A 11-month-old baby and a dog died after being left in a car for over six hours in Virginia, authorities announced on Wednesday.
Police responded to a call at a hospital in Newport News at about 4pm on Tuesday after a man in his 80s entered the emergency room and said he had a “deceased child” in the back of his car, the York-Poquoson sheriff’s office said in a press briefing.
Upon approaching the car, emergency room staff found a black plastic trash bag in the rear hatch of the car and inside was the body of an 11-month-old child, authorities said, identifying the child as Myrical Wicker.
Kristen D Graham, 40, who authorities said would sometimes take care of the child for weeks at a time, has been charged with felony child neglect and animal cruelty, a class one misdemeanor, said sheriff Ron Montgomery. At the time of the incident, Graham had been taking care of the child for approximately two days, he said.
The mother of the child is a 17-year-old from the area and has not been identified by authorities.
According to police, Graham received a phone call from a friend at about 1am on Tuesday. The friend was in the city of Newport News and was taking care of an elderly person. The friend, police said, asked Graham to bring her cigarettes as she was unable to leave the elderly man she was taking care of.
Graham, authorities said, put the child in the back of her car along with a small dog and drove to a 7-Eleven store, where she purchased cigarettes and apple juice, according to surveillance video police obtained from the store. Graham took the child and the dog and drove to the friend’s home, gave her the cigarettes and “stayed there for some period of time”, said Montgomery, the sheriff.
Authorities said that at about 8am, upon returning home in York county, where she was keeping the child, Graham “rolled the windows up on the car, turned the car off, [and] left the dog and the child in the vehicle”. She then went to sleep before being woken up at 2.30pm by a phone call, police said.
Graham then “went outside to then check on the child, who was at that point deceased”, authorities said, adding that the child was brought back into the house. The elderly man who took the child to the hospital placed her in a black plastic bag, police said.
Montgomery said Graham was arrested at her home on Wednesday and said “there’s a very good possibility that these charges could be upgraded to homicide charges” once an autopsy is complete.
“These are not typical situations that we deal with in your county,” Montgomery said.
“When you do come across the death of a child, it affects everyone – the investigators, the law-enforcement people there, the EMS people that have to respond to these types of things. I can tell you that the mood of the agency today, when we had a briefing on it this morning, is somewhat of shock and disbelief,” he said.
“We have children ourselves, and I can tell you that we all go home and hug our kids and our grandkids a little tighter after something like this happens.”
Although authorities did not specify whether heat played a role in the deaths of the child and the dog, temperatures in Newport News on Tuesday reached a high of 88F or 31C.
According to kidsandcars.org, at least 26 children have died in cars this year, with at least two deaths occurring in Virginia, including Tuesday’s incident.