The Tragic Story Of Candace Newmaker, The Young Girl Who Died During A ‘Rebirthing’ Treatment

Published December 14, 2023
Updated January 13, 2024

Candace Newmaker was supposed to be “reborn” through an alternative therapy treatment — but this disturbing session ultimately left the 10-year-old dead.

Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions and/or images of violent, disturbing, or otherwise potentially distressing events.

Candace Newmaker

Wikimedia CommonsCandace Newmaker, shortly before her death.

When Jeane Newmaker adopted her six-year-old daughter, Candace Newmaker, she knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Candace had come from an abusive home before becoming a ward of the state at just five years old. But she never expected it to be quite so difficult.

Jeane spent months trying to bond with the young girl, to no avail. Her daughter simply wasn’t forming an attachment to her, and was allegedly even showing signs of “assaultive” behavior at home.

Then, Jeane learned about a condition called reactive attachment disorder in which a child is incapable of bonding with a caretaker, often because of abuse or neglect at early stages of development. Believing this is what she was dealing with, Jeane sought out an unlicensed therapist in Colorado who specialized in attachment disorder.

But instead of bringing the mother and daughter closer together, the treatment would leave Candace Newmaker dead — smothered to death by the very people hired to help her.

Candace Newmaker’s Difficult Upbringing

Candace Newmaker was born on November 19, 1989 in North Carolina to a teen mother and an abusive father. When she was a young girl, she would often throw herself between her parents, attempting to keep her father from hurting her mother. While still a child herself, she acted as a motherly figure to two younger siblings, a brother and a sister.

Candace Newmakers Birth Mother

Find a GraveCandace Newmaker and her birth mother.

At the age of five, Candace was removed from her home, separated from her siblings, and placed in foster care. Moved between a number of different foster homes, she reportedly began to show signs of rebellion and angry outbursts during this time — behaviors not uncommon for children who go through this sort of upheaval.

In 1996, Candace was adopted by Jeane Newmaker, a pediatric nurse with a big, five-bedroom home in Durham. Suddenly, it seemed the young girl would have every opportunity she hadn’t had earlier in her life. She was enrolled in one of the best schools in the state, and seemed to be thriving under the loving care of her adoptive mother.

But behind closed doors, Candace Newmaker was having a hard time adjusting to her new life.

Jeane Struggles To Connect With Candace

Neighbors and teachers who met Candace Newmaker were charmed by the bright, creative young girl. She loved animals and arts and crafts, seemed to get along well with other kids, and was generally well-behaved in class, if sometimes mischievous.

But at home, Jeane Newmaker was overwhelmed by “the level of dysfunction” in Candace’s behavior, according to the Denver Post. She said Candace frequently had “meltdowns” in which she’d scream and break things.

According to the Rocky Mountain News, Jeane described Candace’s behavior as “assaultive.” She said Candace once started a fire in their home, and on one occasion “forced sexual acts” on two other girls, threatening to hurt them if they reported it

For several years, Jeane took Candace to multiple talk therapists and put her on various mood-altering medications. It seemed that nothing was working.

Young Candace Newmaker

Find a GraveCandace Newmaker was 10 years old when she was smothered to death during an alternative therapy treatment.

Then, in early 2000, Jeane heard of something she thought could finally help her. A therapist in Evergreen, Colorado, more than 1,500 miles from her North Carolina home, specialized in a new form of therapy known as “rebirthing,” a treatment for reactive attachment disorder.

The treatment, part of a two-week intensive session, would cost the single mother $7,000, but Jeane agreed to it nonetheless, traveling across the country with her daughter in April 2000.

Candace’s Treatment Begins

The first week of the treatment went as planned. The behavioral therapies seemed to be working. Candace and her mother, the therapists claimed, were connecting.

However, during this short period, Candace’s medication dosages were altered multiple times. Connell Watkins, the lead (and unlicensed) psychotherapist, later said that Candace had “a look in her eye like nobody’s home.”

Connell Watkins

YouTubeConnell Watkins, the therapist who authorized the “rebirth” of Candace Newmaker.

Still, after a week and a half of therapy, Watkins decided that Candace was ready for rebirthing treatment.

The idea behind this alternative therapy, which isn’t supported by science, is to simulate the experience of emerging from the womb. Theoretically, this forces the child to re-experience the vulnerability of infancy and connect with their caregiver.

The patient is tightly wrapped in a sheet and laid under a pile of pillows, weighed down by the therapist. The patient must then wriggle out of this artificial “womb,” thus being “reborn” into the arms of their loving parents.

The rebirthing was videotaped as a means of documenting the treatment to show off its “success.” It also allowed Candace’s mother to watch from another room, experiencing the miracle of her child’s rebirth without getting in the way.

