Mother ‘kicked and whipped’ toddler, causing her death, police say

Michelle Harris allegedly kicked and whipped her 23-month-old daughter, Zion, sometime Tuesday, lacerating the baby’s liver and kidney and causing her death, according to a New Orleans police arrest report.

Harris, 28, was booked Wednesday with second-degree murder.

Zion Harris died Tuesday afternoon at Tulane Medical Center from her injuries; the Coroner’s Office ruled the death a homicide.

On Wednesday morning, detectives talked with Zion’s 3-year-old sister, who said Harris had “kicked and whipped” Zion on Tuesday, according to the police report.

During a later interview with detectives, Harris said she hit Zion with her hand on her right side. That was consistent with the girl’s injuries, according to the report.

Harris, who is originally from New Orleans but now lives in Atlanta, was in town with Zion and her two other children to help with an ailing relative.

Late Tuesday morning, Zion’s stepfather took her and her sisters to City Park. The girl cried continuously during the outing, relatives and family friends said Wednesday.

After the stepfather called Harris several times to let her know Zion was not acting normally, rain forced the four back to a relative’s home in the 4100 block of Gibson Street in Gentilly.

Not too long after that the girl lay unresponsive on a bed in the home. She was pronounced dead at 1:26 p.m.

Police said Wednesday that Harris hit Zion when the child would not listen to her.

Relatives and friends described Harris as a good, caring mother and said the news of Zion’s death and Harris’ arrest was doubly shocking.

“You didn’t see any red flags with Michelle because of the way she treats her kids,” said Vanessa Scott, a family friend. “You don’t expect that.”

Magistrate Judge Gerard Hansen set Harris’ bond at $350,000.

She remained jailed Thursday, according to Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office records.