Teen father mourns death of infant son


When Matt Barton, 17, first met his son, Adrian, the child lay in a coma, the apparent victim of a series of savage beatings.

Born March 5, Adrian Cole Fackrell was a perfectly beautiful baby. tuft of brown air matching his father’s crowded a pair of bright, inquisitive eyes.

When Adrian died seven weeks later, he had two broken legs, a broken arm, and a fractured skull. He weighed a little more than 11 pounds.

The emotional wreckage left in the passing of Adrian has his mother’s boyfriend, 17-year-old Josh S. Rowden, sitting in jail charged with first-degree murder.

Adrian’s mother, 18-year-old Leah Fackrell, lives under a cloud of suspicion strengthened by her repeated insistence on Josh’s innocence.

And Adrian’s father, a 17-year-old Klamath Falls boy who moved last week to Grants Pass, is struggling to make sense of the very grown-up drama he has been forced to deal with since he met Leah Fackrell in May of last year.

It was a two-week romance, said Matt Barton, Adrian’s father. He met Leah at a Job Corps work camp on Wolf Creek, near Glide, Ore.

Adrian Cole Fackrell at 2 days old, at Ketchikan General Hospital in Kethcikan, Alaska.

“We went out for like two weeks,” says Barton, the tips of his brown hair dyed blond. “A week later, after we broke up, she told me she was late.”

Matt told his mother of the pregnancy over dinner in Medford, he said. He continued to work at the camp, despite Leah’s meeting a new boyfriend, Josh Rowden.

“I met him once, at Wolf Creek,” Matt recalled. “I didn’t like him. He had a bad attitude.”

Unable to deal with the situation, Matt said he called his mother in August and, with her support, dropped out of the Job Corps program. He returned to Klamath Falls and attempted to stay in touch with Leah by phone.

That changed in December, when Leah and Josh left the work camp and went to Ketchikan, Alaska, where Josh’s father lived. The phone calls became more intermittent, Matt said, with Leah alternatively demanding he stop calling and then calling him again a few days later.

When Adrian was born March 5, Matt said he became desperate to visit him. Repeated requests for a visit to Alaska were spurned by Leah, he said.

Leah claims that she and Josh were attempting to start a new life, and Matt’s calls bordered on harassment.

“We were becoming a family,” Leah said. “Matt isn’t a bad person, but he wasn’t there for me. Josh was.”

On April 16, the adult issues being faced by Matt, Leah and Josh grew exponentially when Leah and Josh brought Adrian into the emergency room at Ketchikan General Hospital. The child was suffering from repeated seizures, and was not responding to treatment.

Adrian was flown from the island town south to Seattle’s Children’s Hospital, where he slipped into a coma. Matt got a call from Leah at 7 o’clock that night, and within an hour he and his mother got into the family’s van and left Klamath Falls for Seattle, arriving at 3:30 the following morning.

Matt’s first sight of his son, dutifully recorded on film by his mother, was a confusing mixture of feelings, he says. Immensely proud, profoundly frightened, he gently touched Adrian’s hair, and traced with his finger the numerous bruises covering the infant’s body.

Leah and Josh, joined by Leah’s father, were unaware that two Ketchikan police detectives had also made the trip to Seattle. Based on reports of staff members at the Ketchikan hospital, police suspected someone had beaten Adrian.

The next 10 days passed without change. Adrian was on full life support, a tube pumping air into his lungs. The detectives interviewed every family member, some several times.

The 11th day was a day “full of drama,” Matt said.

He and Leah jointly decided to end Adrian’s life support measures after being told by doctors the air tube to Adrian would cause permanent damage if left in place. “We decided to put it in Adrian’s hands,” Matt said.

Meanwhile, police were questioning Josh at a downtown building when he suddenly jumped out of a second-story window and fled.

After watching the tube being removed from Adrian, Leah left the hospital. “I needed to take a walk,” she said.

Leah’s father and uncle, together with several members of Matt’s family, stopped Leah outside the hospital and kept her from leaving.

Josh, who admitted to investigators he had squeezed, shaken and jumped on Adrian, was found in a nearby grocery store a few minutes later.

He was placed under arrest using a warrant out of Ketchikan charging first-degree murder.

Adrian died about 10 a.m. the following morning, April 28.

Despite fighting extradition, Josh was returned to Ketchikan last week.

Leah, in television interviews and in the local newspaper, insists Josh is innocent. In a phone interview with the Herald and News Wednesday, she said police refuse to consider other suspects.

“They think that because we are teenagers, we must have done this,” Leah said. “They won’t interview the babysitter we left Adrian with on Friday.”

Ketchikan Police Chief Grant Sirevog said all necessary people have been interviewed, and nothing has indicated “a change in the course of this investigation.”

The department would not confirm if any more arrests are pending in the case. “It is still under investigation,” said a spokesman.

Matt carries a plastic binder similar to that which any high school student might carry. In it are the photographs of his 11 days as a father. Wednesday, his share of Adrian’s ashes arrived by mail.

As most young men his age, Matt wavers between being a kid and being an adult. Powerful statements about turning around his life and becoming a registered nurse are followed within moments by a quavering voice asking an unanswerable question.

“If I could see him for the first time in my life and notice all those bruises, how could she not know?” he asks. “I’ve got so much I want to say to her.”

Ironically, Adrian’s story might have turned out differently.

Leah acknowledges Matt’s claim that she called him early in April to say she wasn’t a good mother, and was thinking of sending Adrian to him.

That conversation haunts Matt now. “Why didn’t she do it?” he says. “I felt so helpless. There was nothing I could do.”

Matt is planning to hold a memorial service for Adrian at Lake of the Woods. He invites friends to contact him if they wish by sending e-mails to jamie@justjami.com. Reporter Kehn Gibson covers public safety and courts. He can be reached at (541) 885-4425, (800) 275-0982 or by e-mail at kgibson@heraldandnews.com.


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