Kristen Courtney Salem
July 7, 1997 - December 2, 1999
Find A Grave Memorial

I have never really considered the process I use in order to tell the story of an abused child, until now. I read a little bit about the child to make sure that child belongs on the pages of my site, since this site is for abused children, I have begun to add only children who have been abused. After confirming they were for sure abused, I find a picture for the top of the page, I add the child's name, dates and Find A Grave Memorial if one is available. While I do not consider one child's story to be more tragic than another, I don't know why, but the story of Kristen, after reading only one paragraph, had my heart beating and my mind racing and a gasp came out of me like I had never heard before and then the tears started. I could not believe what I was about to research and I didn't know how I was going to do it without having a mental breakdown. Kristen's story NEEDS to be told, she DESERVES to be honored and remembered, this is her story.


I wish I could tell you something about this beautiful little Angel that was happy. I have searched and even on pages that say they are meant to memorialize her, there is no information about what she loved to do, her favorite colors, food or anything on a positive note. I wish I knew more about her.

"She was a real live baby doll"
Amber Salem

Shawn Ryan Grell was the kind of child no one would ever WANT to have. At a young age, Shawn killed the family cat, set the dog on fire and burned down the house he live in with his family. At the age of 13, Shawn was arrest after he was said to have grabbed the breasts of a young girl, Shawn was sent to a juvenile facility after that. In that facility, Shawn assaulted the staff as well as other young people who had been sent there. Eventually, Shawn was tested and found to be borderline retarded with an IQ of 70 to 80. Shawn would spend his youth in and out of the juvenile facility for committing such crimes as shoplifting, assault and disorderly conduct. When he was 18 years old, Shawn was convicted of assault and was sent to prison and by 1995, he was back in jail for robbery and after he was released on parole, he was again arrested after his parole officer found out he had been in possession of drug paraphernalia.

Amber Salem met Shawn while he was out on parole at one point. Shawn asked Amber to marry him and she said yes. Kristen was born and all I can find anyone saying is that she was a happy baby and in 1999 the family moved in with Amber's parents. Shawn violated his parole and was sent back to prison until 1999. Shawn had a hard time getting a job because of his past behavior and this caused problems with Amber and her parents.

On December 2, 1999 Shawn once against had lost his job and Amber wanted ot meet him for lunch. Shawn met with Amber who told him that her parents were threatening to kick him out of their home. Amber went back to work after lunch and Shawn bought some beer and drank it in the car. Shawn decided to pick up Kristen at day care and take her to visit his sister. Shawn and Kristen ate McDonald's and then took a drive to look at Christmas lights.

Kristen got fussy and wanted to see her mommy. Shawn was upset by this and ended up slapping her to make her be quiet. Shawn drove to Target, bought a gas can, went to the gas station, filled it up with gas and drove to the desert.

Note from the site creator:
At this point, I had to take a break and go do something else because I knew that what I was about to write was going to be so horrific that it was going to scar me mentally. I have read horrible things that happen to children every day, I don't know why this story got me the way it did, but please please please, do not continue reading if you have a heart that is easily scarred. You won't be able to unread what you read and you won't be able to unsee it in your mind.

Shawn would be arrested six hours later when he was suspected of being drunk while driving. For 30 minutes, police interviewed Shawn and during that time, he wasn't serious about anything, joking and telling police where they could find a good lingerie bar. During the 30 minute interview, Shawn did not mention Kristen even one time. It wasn't until two days later that Shawn felt guilty enough to turn himself in and at that time, he told police what had happened.

Shawn said that his daughter had been whining for her mother:

"I just got tired of it and slapped her in the mouth. After she stopped crying a few minutes later,
she said
"Sorry Daddy",  and then she started being good and then she just went nuts again
because she wanted
to see her mom again"

At that point, Shawn says he snapped and bought the gas can and then drove around the desert for 45 minutes before finding a ditch:

"Kristen was already asleep, so I got out of the car, then I picked her up out of the car. I said
Mommy's here, let's lay down". So I laid her down in the dirt next to the car. I took the
 gasoline and poured
it on her"

At this point, Shawn says that Kristen started begging him to stop saying "No Daddy, no!".

Shawn said it wasn't enough to make him stop what he was doing and he lit a match and threw it on her. Kristen was laying down when the fire started, but she got up and wobbled about 12 feet before falling to the ground, face first in the ditch. (Site creators note: I won't give any  more details than that) Shawn got back into the car and drove back and forth in front of the ditch, until he could no longer see flames and then he got out of the car and went to look at his daughter.

On July 9, 2001, Judge Barbara Jarrett was about to retire and one of her last cases was that of Shawn, she found him guilty and sentenced him to death.

A memorial at the spot where Kristen died.

In January of 2013, the Arizona Supreme Court reached the decision that Shawn Ryan Grell was mentally disabled and his sentence of death was changed to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Shawn would never get out of prison, until he died. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, it would be unconstitutional, cruel and unusual punishment to execute a person who is mentally retarded.

Amber Salem wanted Shawn to die for what he had done and said  of the decision:

"Shocking, very shocking, very unexpected. Everything he had done was premeditate. He had planned
everything out. I don't understand how they can rule him as mentally retarded. I have no words for it"

Shawn's lawyer said:

"Societal standards of decency and humanity preclude the death penalty on mentally retarded persons
no matter how horrific the crime. Justice has been served"

Amber didn't agree:

"What about the the punishment my had to endure the night he set my daughter on fire? Are they
thinking of
her or are they just thinking of him? Because in my eyes, Kristen deserves to be
here more than Shawn
does. There's not a day that goes by that I don't miss Kristen"

Amber has since had three children with her boyfriend of ten years, Peter. Amber says she loves being a mom and that she treasures the relationship she has with the father of her children and says that at times, it has not been easy on him when the past comes up:

"Sometimes, he doesn't know how to take it. Sometimes he doesn't know how to approach me.
There's always going to be a place in my heart that has a hole, but I've got a family now and I've
gotta maker sure my family now is safe and protected and I've gotta do the best I can for them.
I have a great support system. If it wasn't for my family, I wouldn't have anybody"

Amber and her daughter Shyann

On May 12, 2013, Amber Salem passed away in her sleep.

This page was created on August 31, 2013
Death occurred in the state of Arizona

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