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Investigators found more than a beaten toddler at Tampa hotel

TAMPA — A badly beaten 2-year-old girl wasn't the only disturbing discovery authorities made when they arrived at Room 108 of the Homestead Studio Suites hotel last week.

The toddler's 3-year-old brother had "DumbA--" scribbled on his forehead.

He said his mother, Danielle McCleary, wrote it.

Authorities took the boy to foster care. They rushed his sister, Gabrielle Randel, to St. Joseph's Hospital, where she died hours later from injuries they said were inflicted by the mother's boyfriend of three months.

On Thursday, the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office accused the boyfriend, Kenneth G. Lopez, of murder. The agency previously said that Lopez, 21, admitted to bundling the little girl's body and face in a sheet during the early hours of March 8 and repeatedly striking her to get her to stop crying.

McCleary called authorities at 5 a.m. after her daughter stopped breathing. Authorities said Gabrielle suffered blunt trauma to her forehead, multiple marks and bruises to her entire body, a hand mark on her body and serious trauma to her genitalia.

Lopez, who was already being held on an aggravated child abuse charge, remains in jail without bail.

At the downtown Tampa courthouse Thursday, McCleary, 23, cried at a hearing held to discuss custody arrangements for her surviving child.

During the hearing, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Tracy Sheehan described the message on the boy's forehead. A sheriff's investigator said McCleary admitted writing it.

Officials said the boy has had some trouble sleeping and has made statements about his sister's death. But when he sees pictures of her, he says, "Look, Gabbie's not dead," according to his father, Michael Randel.

Randel, 24, said he drove 17 hours straight to Tampa from his Texas home when he got the call March 8 saying his daughter had been injured. He had not seen his children in three months because McCleary and Lopez left town with them without saying where they were going, he said.

McCleary told deputies the couple had been living in the Homestead Studio Suites just off of Hillsborough Avenue and Veterans Highway for two weeks after moving from Illinois.

Sheehan said the 3-year-old could travel to Texas with his father for an extended visit until a permanent placement decision is made. She said McCleary could have supervised visits with her son, but "no dumb a-- statements."

"He has been through more than enough," Sheehan said.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at or (813) 226-3337.

Investigators found more than a beaten toddler at Tampa hotel 03/19/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 20, 2009 12:11am]
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