'You can make a better world for our children': Mother of Wilson victim hopes to bring awareness to child abuse

Sierra Rains
Family and friends watch as Kyla Burgess returns from the Carter County courthouse after attending a preliminary conference for the Smiths on Sept. 17. Burgess is hoping to bring awareness to child abuse with a protest on Dec. 8.

Kyla Burgess, the mother of a 3-year-old Wilson child who died in July, has been attending every hearing for her son’s accused abusers since the case went to court. 

When the charges against her son’s aunt, Shannon Michelle Smith, 29, and her son’s birth father, James Daren Smith, 23, were upgraded  from child abuse to first-degree murder last week Burgess said she felt a mix of emotions. 

Initially, Burgess said she was shocked that a child’s father could potentially do this. “Because that is someone who is supposed to protect him,” Burgess said. “He didn’t deserve what he got, he was only three, he didn’t do anything wrong.”

The amended charges also brought a sense of relief and faith in the justice system. Burgess and her family led a small protest in September asking for justice, and now she said she feels like that is a possibility. “I feel like there will be justice for my son in this case,” Burgess said. 

Burgess learned that her son had passed away from a phone call. Wilson police rushed 3-year-old James to Mercy Hospital Healdton on July 30 after he was reportedly found unresponsive with several severe injuries at the Smiths’ residence. He was pronounced dead shortly after. 

“I am emotionally drained but it’s not because of the court hearings, it’s more because I’m going through the grieving process and it is a very long process,” Burgess said. “That takes a toll on me.”

Burgess said she knows she’s not the only one who has felt this way or gone through this process and she wants to bring awareness to child abuse to help prevent incidents similar to those alleged in July from happening to other children and families. 

“No child deserves to be hit. A child deserves to be happy and be healthy and be loved,” Burgess said. “To some people it’s just one person, it’s just one kid. But that one kid could be experiencing it and grow up and do it to their kids— you can stop the cycle and make a better world for our children.” 

Burgess and others are planning to bring awareness to child abuse by wearing blue and protesting outside of the Carter County courthouse on Dec. 8. The color blue represents child abuse awareness, but also doubles in significance as her son’s favorite color. 

Burgess said they will begin gathering around 8:30 a.m. and anyone is encouraged to join. By doing this, Burgess said she ultimately hopes that it encourages more people to report child abuse and neglect. 

“To help these kids who don’t have a voice,” Burgess said. “I feel like if I get justice for my son, I will help get justice for other kids.”

Shannon and James Smith will be appearing in court for a preliminary hearing the same day, on Dec. 8. Following an initial appearance on Nov. 24, their bond amounts were raised to $1 million each. 

The child’s uncle, Frank James Smith, 24, is also facing a charge for child abuse in relation to the incident and is scheduled to appear in court for a preliminary hearing on Dec. 8. 

If you believe a child is being abused or neglected, reports can be made to the Oklahoma Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-522-3511. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Individuals can also contact their local law enforcement to make a report.