They've been vilified as "monsters" on social media. They have faced criminal prosecution. And most will spend a lifetime trying to forgive themselves.
But parents who inadvertently leave their infants and toddlers in a hot car are the same as most of the rest of us, experts say – sleep-deprived, harried, distracted.
"The worst mistake any parent can make is to think that this could never happen to them," writes Amber Andreasen, director of the nonprofit KidsAndCars.org, which marked Wednesday – National Heatstroke Prevention Day – by encouraging moms, dads and caretakers to take simple steps to ensure they don't add to the grim statistics.
In the U.S., 37 times a year on average, and disproportionately in Florida, children die from heatstroke while locked in a parked car. Here, it happens even in winter.
In February, the victim was a 1-year-old Miami boy, whose 26-year-old mom went to work on what should have been a day off.
Infants can't tolerate heat the way adults do, researchers report. Their body temperatures rise up to five times faster than those of grown-ups, and the heat inside a closed car can climb 20 degrees in 10 minutes, even when the outside air isn't particularly warm.
The majority of deaths, Andreasen says, result from busy parents whose normal routines are disrupted.
Consider Jodie Edwards, an Ohio college professor who had taken her son to a new preschool and then "remembered" dropping off her 11-month-old daughter, Jenna, with the babysitter – as she usually did – before heading to work. Twenty minutes later, she had emailed a friend, saying how big her daughter was getting. She had hung photos of her children on her office bulletin board that day. And she had carried her phone constantly – even to the bathroom – in case one of the caregivers called about the kids.
"Around 4 (p.m.), feeling happy and carefree, I walked to my van, got in and started to back out of my parking space," Edwards would write. "Only then did I see by looking in the rearview mirror and the child safety mirror that Jenna was in the van. I felt horror and panic as I raced around to her door (and) called 911. I knew immediately when I saw her that she had already died. I was so confused. I didn't know who put her there so I looked further into the van to see if someone also put my son in the van. As I tried to understand what happened, I frantically searched my brain for that memory of dropping her off. When I couldn't recall what the babysitter said to me during drop-off, it only took a moment for me to realize that I had made a horrible mistake. It is impossible to convey the depth of pain I felt. I wanted to die and felt as if I might. I barely had the ability to talk and had to lie on the ground because all of the strength had left my body. I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me."
Jenna died 10 years ago. It took her mother four years just to talk about the loss publicly. "I still wish I could turn back the clock and give my life to save hers," she said.
KidsAndCars has advocated for the auto industry to routinely install a "driver reminder system" when children are placed in back seats – as small children should be, with their car seats facing backwards – a system that, while safest in case of accidents, also lends itself to overlooking a child who quietly falls asleep. There are also after-market alarms that parents already can buy to help remind them.
But even without such technology, the group has steps you can take to keep your child safe:
Make it routine to open your vehicle's rear door and check the back seat every time you leave your car, even if you think you know your child isn't there. Putting something that you need – your cell phone, a briefcase, a purse – can reinforce the habit.
Keep a stuffed animal in your child's car seat. Then when you put your baby in, move the animal to the front seat as a reminder.
Ask your child-care provider to call you immediately if your child does not show up as planned.
Be extra cautious when there has been a change in routine.
To prevent your child from getting into your vehicle unsupervised, always keep keys out of reach of children and keep your vehicle locked.
If your child goes missing, immediately check the inside and trunks of all vehicles in the area.
Edwards has continued to share her story in hopes of sparing other parents a similar fate. Ultimately, she and her husband decided to have more children, but they are not replacements for the daughter she lost.
"I think of her multiple times every day. When I look at my kids, often I think of how she's not there," Edwards said in 2016. "Every day, when I walk out of work to my car, I think of her. Every time I put one of my kids in a car seat, I think of her. It's hard to quantify how often – I don't think an hour goes by that I don't think of her, or how she died... Knowing her death is my fault is very difficult to live with. It's something I struggle with every day."