Christopher Wohlers’ Story: A Tragedy That Sparked A Child Advocacy Movement

In December 1989, two-year-old Christopher Wohlers was admitted to Brackenridge Hospital in Austin, Texas where he remained for five days after being scalded in the bathtub by his mother’s boyfriend, who was later convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for the injuries he had inflicted on Wohlers.

Less than a month after the previous boyfriend’s conviction, Wohlers was taken to Brackenridge Hospital again and was allowed to return home with his mother and new stepfather despite a warning from a doctor who suspected abuse.

A few weeks later, on January 2, 1990, Wohlers was beaten to death at the hands of his stepfather. His death occurred on the same day a notice of suspected abuse arrived at the Austin Police Department on his behalf. These notices, part of Child Protective Services’ protocol at the time, gave agencies the choice of sending a letter or making a phone call to facilitate intervention.

Community Response to Wohlers’ Death

The system as it existed then wasn’t able to save Wohlers, but his tragic story sparked a movement. His legacy now lives on through the creation of the Center for Child Protection and the Travis County Child Protection Team (CPT).

The CPT is a collaborative partnership between the Department of Family and Protective Services, law enforcement, Dell Children’s Medical Center, the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, and the Center for Child Protection. The mission of the CPT is to more effectively protect children by consolidating the community, investigative, legal, and social services aspects of the investigation and prosecution of child abuse cases.

Friends of Christopher Guild

Formed in 1998, the Friends of Christopher Guild was born out of the community’s despair, frustration and outrage over Wohlers’ death. They are now and forever will be committed to sustaining and expanding the safety net for abused children in Travis County through the support of the Center and they volunteer countless hours on behalf of Austin’s children.

Because of our community’s efforts to support child abuse victims in Travis County, every advocate, volunteer, donor, and supporter is also a part of the CPT and Wohlers’ legacy. We tell his story and the impact his short life had on our community almost daily.

Christopher’s Chair

In front of the doors to the Center for Child Protection stands a sculpture created by Damian Priour, a renowned Austin sculptor, called Christopher’s Chair. It symbolizes Wohlers’ legacy and the systematic changes made to matters of child welfare in the Texas criminal justice system. Christopher’s Chair is a reminder that it takes a village to protect a child, and as a community, we will continue to work together to keep our children safe.