Citrus County Sheriff: Mom of 2-year-old Aliyah Marie Branum arrested for her murder

CITRUS COUNTY, Fla. - Citrus County Sheriff's deputies say they've arrested the mother of 2-year-old Aliyah Marie Branum for her murder.  Aliyah's mother, Chelsea Huggett, 21, is eight months pregnant with her second child.

Aliyah was found "not breathing, conscious or alert" inside the home at 1605 N. Julia Way in Hernando last Friday.  Efforts to resuscitate her failed and she was pronounced dead at the hospital.

An autopsy later determined that Aliyah died as a result of excessive trauma.

According to the arrest report, when deputies arrived Huggett told them that her boyfriend--and father of her unborn child--had killed Aliyah by spraying bug spray on her.  That man, who is not Aliyah's biological father, was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Deputies say the emergency room physician who treated Aliyah noted swelling and bruising on her face and that her left eye was swollen shut.  Aliyah also had bleeding on her brain and did have blood and yellow fluid draining from her ears, deputies said.   Aliyah was also bleeding from her nose, documents show.

Medical reports also show Aliyah had a fractured skull and bruising to her privates.

Detectives say Huggett's later admitted to shaking her daughter twice because she would not stop whining and was constantly trying to climb up and sit on her lap. 

"That wasn't enough," said Sheriff Jeff Dawsy.

According to reports, Huggett then slammed Aliyah's head into the wall and then head butted her at which time the child went unconscious.

"This isn't someone who snapped.  I've seen snapped and this is brutal murder," Dawsy added.  

Dawsy went on to call the case "sick and twisted" because Huggett failed to take any actions to save her child.  Instead, Huggett told deputies she placed Aliyah in her bed, layed down next to her and watched her die.

When a male roommate came home and noticed the child was not moving he called 911.

Huggett, who is being held without bond on homicide and aggravated child abuse charges, declined speaking to the media in the days following the murder.  Her family has also declined.  However, they have been very vocal online.  Not only did they create a memorial slideshow but Huggett started a Facebook page titled RIP Aliyah Marie.

Deputies said when Huggett confessed to the murder she expressed sorrow and remorse.

"She apologized to Aliyah," said investigator Craig Fass.

Neighbors told ABC Action News Huggett and Aliyah recently moved in with a couple that owned the home.  They said they never saw Aliyah outside and rarely would see Huggett.

Still, word of the baby's death left neighbors distraught.

"She didn't deserve death," said Renee Dranberg, a next door neighbor.

The man who owns the home, Brian Allen Jones, has been in custody since Friday on a probation violation.  The Department of Children and Family Services also confirmed to ABC Action News, his two daughters, ages 7 and 9, have also been removed from the home.

Jones has not been charged in Aliyah's death.  Deputies told ABC Action News he has been very cooperative.

Detectives also reached out to Aliyah's biological father.  He lives in California and according to deputies Huggett met him while both were in the military.

TIMELINE OF EVENTS LEADING UP TO MURDER

  •   April 24-- Aliyah was taken via ambulance to Citrus Memorial Hospital for an issue involving her hands being swollen.  Released later that day, Aliyah returned home with her mother.  Witnesses said the child had no bruises.
  • April 25-- Huggett's roommates noticed Aliyah was acting lethargic.  The roommate talked with Huggett about it.  According the the arrest report Huggett told her roommate Aliyah had possibly gotten into a bottle of roach killer as it had spilled in her booster seat.
  • April 25 @ 11 p.m .--Huggett, acting on advice from her mother, contacted the poison control hotline.  Huggett was told to take Aliyah to the hospital and the hotline worker notified Citrus Memorial Hospital a poisoned child was coming in for treatment.
  • April 26 @ 1 a.m.--The poison control hotline called Huggett back after the hospital called to say the Aliyah never arrived.  Huggett allegedly told the hotline employee that Aliyah was fine now and would not be seeking medical treatment.
  • April 26 @ 4 a.m.--Deputies say Huggett shook Aliyah, covered her mouth with her hand to muffle the cries and then slammed Aliyah's head into the wall, playpen and then head butted the 2-year-old knocking her unconscious.

DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES

According to the Department of Children and Families, Huggett has been investigated twice for child abuse and neglect allegations.

The first allegations surfaced back in August.  Officials say they closed the case because there were no indicators

of abuse.  At the time, Huggett was apparently offered a number of support services for assistance.  Case worker reported that Huggett was cooperative and worked with them through December.

In January, another concern was presented regarding the living conditions for the child in addition to a mark on Aliya's back.  Documentation shows that when seen the following day by child protection workers, Aliyah did not display any obvious signs of abuse or neglect on her body, including her back.  Huggett, according to officials, accepted assistance with daycare which created better visibility for the child in the community.

The agency confirmed that Aliyah was seen just two days prior to her death by emergency medical professionals for swollen hands.   At the time, doctors did not find any evidence of abuse.

UNBORN CHILD & CUSTODY

DCF officials plan to meet to discuss the best possible placement for the infant upon delivery.

Any parent feeling overwhelmed, or a parent who is concerned that they may harm their child can reach out for help from DCF at 1-800-96ABUSE.

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