Savannah Hardin, 9, was forced to run for three hours as punishment for having lied to her grandmother and now 2 people, Jessica Hardin and Joyce Garrard, have been charged in Etowah County, Alabama.
She was severely dehydrated and it didn’t take long before Savannah Hardin collapsed from a seizure and died only days later. Police have ruled the case a homicide. Her grandmother and stepmother who police say meted out the punishment are in jail, facing murder charges Wednesday.
Witnesses told deputies that she was told to run and not allowed to stop for three hours on Friday, an Etowah County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman said. The girl’s stepmother, 27-year-old Jessica Mae Hardin, called police at 6:45 p.m., telling them that she was having a seizure and was unresponsive.
Neighbor Roger Simpson said he saw a little girl running at around 4 p.m., but didn’t see anybody chasing or coercing her.
“I saw her running down there, that’s what I told the detectives,” Simpson said from his home on a hill overlooking the Hardins. “But I don’t see how that would kill her.”
Authorities are still trying to determine whether the girl was forced to run by physical coercion or by verbal commands. Deputies were told the girl was forced to run after lying to her grandmother, 46-year-old Joyce Hardin Garrard, about having eaten the candy, sheriff’s office spokeswoman Natalie Barton said.
Hardin died Monday at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, according to a news release from the sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s release says the autopsy report showed the girl was extremely dehydrated and had a very low sodium level. A state pathologist ruled it a homicide.
The sheriff’s office received calls from concerned citizens who had witnessed the running. No other details were released.
Gail Denny and her husband Phil, live just up a dirt road from the home. They’ve known the family since they moved to the area in northeastern Alabama seven years ago.
The Denny’s say they were used to seeing Savannah and other neighborhood children out waiting on the school bus in the morning. Gayle said her grandson had a crush on Savannah.
“My grandson asked her to be his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day, and she said ‘yes,'” Gail said before dissolving into tears.