Death Of Girl, 2, Being Investigated As Homicide -- Child Suffered From Physical Abuse, Police Suspect
By Diane Brooks
The death of a 2-year-old girl due to head injuries last week is being investigated as a homicide, according to Snohomish County sheriff's investigators.
The Korean child, adopted seven months ago by a nurse practitioner and her husband, died Friday afternoon in Harborview Medical Center. The girl's adoptive mother was arrested Thursday for investigation of first-degree assault, and was freed without bail Friday pending further investigation.
"We're calling it homicide . . . because it appears to be child abuse," said Detective Sgt. Tom Greene.
Several areas of the child's head were bruised but a precise cause of death will not be pronounced until brain tissue is examined May 15, said Susan Schnell, the King County pathologist who performed the autopsy Saturday.
Other reported injuries included large burn blisters to the child's nose and mouth, dried blood in her nostrils, a burned elbow, and older looking bruises and scars to her spine and abdomen.
An initial sheriff's report indicating the child's ear had been torn off was incorrect, Greene said. The report was written by a deputy who had not seen the child firsthand but was relying on reports from paramedics, said sheriff's spokesman Elliott Woodall.
The family's Seattle attorney, David Allen, yesterday said many of the child's injuries were caused by a fall in her back yard three weeks ago and a second fall at a baby-sitter's home two weeks ago. In the second fall, she crashed face-first into a glass water-cooler bottle, shattering it, he said.
The girl suffered from poor motor skills, he said.
When a Child Protective Services caseworker went to the house last month to investigate a child-abuse complaint, the same explanation was offered and accepted, CPS reports show.
Someone at the child's house dialed 911 Wednesday night to report the child was having breathing problems, Greene said. Allen said he believed the father made the call after the mother consulted with the family's doctor over the telephone.
The mother was arrested at the hospital the next morning.
Greene said no other suspects have been identified, "but we don't want to go at it with a closed mind. . . . We want to be sure that we're focusing on the right person."
Now that the child has died, the case may result in a second-degree murder or homicide-by-abuse charge, Greene said.
The latter charge is provided under a special child-abuse statute adopted following the 1986 death of Eli Creekmore, a 3-year-old Everett boy kicked to death by his father.