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Riley Gilbert, 2007 victim of baby-sitter abuse, dies at 12

Riley Gilbert, 2007 victim of baby-sitter abuse, dies at 12

Cause of death remains undetermined
Riley Gilbert, 2007 victim of baby-sitter abuse, dies at 12
The Gilbert family at their home in Rotterdam in 2013. Pictured: Brad, Riley, Zachary and Lisa Gilbert.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

ROTTERDAM — Riley Gilbert, a girl who long battled the effects of shaken baby syndrome with the help of her parents, has died. She was 12.

Riley suffered a traumatic brain injury by her baby sitter in March 2007, when she was 2. The baby sitter, a family friend, was later convicted of violently shaking the girl and continues to serve an 18-year sentence.

Riley's injuries required the use of a wheelchair and led to communication and vision problems. But she also grew into a girl who who was a sixth-grader at Langan School in Albany who loved riding horses with the help of a therapeutic program.

Riley died Thursday. The cause of her death — and whether it can be traced to the attack — remains undetermined, Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney said Monday.

Carney said his office is awaiting information on why Riley died and is waiting to speak with her family before making any determinations.

Rebecca Polomaine, now 40, was convicted of first-degree assault. Riley's parents, Brad and Lisa Gilbert, talked at Polomaine's 2008 sentencing about the lasting effects of her actions on Riley, something they worked hard in the years after to ease.

Polomaine maintained her innocence throughout her trial and appeals.

Generally, prosecutions related to a victim's death years after an incident can go forward provided certain connections can be made, Carney said. They can go forward even when the attacker has already been convicted of lesser related crimes.

"What is pretty clear," Carney said, "is that the Gilbert family cherished their daughter and took excellent care of her and gave her the best life they could have possibly given her."

rileyGILBERT9.jpg

Riley lived in Rotterdam with her parents and brother Zachary in a home modified to accommodate her needs. The Gilberts met her needs through their own efforts, help from the community and assistance from a state victims' agency.

Riley and her family were featured last summer in an event marking the Office of Victims Services' 50th anniversary. The office paid for the home modifications and the family returned the favor by helping in a campaign to raise awareness for victims.

The Daily Gazette featured the family in early 2013 when they entered a contest for a wheelchair van for Riley. The family didn't win the contest, but through a combination of Medicaid, community fundraising and personal funds, Riley got the van she needed.

While her challenges were many, her family often spoke of her smile and laughter. 

They returned to her smile in her obituary, first published Monday.

"Her smile that would light up a room," her obituary read, "and the inspiration she gave will be greatly missed by all who knew her."

Services are scheduled for noon Wednesday at St. Luke's Church, 1241 State St., Schenectady. Memorial contributions, according to her obituary, can be made to the therapeutic program that allowed her to ride horses — S.T.E.P., P.O. Box 2918, Glenville, NY 12302.

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