Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Public safety

Child protection had investigated Citrus mom accused of killing daughter

Chelsea Maree Huggett, the Citrus County woman accused of beating her 2-year-old daughter to death last week, was investigated twice by child protection investigators in the past year, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families.

An initial look at both cases did not indicate that DCF could have done anything to prevent Aliyah's death, but the department will conduct a more thorough review, said Carrie Hoeppner, a DCF spokeswoman. The results could be released next week.

"You really have an obligation to the child to review your work and make sure there wasn't something else you could have done," Hoeppner said.

In August 2012, Huggett, 21, and her daughter, Aliyah Marie Branum, were living with her boyfriend. Social workers, concerned about domestic violence between Huggett and the man, launched an investigation.

Huggett, who lives in the town of Hernando, worked with social workers for several months, accepting assistance in a variety of forms. "I understand she was very cooperative," Hoeppner said.

In January, child protection investigators were back due to concerns about Huggett's living stability and a possible mark on the child's back.

Huggett and her daughter were between homes and primarily spent nights with friends. At one point, they were living out of a tent, Hoeppner said.

Child protection officials did not discover any obvious signs of abuse or neglect.

"It appeared the child (was) very well bonded to the mother in January," Hoeppner said

Following this case, Huggett was given help with day-care accommodations, which allowed authorities to keep a closer eye on her, she said.

Two days before her death, Aliyah was taken by ambulance to a hospital with swollen hands, possibly from an allergic reaction, according to the Citrus County Sheriff's Office. She was released the same day. Hospital staffers did not notice any signs of neglect or abuse during the visit.

"So this gives us some assurance that this (abuse) wasn't ongoing," Hoeppner said.

Citrus County Sheriff's Office authorities say Huggett violently shook Aliyah on April 25 in her home in Hernando.

The next day, Huggett shook her again, covered the toddler's mouth with her hand, then slammed her head into the bedroom wall and head butted her.

Aliyah never woke up.

On Thursday, detectives arrested Huggett and charged her with first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse.

After initially telling investigators her boyfriend had killed Aliyah with bug spray, Huggett admitted killing the girl and expressed remorse.

"The defendant told me she that she did not mean to kill the victim," Detective Kathleen Liotta wrote in the affidavit. "She just could not take her whining."

Eight months pregnant, Huggett is being held without bail in the Citrus County Detention Facility. Child protection officials will meet to decide about placement for the baby when it's born, Hoeppner said.

Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

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