly rapid developmental gains because of her resilience and extraordinary care by her foster parents. She said Laura Lynn is severely traumatized and has just begun to deal with the psychological impact of her abuse.

“While she has formed solid attachments in her new family and takes enormous pleasure in her new life, Laura remains an anxious, demanding and, at times, oppositional little girl whose functioning ranges from 2 to 2 1/2 years of age,” the psychologist wrote. Laura Lynn will be 4 on Aug. 19.

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Roger and Janice Lazarovich were each adopted at the age of 20 months, Roger by John and Marilyn Lazarovich of Norwood, Mass., south of Boston; and Janice by the Christophers, who live near Camden, N.J., across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Both were bright, but few other childhood similarities exist. The Christophers considered their daughter’s marriage a mismatch.

Roger Lazarovich and social workers describe his childhood as tumultuous: He was given to exchanging blows and insults with his mother, stealing and setting fires at home and at school.

Effort to Prevent Stealing

He was locked in his room at night to keep him from stealing. He ran away from home, became a ward of the state and went through half a dozen foster homes. He was sent to a juvenile center, dropped out of high school, joined the Navy when he was 18, served only seven months and found work pumping gas and fixing cars.

“I was not the most gregarious foster child, disobeying the household rules or not getting along as well as expected or demanded,” he said in an interview.

Janice Lazarovich declined to be interviewed but a New Jersey social worker wrote in a January, 1986, background report that she was reared by a strong, assertive mother and a successful businessman father.

“According to Janice,” the report said, “she was taught to be seen and not heard, kept in a state of dependency and not allowed to grow up. Although Jan speaks very intelligently, she . . . exhibits very little emotion.”

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Another report, from a Massachusetts social worker, said: “Janice tends to hold things in and then explode.”

Other Adopted Children

Janice was the first of three adopted children. The Christophers also adopted a Korean boy, Scott, who will graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy this year, and his older sister, Holly. Lazarovich said his wife had felt that Holly, two years her senior, got special treatment.

“Jan admitted that, when you go from being the only child to the middle of three, there are some problems,” Arthur Christopher said in an interview. “But she didn’t have any outstanding problems, and she loves both Holly and Scott. In fact, she was the big wheel. She was their translator. They arrived here neither one of them speaking English.”

Roger and Janice met in the fall of 1983 while she was a freshman at Wheelock College and dating a friend of his. They married little more than a month later, on Nov. 29, 1983. Janice, 18 and already pregnant with Laura Lynn, was planning a career in child and family services when she dropped out in her first semester to marry Roger, then 20.

“We saw a lot of ourselves in each other,” Lazarovich said. “Janice wasn’t happy with her past. I wasn’t happy with my past. We probably felt sorry for each other. It was a marriage of pity.”

Skull Fractured at 5 Weeks

Almost from birth, Laura Lynn was a tragic figure. Her skull was fractured the first time Sept. 22, 1984, when she was 5 weeks old and the Lazaroviches were renting an apartment in Winslow Township, N.J., said Asbell, the Camden County prosecutor.

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Four weeks later, on Oct. 19, authorities determined that her skull had been fractured a second time and that her left leg was broken. The state placed Laura Lynn in a foster home.

Some experts familiar with the case said they believed that she suffered some developmental delay. She received therapy at a Haddonfield, N.J., learning center until the summer of 1985, by which time she had been placed with her maternal grandparents.

Criminal charges of aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of a child were filed against the Lazaroviches on July 12, 1985. But the couple had already fled New Jersey, leaving Laura Lynn behind, moving first to Ossipee, N.H., then to Foxboro, Mass., then to Plainfield, Mass.

‘Got an Eviction Notice’

“We ran away,” Lazarovich said. “The excuse (from the landlord) was we weren’t getting along with our neighbors, and we got an eviction notice. It seemed to be fallout from what happened with Laura. Word seems to travel pretty quick, and undesirables are undesirables no matter how you look at it.”

Nine months later, on April 9, 1986, with sufficient evidence in hand, the New Jersey grand jury finally indicted the couple, whose whereabouts, nevertheless, remained unknown. When the Lazaroviches failed to appear for their arraignment May 15, authorities issued fugitive arrest warrants.

Three weeks earlier, however, Judge Robert Gladden of Camden County Family Court had already ruled that Laura Lynn could live with her parents in Massachusetts, although New Jersey would retain official custody. The hearing was held with the consent of the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services but without the knowledge of Asbell, the prosecutor.

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Laura Lynn was sent to Massachusetts, but Janice Lazarovich had difficulty loving Laura Lynn after the 18-month separation, a social worker’s report said. The parents compared her to her brother, Tony, and were much prouder of the boy, the report said; Laura Lynn was jealous.

Fell Through the Cracks

Asbell acknowledged that the case fell through the cracks.

“Absolutely,” he said. “It was one of those situations where the right hand and the left hand are not working together. When the judge had a hearing, the Division of Youth and Family Services never notified us. The judge also did not have the benefit of our investigation, so he granted the return of the child. That has subsequently been corrected so that there should be no communication screw-ups anymore.”

Lazarovich, who maintains that he is innocent, says something positive has to come out of the tragedy.

“Child abuse is a cycle,” he said. “Abused children become abusive parents and the cycle continues. I don’t want to read someday about a Laura Lynn Smith, or whatever her last name is going to be, up on charges of mayhem herself.”

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