Aisha Dickson was born on May 4, 1994 to Sarah Johnson and DeShawn Dickson. Little is known about the first few months of her life. Both parents were participating in a Job Corps program, though Sarah dropped to part-time after Aisha was born. They moved to Bangor, Maine that September and rented a small apartment in the Old Capehart section of the city. Shortly after moving into the apartment, Sarah’s mother, June Johnson, moved in with them.
Brian Stormann, a teacher with the Job Corps program, met Sarah in November. He and his wife, Shirley, struck up a friendship with her, and soon she and Aisha were stopping by the Stormann home on a regular basis. They would cook dinner for Sarah and talk to her about various parenting issues. They also encouraged her to start attending church with them. The couple adored baby Aisha, but sensed that she probably didn’t have the best home life. She had a couple bruises that seemed questionable, but Sarah always had a semi-plausible explanation for what had happened. Still, Brian was concerned enough to call the Department of Human Services and report the suspected abuse. He was told nothing could be done on the basis of his suspicions alone.
January 6, 1995 was a bitterly cold day, with the temperature bottoming out at 6 degrees. Jane Johnson wanted to buy a television, so Sarah and Deshawn bundled up Aisha and the four of them took a bus to the nearby Airport Mall. Aisha was fussy during the bus ride, but Sarah believed she was simply hungry. They purchased the television and were back home by 5:00pm. Sarah fed Aisha, played with her for a little bit, then put her to bed.
Sometime later, Aisha woke up and started crying. Sarah put the baby in her walker and tried to give her a bottle. Although she was usually capable of holding her own bottle, on that night Aisha wouldn’t even reach out for it. Sarah said she noticed her daughter was still very fussy but thought she was just tired. Aisha continued crying even after Sarah held the bottle for her and tried to feed her. Eventually she calmed down a little, so Sarah put her back in her crib.
DeShawn was playing a video game in the bedroom and Jane was dozing on the couch around 9:00pm when Sarah took a shower and got ready for bed. Before turning in, she checked on Aisha one last time. The baby had thrown up some of her formula, but appeared to be sleeping so Sarah just watched her for a minute or two. Eventually she realized Aisha wasn’t breathing; at that point she panicked and got DeShawn. She called 911, then waited outside for the ambulance while DeShawn started to perform CPR.
Paramedics were on the scene within minutes of getting the call at 9:35pm. A small crowd of neighbors, attracted by the flashing red lights, congregated outside the apartment. They watched in horror as paramedics whisked the baby, limp and naked, into the waiting ambulance while continuing to perform CPR. Doctors at St. Joseph’s Hospital tried valiantly to save Aisha’s life, but there was nothing they could do and she was pronounced de*ad.
The de*ath of a child is always tragic, but Aisha’s de*ath was no accident. Doctors quickly determined the 8-month-old had sustained blunt force injuries to her body, and a blow to the head caused the skull fracture that ultimately k*illed her. An autopsy would show that, with the exception of her spine, every bone in her tiny body had been broken at some point during her short life. Doctors estimated that the earliest fractures occurred when she was just two months old. Somehow, despite regular visits to a pediatrician for vaccinations and other routine medical screenings — including one the day before she died — no doctor or nurse ever recognized the fact that Aisha was being savagely abused.
When neighbors learned the cause of Aisha’s d*eath, they were horrified. They told reporters that they didn’t know the family well, but they had seen them out and about with Aisha and never noticed any signs of abuse. One woman noted that she had been relieved when the family moved in, as she had to call the police numerous times on the people who lived in the apartment before them. She considered Sarah and DeShawn wonderful neighbors. Reporters tried to interview Sarah and DeShawn, but DeShawn remained silent and Sarah told them that what happened in the apartment was “nobody’s business” and they wanted to be left alone. Jane Johnson told reporters that police had no reason to arrest any of them because none of them had done anything to Aisha. Reporters were quick to point out it had been only the three of them and Aisha in the apartment, and Aisha certainly hadn’t inflicted the injuries on herself.
There had been warning signs that something was amiss, but somehow Aisha slipped through every safety net that should have protected her. DHS had identified the family as a possible “high-risk family” when Aisha was born, and staff had visited the apartment in October to discuss the services they offered. Aisha’s parents declined, telling staff they had no need for any of their help.
Aisha’s funeral was held a week after her d*eath. It was clear there was tension between Aisha’s maternal and paternal grandmothers, as Elaine Dickson made it clear she believed June Johnson was responsible for hurting Aisha. She went as far as to order June to stop touching Aisha in her casket, telling the woman she had hurt Aisha for the last time. There were problems between Sarah and June as well. At one point, June grew enraged when Sarah asked her not to take pictures of Aisha’s de*ad body. June struck Sarah in the face and continued photographing the casket. DeShawn remained silent throughout the entire event.
