Saturday, June 23, 2018
Public safety

Tampa mother of 8-month-old baby who died in December charged with aggravated child abuse

TAMPA — The night before 8-month-old Gabrielle Crawford died, his mother used enough force to break his arm and leg, police say.

Rosalee Crawford didn't seek help, and her son died the next morning, according to Tampa police.

On Friday — two months after the child's death — authorities charged Crawford, 33, with two counts of aggravated child abuse.

She could face additional charges, but authorities are waiting for a final autopsy report before they decide. She is in the Orient Road jail.

Gabrielle's twin brother, Micha, has been in foster care since just after Gabrielle's death.

Crawford had previously refused interviews but changed her mind Friday, police say, after hearing about a Tampa Bay Times report on her son's death. The Times reported Friday that after weeks of investigating, authorities determined Gabrielle's death was a homicide.

The state Department of Children and Families called Gabrielle's death another example of the failure of Hillsborough Kids Inc., the county's lead child protection agency, to avert a death in a family under its watch. HKI lost its $65.5 million contract in January. Eckerd Youth Alternatives, which performs similar services in Pinellas and Pasco, will take over July 1.

Gabrielle was the ninth child in an active case to die in the past two years. No other region in the state has a child death rate as high; most have had one to two child deaths.

On March 11, Gabrielle and Micha were born prematurely. Gabrielle had multiple birth defects, including hydrocephalus, known as water on the brain. He was never expected to live past 2. In his first months, he endured on a ventilator and a feeding tube, first at Tampa General Hospital and later at a nursing home.

Then in September, the nursing home discharged him with a shunt behind his ear and a feeding tube. He was given to his mother, who was staying at the Alpha House, a shelter for mothers in crisis.

Over the past 10 years, Rosalee Crawford has received help for substance abuse, mental illness and domestic violence. Her four older children had been taken by the state.

But the Alpha House refused to accept Gabrielle because it isn't able to care for a baby with such severe medical issues, according to a DCF report.

So Crawford would have to leave the shelter, "a key stabilizing force in her life."

On Dec. 2, Crawford's friend Charlotte Tobias called 911 to report that Gabrielle wasn't breathing.

Tobias had allowed Crawford and her twins to spend the night at her Tampa home. She said Crawford had shown up about 1 a.m. saying she couldn't get Gabrielle to stop crying.

Micha slept in a car seat. Gabrielle lay in a bed between his mother and Tobias. He cried most of the night. He seemed inconsolable. Tobias said he had a large blue mark on his forehead.

Just after 8 a.m., Tobias said Crawford woke her, asking for a light for her cigarette. Gabrielle was lying on his back. Tobias thought he was sleeping. She got up and left the room.

Then she heard Crawford screaming. She found Crawford holding Gabrielle, attempting a crude form of CPR. She said the baby was unresponsive, cold to the touch.

He was dead.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433. John Barry can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3383.

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