Candace Elizabeth Newmaker (born Candace Tiara Elmore, November 19, 1989 – April 18, 2000) was a victim of child abuse, killed during a 70-minute attachment therapy session purported to treat reactive attachment disorder. The treatment used that day included a rebirthing script, during which Candace was suffocated. The story had international coverage.
Newmaker was born in Lincolnton, North Carolina, to Angela and Todd Elmore. She and her younger brother and sister were removed from the home for neglect and separated by social services. When she was five, her parents' parental rights were terminated. Two years later she was adopted by Jeane Elizabeth Newmaker, a single woman and pediatric nurse practitioner in Durham, North Carolina.
Within months of the adoption, Jeane began taking Candace to a psychiatrist, complaining about her behavior and attitude at home. Though Candace was treated with medications, Jeane reported that Candace's behaviors got worse during the ensuing two years, including supposedly playing with matches and killing goldfish.
Candace and Jeane Newmaker traveled to Evergreen, Colorado in April, 2000, for a $7,000 two-week "intensive" session of attachment therapy with Connell Watkins, upon a referral from a licensed psychologist in North Carolina.
Candace died during the second week of the intensive sessions with Watkins during what has been called a "rebirthing" session. Participating in the fatal session as therapists were Watkins and Julie Ponder, along with Candace's "therapeutic foster parents", Brita St Clair and Jack McDaniel, and Jeane Newmaker.
Following the script for that day's treatment, Candace was wrapped in a flannel sheet to simulate a womb and told to extricate herself from it, with the apparent expectation that the experience would help her "attach" to her adoptive mother. Four of the adults used their hands, feet, and large pillows to resist all her attempts to free herself, while she complained, pleaded, and even screamed for help and air. Candace stated several times during the session that she was dying, to which Ponder responded, "You want to die? OK, then die. Go ahead, die right now". Twenty minutes into the session, Candace had vomited and excreted inside of the sheet; she was nonetheless kept restrained.
Forty minutes into the session, Jeane asked Candace "Baby, do you want to be born?" Candace faintly responded "no"; this would ultimately be her last word. To this, Ponder replied, "Quitter, quitter, quitter, quitter! Quit, quit, quit, quit. She's a quitter!". Jeane Newmaker, who said later she felt rejected by Candace's inability to be reborn, was asked by Watkins to leave the room, in order that Candace would not "pick up on (Jeane's) sorrow". Soon thereafter, Watkins requested the same of McDaniel and Brita St. Clair, leaving only herself and Ponder in the room with Candace. After talking for five minutes, the two unwrapped Candace and found that she was motionless, blue on the fingertips and lips, and not breathing. Upon seeing this, Watkins declared, "Oh there she is, she's sleeping in her vomit." Whereupon the mother, who had been watching on a monitor in another room, rushed into the room, remarked on Candace's color, and began CPR while Watkins called 9-1-1. When paramedics arrived ten minutes later, McDaniel told them that Candace had been left alone for five minutes during a rebirthing session and was not breathing. The paramedics surmised that Candace had been unconscious and possibly not breathing for some time. Paramedics were able to restore the girl's pulse and she was flown by helicopter to a hospital in Denver; she was declared brain-dead the next day, the consequence of asphyxia.
The entire 70 minutes of the fatal session, as well as ten hours of other sessions from the preceding days, had been videotaped as a matter of course with Watkins's treatment. All the videos were shown at the trial of Watkins and Ponder.
A year later, Watkins and Ponder were tried and convicted of reckless child abuse resulting in death and received 16-year prison sentences. Brita St. Clair and Jack McDaniel, the therapeutic foster parents, pleaded guilty to criminally negligent child abuse and were given ten years' probation and 1000 hours of community service in a plea bargain. The adoptive mother, Jeanne Newmaker, a nurse practitioner, pleaded guilty to neglect and abuse charges and was given a four-year suspended sentence, after which the charges were expunged from her record. An appeal by Watkins against conviction and sentence failed. Watkins was paroled in June 2008, under "intense supervision" with restrictions on contact with children or counseling work, having served approximately 7 years of her 16-year sentence.
The story of Candace's death was a national one in the United States, with contemporaneous reports about her death and the subsequent trial of her therapists appearing in newspapers and news magazines around the country, and even internationally.
The case also generated enduring controversy about attachment therapy. It was the motivation behind "Candace's Law", in Colorado and North Carolina, which outlawed dangerous re-enactments of the birth experience. The US House of Representatives and Senate have separately passed resolutions urging similar actions in other states.
Candace's death inspired fictional accounts on at least three television crime dramas. An episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation ("Overload" Season 2, episode 3) had a teenage boy dying while being "reborn" to his mother. Two others were murder mysteries on the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Cage" and on the Law & Order episode "Born Again".