Friday, February 23, 2018
Public safety

Family mourns loss of Largo 2-year-old who died from beating

LARGO — In a recent photo, the smiling baby girl with dark brown eyes and a curly black ponytail is holding a tiny pail and shovel, ready for the beach.

Ananhie Fernandez, 2, loved the water and her butterfly-print bathing suit. Her future, it seemed then, was bright.

But early Sunday, for reasons still unexplained, her mother's live-in boyfriend slammed the toddler against a chair and wall, police say. Sometime before 3 a.m., 27-year-old Joel Adrian Cruz — accompanied by Ananhie's mother, Karina Mora, 19 — brought the child to St. Petersburg's All Children's Hospital.

"Chunky," as her family called her, had a severe chest injury and "no independent brain function," police said. She died Sunday morning.

Cruz, who was not Ananhie's father, was charged with first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse. He is in the Pinellas County Jail without bail.

An autopsy was done Monday, Largo police said, but results won't be available for weeks.

"She was like my daughter and she always called me 'mommy,' " said her aunt, 21-year-old Michelle Mora. "I'm hurt. I feel incomplete. She was very attached to me, my baby Chunky."

Michelle said she knew her sister's boyfriend, Cruz, but did not want to talk about him.

"It's too painful," she said. "I'm busy planning her funeral."

She told the Times that Ananhie's mother did not witness the assault.

Karina Mora, who was not charged, did not respond to the Times' request for an interview Monday, but posted a status to Facebook: "i kno everyone is showing me support and i appreciate it soo much i really do my baby was taken frm me but right now i mean everyone everyone leave me alone."

Karina, who lives in Largo and said on Facebook that she works at a St. Petersburg barbecue restaurant, also has a 3-year-old daughter, Nyelah, her sister said. The state Department of Children and Families placed that child in foster care after Ananhie's death.

Karina Mora and Cruz had been together about two years, police said. Cruz moved to the mainland from Puerto Rico about seven months ago. He did not have a criminal record in Florida, but records indicate he is awaiting trial in California on a violation of probation charge for narcotics possession.

Karina Mora's Facebook page was covered Monday by supportive, sometimes defensive, posts:

"If you have never lost a child, stop sitting here telling a mother that just lost her baby that everything will be okay or it will get better," one friend wrote. "Cause you have no idea what she is going thru." Another said: "She's such a beautiful lil girl and now she's your guardian angel."

Michelle Mora said she frequently babysat the toddler. She said Ananhie often watched Dora the Explorer, requested Cheetos Puffs and danced to Nikki Minaj's Beez in the Trap.

"All of this, I'm going to miss," Michelle said. "I saw her born and I saw her go to heaven."

Danielle Paquette can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4224.

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