Some maternal relatives of a child who died mysteriously in Linstead, St. Catherine, said they now feel guilty about not responding more firmly to signs that their late niece perhaps was being abused physically.

The seven-year-old child, Tianna Russell, from New Works district in Linstead, was pronounced dead at Linstead Public Hospital on Monday, June 28.

She was living with her father and step-mother since her biological mother, Claudia Francis, fell ill and died four years ago.

The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) yesterday reported that, about 1:30AM on Monday, Tianna’s father took her to Linstead Public Hospital because he reportedly heard her struggling to breathe. The child was pronounced dead shortly after.

The JCF stated that its officers arrested the father and step-mother after the child’s body was examined and “several marks, suggestive of abuse,” were seen on it. A multi-agency investigation is now underway.

In the meantime, information reaching The Beacon suggests that, up to a few days before Tianna’s death, one of her maternal aunts abroad was expressing concern about scars seen on Tianna’s body during a video call.

The aunt, in a text message, told the child’s father: “I couldn’t sleep last night; I was seeing that little girl in my sleep. Please, I just hope she fall and and she doesn’t get those scars from no one…”

However, the aunt, again, was assured that no abuse was taking place.

She was informed that Tianna was ‘hyperactive’ and that she hurt herself while playing.

One of the messages sent to her, purportedly by the child’s father, reads: “Tianna fell in the shower and chipped her tooth, but she is OK… When you come [to Jamaica], you will see [that] none of her injuries were made by no one; every scratch were made playing.”

Another message (published in its unedited form), which the aunt received, reads: “I will have to carry her (Tianna) to the sea when I can. It would seem some spirit – fowl spirit is after my child. I’m out of my wits.”

The child’s maternal relatives stated that, on numerous occasions, they tried without success to have the father send Tianna to spend time with them.

One of the aunts ended up taking her concern to the police station, but reportedly was told that Tianna’s father could not be forced to facilitate shared custody or visitation.

The maternal relatives argued that, had the child been visiting them, they, most likely, would have picked up signs of any physical abuse taking place.

One of Tianna’s maternal uncles, Ian Edwards, told The Beacon that he feels as though he has let down his late sister – Tianna’s mother.

He said his sister wanted her family to have custody of Tianna.

“Her dying wish to me was that I should take care of my little niece [who is now dead] and her son…” Edwards commented. “I feel like I let down my sister big time.”

Edwards added that, had he not been abroad most times, he would have been more assertive in ensuring that Tianna was visiting her maternal relatives. He posited that the grand effort placed into keeping Tianna away from her mother’s family, in hindsight, was a red flag.

“To be honest, that actually raised a red flag, but I was mostly abroad. If I were on the ground I would have been more adamant to know what’s going on,” Edwards said.

One of Tianna’s maternal aunts who live in Jamaica, Sherene Francis, told The Beacon that her family is devastated. “Everybody is torn up,” she added.

ALSO READ: Several marks suggesting abuse


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By Mills