After one sweltering August afternoon in 2007, Brenda Slaby became famous for all the wrong reasons. And it’s fair to say that the consequences of the mom’s actions that day were shattering for both her and for her entire family. Then, seven years after the tragic incident involving her daughter Cecilia, Brenda went on TV to tell the world just how exactly she had managed to pick up the pieces.
And at first, the morning of August 23, 2007, was an uneventful one for the Ohio mom. There was one change of routine, however, that, as it turns out, may have thrown Brenda off. At that time, her husband Gary usually took their children, Cecilia and Allison, to daycare and preschool, respectively. That morning, though, he had had a dentist appointment, so Brenda was given the task of transporting Cecilia.
As a result, Brenda rushed out of the house at 6:00 a.m. with her youngest daughter in tow. After realizing that it was too early to hand over Cecilia to the babysitter, though, she changed course. Instead, she swung by a store to pick up donuts for her co-workers – a no doubt welcome treat for the first day of the school year.
Then, she arrived at Glen Este Middle School, on the outskirts of Cincinnati, and began her hectic work day. “I was nervous and frantic that morning because it was such an important day to get the school year [off] to a great start,” she would later tell Oprah Winfrey. By the time the end of school rolled around, however, she was positive that all had gone well.
But that optimism may have quickly disappeared at around 4:00 p.m., as Brenda was preparing to leave school. Indeed, it was then that a teacher rushed towards her and said the words that the one-time assistant principal will likely never forget: “Brenda, your baby’s in the car.” Barefoot, Brenda grabbed her keys and raced to her SUV.
And though Brenda had already suspected what she would see there, her eyes confirmed the worst: Cecilia, fastened in place in her car seat, was lifeless. Furthermore, when Brenda picked up her daughter, she knew for certain that she couldn’t bring her back.
Then a voice shouted from the cafeteria. Brenda subsequently handed over her daughter to someone there and began to pray hard that her little girl would eventually wake up. But despite the individual in the cafeteria’s best efforts to revive the toddler, the damage was done: Cecilia had died of heatstroke. Tragically, according to the police, the temperature inside the car may have reached as high as 140 ⁰F.
Gary, meanwhile, was at work when he got the call every dad dreads. That came from Glen Este Middle School’s principal, who only revealed to Gary that he had to head over to the school right away. And, while driving there, the father had assumed that it was his wife who had been the one caught up in the emergency situation. When he arrived, though, the principal told him the awful news: his daughter was dead.
And Brenda recounted her heartbreaking tale on a 2008 appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Her husband also appeared in the audience to make a public show of support; despite the horrible loss of his daughter, Gary didn’t blame his wife for what had happened that fateful day.
Indeed, Gary admitted on the show that he’d also been forgetful when it came to looking after their daughters. Specifically, he revealed that there had been instances where he had neglected to remember to pick up Cecilia from daycare, only to recall his error while on the journey home.
Brenda, too, had previously done something that some may regard as neglectful. Namely, a police report detailed that, in an incident that took place a week before Cecilia’s death, Brenda had left the little girl alone in the car while dropping her eldest off at preschool.
However, the mom has since emphasized that there is a clear distinction between what had taken place then and what happened the day Cecilia died. On the latter occasion, she has asserted, her abandonment of her child was a genuine mistake and due to a total lapse in memory.
And, fortunately for Brenda, the police seemed to have seen Cecilia’s death as down to just that: a mistake. Indeed, Don White, then Clermont County’s prosecuting attorney, would also dub it as such by saying, “A mistake is not a crime.” In September 2007 he added to ABC News, “Everyone that looked at this case, the Union Township police… their report concluded that she forgot her child, that she did not intentionally leave her child in the car.”
Sadly, though, the authorities’ judgement on the matter didn’t seem to satisfy those in the area. And Brenda admitted as much on The Oprah Winfrey Show, where she revealed, “My community was in outrage. I was the most hated mom.”
So, how did Brenda deal with both the death of her daughter and the outpouring of anger against her? Well, in 2014 she returned to TV to explain the steps she had since taken to rebuild her life – this time, on Oprah: Where Are They Now?.
Firstly, Brenda revealed that, in the intervening years, she had split up with Gary. The divorce, however, was not prompted by Cecilia’s passing, she maintained. The single mom also named her surviving daughter Allison as the person who has inspired her to keep going. “She’s the reason I got up every day. She’s the reason I’ve done everything that I’ve done in the last seven years,” she said on the show.
Furthermore, Brenda’s career was also negatively affected by the tragedy. Glen Este Middle School didn’t keep her on in the end, neither could she find another school to hire her. As Brenda recounted on Oprah: Where Are They Now?, they seemed to believe that she “was unsafe with children.”
Then the former assistant principal retrained as a speech pathologist and found herself a new job. Sadly, though, this too was to be short-lived: Brenda had only spent a week in the role before being told that she was not to return. A TV news crew, it seemed, had turned up at the school on the anniversary of Cecilia’s death.
In the end, however, Brenda trained on the job at a further school, which then offered her a permanent role. She is now a speech pathologist helping autistic and nonverbal children. “And I feel like that’s sometimes the way Cecilia’s working through me,” Brenda added to the show. “This is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life.”
She continued, “I no longer feel like one of the most hated moms in America, but I do find myself being very critical of the type of mom that I am. It’s very hard.” Indeed, it seems as if she is still paying the price for her lapse in judgement – a tragic mistake that, sadly, she can’t unwind.