A father and stepmother in Minnesota are facing accusations that they murdered their 8-year-old daughter, Autumn Hallow. While the parents denied any wrongdoing, testimony from children in the house suggested routine abuse leading to her death. (Autumn reportedly died while out of the care of her biological mother, Kelsey Kruse.)
Police in Elk River, Minnesota responded to a 911 call from Sarah Hallow, 28, the girl’s stepmother. According to her, she went to check on Autumn, who had been taking a shower, when she found her face-down in the tub. When police arrived, they found Sarah in a bedroom performing chest compressions on Autumn.
Responders noted several inconsistencies in Sarah’s story, starting with the supposed time of death. Sarah and her husband, 30-year-old Brett Hallow, told police they had just found Autumn. However, according to legal documents quoted in the Star-Tribune, “[b]ased on the condition of [Autumn’s] body, law enforcement believed [she] had been deceased for some time.”
Investigators also say that, though the parents claimed Autumn had been taking a shower, her skin was dry and hair only mildly damp.
The general state of the girl’s health prior to death also concerned investigators. According to the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office, her body had scant fatty tissue, atrophied muscle, and significant hair loss. The eight-year-old’s body reportedly weighed only 45 pounds.
An autopsy also revealed evidence of asphyxiation as well as multiple wounds on her head.
Following the call, police interviewed Autumn’s six- and 10-year-old siblings, who gave disturbing accounts of life in the house. According to the six-year-old boy, the parents would punish Autumn for wetting her clothes by tying her up with a belt and putting her in a sleeping bag with only her head exposed. Another punishment was to tie her hands behind her back with a t-shirt, the boy said. The parents allegedly made Autumn sleep in the restraints on several occasions.
Autumn’s 10-year-old sister added that the parents would restrain her to prevent access to medications.
A Reputation For Abuse
Statements from neighbors seem to corroborate some of the children’s accounts. Sabrina McWilliam, a resident of the same apartment complex as the Hallows, told local news she “wasn’t surprised” to hear that one of their children had died.
“You can sit out here any time of the day and hear both of them screaming at these kids, cussing at them,” she said. McWilliam added that she had called the police to report abuse “at least five times this year.”
While the parents denied the allegations, authorities were convinced. Brett and Sarah Hallow now face charges of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter in Autumn’s death.
Meanwhile, Autumn’s biological mom, Kelsey Kruse, has issued strong words to her daughter’s alleged killers.
“I hate you. I hate you both,” the mother said in a Facebook post. “You have been ruining my life for YEARS and now you have given me and my family a permanent scar.”
Kruse also vowed to honor her late daughter’s memory. “I will make sure that Autumn is remembered in the most beautiful way possible because she deserves nothing less,” she wrote.
Friends and well-wishers have started a GoFundMe page to help with funeral expenses as well as legal fees.