Friday, January 19, 2018
Public safety

Largo man faces first-degree murder charge in toddler's death

LARGO — A Largo man admitted slamming a toddler against a wall and a chair, police said, and was arrested Sunday on a charge that he killed the baby girl.

Joel Adrian Cruz, 27, faces a first-degree murder charge after he and his girlfriend brought the mortally injured 2-year-old early Sunday to All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, police said.

Cruz initially was arrested about 3 a.m. Sunday by the Largo Police Department on a felony charge of aggravated child abuse.

According to police, he and his girlfriend, Karina Mora, brought Mora's daughter, Ananhie Fernandez, to the hospital in critical condition. The child had "severe injuries to the chest cavity and no independent brain function," police said.

Sunday evening, the toddler was declared dead and the charge police sought against Cruz was upgraded to murder. He was being held without bail in the Pinellas County Jail.

Interviewed outside the hospital before the child was declared dead, biological father Carlos Fernandez told Bay News 9 that he was waiting for relatives to arrive before removing Ananhie from life support.

"Half of me is missing right now," he told Bay News 9. "That's my child. I love her."

Mora and Cruz were interviewed by detectives and Cruz admitted to throwing the toddler against a chair and a wall, police said. No charges against Mora were announced, and investigators did not disclose other circumstances leading to the death.

The couple has been together about two years, said Largo Lt. Stephen Slaughter. Cruz moved to the mainland from Puerto Rico about seven months ago.

He did not have a criminal record in the state before this arrest, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Slaughter said Mora has one other child, but did not specify the age or gender. No one answered a knock on the couple's apartment door Sunday and neighbors said they knew little about the family.

A spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Children and Families said the agency had not been involved with the family previously but has now opened an investigation.

Staff writer Danielle Paquette and news researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report.

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