In the end, however, the video would prove to be anything but miraculous. It would also become a key piece of evidence in convicting Connell Watkins and her assistants.

The Disturbing Footage Of Candace’s ‘Rebirth’

At the beginning of the video, Connell Watkins instructs 10-year-old Candace Newmaker to lie on the ground on top of a flannel sheet and curl up in the fetal position. As assistants pull the sheet tightly around Candace and tie it closed, Connell instructs Candace on what to do next.

“Imagine yourself as a teeny little baby inside your mother’s womb and what it felt like,” she says, according to a transcript. “Warm. It felt tight because her stomach was all around you.”

Then, another unlicensed therapist, Julie Ponder, and two assistants gather around, each armed with a large pillow. They are seen pressing the pillows down on Candace. The four adults, weighing a collective 673 pounds, hold the 70-pound girl down, instructing her to try and get out.

“Come out head first,” Ponder instructs. “You have to push really hard with your feet. If you stay in there you’re going to die and your mommy’s going to die.”

The Horrific Death Of Candace Newmaker

Rebirthing Video

YouTubeA still from the video, showing Connell Watkins and her assistants lying on top of Candace Newmaker.

It wasn’t until almost nine minutes into her rebirthing that Candace Newmaker first expressed her inability to get out of her makeshift womb.

“Who’s sitting on me?” she asked. “I can’t do it. I can’t do it!”

She began to cry, telling Watkins she couldn’t breathe.

“Whoever is pushing on my head it’s not helping,” she said. “I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I can’t breathe. It’s too dark under here. Please quit pushing on my head, I can’t do it. Somebody’s sitting on top of me.”

Candace continued to struggle for an hour longer, telling the four adults repeatedly that she couldn’t breathe and expressing fears that she was going to die. At one point, Ponder told her that if that was what she wanted to do, she should do it.

“Go ahead and die right now,” Ponder said. “For real. For real.”

For over 70 minutes, Candace Newmaker struggled as she was slowly smothered to death, often taunted by Watkins and Ponder, who called her “quitter” and “twerp” for being unable to get out. She was kept restrained within her artificial womb even after she vomited and excreted inside it.

“Stay in there with the poop and vomit,” Watkins told her.

Eventually, Candace stopped struggling. Nearly 30 minutes after Candace uttered her last word (“no”), Watkins decided to check on her. The therapists unwrapped Candace’s womb to find her unresponsive, her face blue.

Jeane ran into the room, panicked, and she and Ponder began CPR. Watkins called 9-1-1. But they were too late.

Candace Newmaker was pronounced dead from asphyxiation at a local hospital the following morning.

The Aftermath Of The Tragedy

Jeane Newmaker

Jefferson County Sheriff’s DepartmentJeane Newmaker was convicted of negligent child abuse after the death of her adoptive daughter.

When news broke of the death of Candace Newmaker, a small girl brutally killed by the very people responsible for helping her, the public responded with shock and outrage. Connell Watkins and Julie Ponder were soon charged with reckless child abuse resulting in death. They were both sentenced to 16 years in prison, the minimum sentence for their crimes.

The other two assistants were given 10 years probation for criminally negligent child abuse and sentenced to serve 1,000 hours of community service as part of a plea bargain.

Jeane Newmaker, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to negligent child abuse. She was given a four-year deferred sentence and 400 hours of community service.

As a result of Candace Newmaker’s death, a law known as “Candace’s Law” was instigated in Colorado and North Carolina, prohibiting rebirthing treatments like the one that killed Candace. Similar legislation has since been introduced in other states.

“Perhaps little Candace’s death is going to allow us to avoid tragedies like this in the future,” said Bill Owens, Colorado’s governor at the time, while signing the bill into law, according to CNN.

In the fallout of the tragedy, no one had bothered to tell Candace’s birth mother, Angela Elmore, that her daughter had died. She only heard the news months later.

“They smothered her,” Elmore said through tears. “That was my daughter. How did she die from a blanket?

“It’s stupid, it’s stupid. You don’t put a child under a pillow and push on her.”

After reading the tragic story of Candace Newmaker, check out these haunting photos of people just before they died. Then, read about Shaniya Davis, the girl who was murdered after her mother sold her to cover a $200 debt.

Katie Serena
A former staff writer at All That's Interesting, Katie Serena has also published work in Salon.
Maggie Donahue
Maggie Donahue is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. She has a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and film studies from Johns Hopkins University. Before landing at ATI, she covered arts and culture at The A.V. Club and Colorado Public Radio and also wrote for Longreads. She is interested in stories about scientific discoveries, pop culture, the weird corners of history, unexplained phenomena, nature, and the outdoors.
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Serena, Katie. "The Tragic Story Of Candace Newmaker, The Young Girl Who Died During A ‘Rebirthing’ Treatment.", December 14, 2023, Accessed May 23, 2024.