10-year-old girl charged with homicide in stomping death of 6-month-old at day care

A 10-year-old Wisconsin girl has been charged with first-degree homicide in the slaying of a 6-month-old boy, who authorities said was stomped to death at a home-based day care.

The girl, who has not been publicly identified because of her age, was a foster child living with the owner of the day care and her family, Chippewa County District Attorney Wade Newell said Monday during a court hearing. According to the Leader-Telegram in Eau Claire, the girl entered the courtroom wearing a flowery dress and pink shoes.

She cried throughout the hearing, during which she also wore a leather restraint around her waist, the newspaper reported.

The girl is being treated as an adult, but the case could be moved to juvenile court, the Leader-Telegram said. Wisconsin state law requires that all court cases start out in adult court, Newell said.

The girl is being held in a secure detention center, authorities said.

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Chippewa County Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk said that the owner of the day care, identified by Wisconsin state licensing records as Amber's Pals and Playmates in Tilden, called 911 around 4:34 p.m. on Oct. 30 and reported that she'd found the baby bleeding and unresponsive, with obvious injuries to his head. The boy was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital in nearby Chippewa Falls, then flown to Gillette Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota, due to the extent of his injuries.

He died of his injuries Thursday, Kowalczyk said.

The infant is one of four children killed in the Chippewa Falls area in the past week. Three Girl Scouts and a parent died in a hit-and-run collision Saturday as they picked up trash along a highway in Lake Hallie.

Authorities identified the victims as Jayna Kelley, 9, Autum Helgeson, 10, Haylee Hickle, 10, and Haylee’s mother, Sara Jo Schneider, 32. Another 10-year-old girl, whose name was not released, remained hospitalized Monday.

The driver accused of killing the victims, Colton Treu, 21, told investigators he and his passenger had been huffing, or inhaling chemicals to get high, just before the crash. Treu is charged with four counts of homicide by negligent use of a motor vehicle, five counts of hit-and-run and four counts of homicide while intoxicated (use of inhalants), authorities said.

ExploreRelated story: Driver was huffing before crash that killed 3 Girl Scouts, 1 parent, police say

Doctors and child abuse specialists at Gillette told investigators that the boy suffered multiple skull fractures consistent with heavy force or pressure, Kowalczyk said in a news release obtained by WEAU in Eau Claire. Photos of the infant's injuries showed a "distinct pattern" that Newell said in court matched the tread on the girl's shoes.

The day care owner, Amber Sweeney, told investigators that the only people at her home at the time the boy was hurt were her, the girl, two 6-year-olds and two 2-year-olds, WEAU reported. The 10-year-old and the 6-year-olds arrived on the school bus around 3:40 p.m., less than an hour before Sweeney called 911, the news release stated.

Sweeney told investigators she had taken all the children outside except for the infant, who was napping.

"Sweeney stated the children were in and out of the house for short periods of time," the news release said. "(She) stated that the 10-year-old … was seen in the house, sitting on the kitchen bay window. Sweeney said (name redacted) was in the house by herself at that time."

Investigators interviewed the girl on Nov. 1, but her statement was inconsistent with the evidence they had gathered thus far, Kowalczyk said in the news release. They interviewed her again the following day, after the baby died.

She at first denied harming the boy, but eventually admitted what she had done in a confession Newell detailed in court Monday, WEAU reported.

"She stated she was holding the child and that's when she dropped the child," Newell said. "The child hit its head on the footstool and then the child started crying and she panicked and didn't know what to do and didn't want to get into trouble and then she proceeded to stomp on the 6-month-old's head."

The girl is being held in lieu of a $50,000 cash bond, the Leader-Telegram reported. A defense lawyer assigned to the case asked for a smaller bond, saying the girl was not a flight risk.

"She would like to return home and, given her age, that may be appropriate," attorney Kirby Harless told the court.

Judge James Issacson denied that request, deeming the cash bond to be an “appropriate resolution,” the newspaper said.

WEAU reported that the state is investigating whether there was any wrongdoing on Sweeney's part. She has shut the business down pending the investigation.

State records show that Amber's Pals and Playmates is licensed to care for up to eight children at a time, from 6 weeks old to 13 years. It was not clear when Sweeney obtained her business license.

In the past three years, she had violations on three occasions, including failure to submit the proper materials to continue her license in 2015 and 2017. Records indicate the most recent violations stem from an August monitoring visit, during which she did not have a copy of driving record on file or documentation of the required annual safety report on the vehicle she uses for transporting children.

Two emergency backup childcare providers working with her had also not had the proper training on shaken baby syndrome, the records show. Both had provided care for Sweeney's clients in her absence for short periods of time.

Sweeney submitted a correction plan in September that included her driving record and gave the dates that an inspection of her vehicle and the training for her backup providers would be completed.

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