Girl died Tuesday of lacerations to organs
Something wasn’t right when Zion Harris went to City Park with her two sisters and stepfather late Tuesday morning.
The 23-month-old girl wouldn’t stop crying.
Several times her stepfather called Michelle Harris, Zion’s mother, to let her know the girl wasn’t acting normally. A short time later, after rain forced an end to the outing, the girl lay unresponsive on a bed in a relative’s Gentilly home.
Not too long after that, she was pronounced dead at Tulane Medical Center from a lacerated liver and kidney, the victim of what the Coroner’s Office ruled was a homicide.
On Wednesday evening police arrested Michelle Harris, 28, in connection with her daughter’s death and booked her with second-degree murder.
Relatives said the death of the “sweet” child and subsequent arrest of the woman they described as a loving mother were both stunning.
Police, meanwhile, released few details about the incident but said Michelle Harris “struck” her daughter when the child would not listen to her.
Authorities said the baby’s injuries were consistent with being kicked or beaten.
She died at Tulane Medical Center at 1:26 p.m. Tuesday.
Relatives and family friends said Wednesday they were not sure how Zion received her injuries but that Michelle Harris was a good mother, even if she might discipline her children with a spanking.
“I know because of what I seen for myself ... she’s a very good mom,” said Tracy Davis, a family friend. “She takes very good care of her kids. What happened? I don’t know. But she’s a very good mom.”
“You didn’t see any red flags with Michelle because of the way she treats her kids,” said Vanessa Scott, another family friend. “You don’t expect that.”
Cassandra Normand, Zion’s great-great-aunt, said Michelle Harris was living in Atlanta the past several years but had been in town since Sept. 18 to help an ailing relative.
Zion’s stepfather lives in New Orleans, Normand said.
Late Tuesday morning, the stepfather, who declined to speak with the media, took Zion and her sisters to the park, Normand said.
Rain forced them back to a relative’s Gentilly home a little before noon. About the same time Normand dropped off Michelle Harris at the house.
About 4 p.m., Normand said, her cellphone rang with the news of the child’s death.
Zion was like most children: happy, active, always smiling, Scott said. The girl, who would have celebrated her second birthday Oct. 2, loved to climb on people.
On Wednesday, Normand and Michelle Harris’ friends were trying to decide how to answer Zion’s 3-year-old sister’s questions about where she was.
“What do you tell her when she’s asking about her sister?” Normand said.
Scott also was looking for answers.
“When I went and saw her little bitty body, all I could do was just cry and ask, ‘What happened? What happened, Zion? What happened?’”