The Stormanns were devastated by Aisha’s de*ath. They were listed in her obituary as her adopted grandparents, but a rift was already forming between them and Sarah. They had long suspected Aisha was being abused, but were brushed off when they tried to report it. Still, they had written each incident down, and now they turned these notes over to police. In addition, they told investigators that DeShawn had admitted to them that he ki*lled Aisha. According to their account, he was in disbelief that she had died because he had hit her harder before and she had survived. DeShawn would later deny making such a statement.
Investigators learned there had been signs of problems in Aisha’s life months before she died. She was consistently underweight for her age — at her de*ath she weighed just 11 pounds, nearly half of what a normal 8-month-old should weigh. She didn’t try to creep around on her stomach, couldn’t sit up on her own, and was unable to reach her arms up. She whimpered in pain whenever she was picked up. The poor child had been in excruciating pain for almost her entire life. The day before her de*ath, she was seen by a doctor because she was bleeding from the mouth; June claimed she cut herself while chewing on her rattle. She was examined briefly and released, with no comment made about the bruises apparent on her body.
The entire community wanted answers, and they all expected a quick arrest to be made. After all, there had been just three people in the apartment with Aisha when she was ki*lled, so one of them had to be the ki*ller, right? Police, however, told reporters the case was more complicated than it seemed. All three of Aisha’s relatives lawyered up and were refusing to talk to police. They assumed one of them struck the blow that ki*lled the baby, but they had no idea which of the three was guilty. Additionally, the fact that the baby had clearly been beaten regularly over a long period of time meant there could have been people outside the immediate family who played a contributing role in Aisha’s d*eath. More investigation was needed before any arrests could be made.
Shortly after the mur*der, June Johnson was forced to move out of the apartment. According to the Bangor Housing Authority, the apartment building had a two-week limit on visitors, and June was not listed on the lease as a resident. Despite now living apart, June and Aisha’s parents still presented a unified front and refused to speak with police about Aisha’s de*ath. The mu*rder investigation stalled.
Summer came with no movement on the case. June and Sarah flew to Honduras in July, supposedly for a few weeks. Sarah returned to the United States, but June — a native of Honduras — decided to remain there. DeShawn and Sarah broke up briefly after her return, but then reunited and told friends they were planning to get married. Both still refused to speak with investigators about the case.
Aisha was laid to rest on August 23, 1995. The cemetery had been storing her body for months in a temporary mausoleum, waiting for Sarah to decide what she wanted to do with the body. She had stalled for months, claiming she had no money and wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. The fact that the burial permit was only for good for seven months finally forced her hand, and Aisha was buried in an unmarked grave in Mount Hope Cemetery. Sarah and DeShawn insisted that the time and location of the burial be confidential. Brian and Shirley Stormann, Aisha’s adopted grandparents, had lost favor with Sarah and were not permitted at the burial. They later located the grave on their own and left flowers for Aisha on the otherwise unadorned plot. An anonymous donor later arranged to have a memorial stone placed on Alisha’s grave.
A year after the mur*der, Sarah and DeShawn announced that they were expecting another child. There were problems in their relationship, though, and Sarah left DeShawn in May 1996, claiming he had been abusing her. She filed for a protection order against him, and told police she was ready to break her silence about what happened the night Aisha died. While she still insisted she had no direct knowledge of who killed Aisha, she now suspected that DeShawn might have done it. She claimed she had occasionally noticed bruises on her daughter after DeShawn had been watching her, but he always had an explanation for them so she never questioned him. Now, she feared for the safety of her unborn child.
Police were skeptical. The injuries Aisha sustained over a period of months were so severe that it didn’t seem possible Sarah could have been oblivious to them. Sarah agreed it was odd but had no explanation for how she could have remained unaware. As far as police were concerned, all three adults still remained suspects in the baby’s d*eath.
Sarah gave birth to a baby boy on June 24, 1996.There was no father listed on the birth certificate, and DHS immediately took custody of him and placed him in a foster home. Sarah chose not to appeal the decision. DHS was willing to work on a reunification plan as long as Sarah stayed away from DeShawn. She initially agreed, but by December had moved back in with him. Her parental rights to the child were terminated in April 1997. When she showed up for the court hearing, she was already pregnant with her third child. Once again, she said DeShawn was the father. She gave birth to a baby girl on August 31, 1997; DHS immediately took custody of this child as well.
Aisha’s case receded from the headlines, and by 1998 it had gone cold. Police have never made any arrests for the brutal murd*er, and at this point it’s likely they never will. They believe all three adults living in the apartment with Aisha are responsible for her d*eath, as they find it impossible to believe that any of them could have been unaware of the abuse the baby endured. June died a few years after returning to her native Honduras. Police keep in sporadic contact with Sarah and DeShawn, but decline to give any details about their current life. It’s unknown if they are still together and if they had any additional children. Unless someone is willing to break their silence and tell police what they know about Aisha’s mu*rder, there will never be justice for the little girl who suffered so much.
Aisha Dickson was mur*dered on January 6, 1995, and no one has been held accountable for her d*eath. If you have any information that could help police close this case, please call the Bangor Police Department at 207–947–7384.