TAMPA — When Janice Cobb came home the afternoon of Dec. 13 to a street filled with ambulances and police cars, she hoped they were there for her volatile sister-in-law — not the children.
Then she saw the paramedic rush from the home at 7213 S Juanita St., holding 3-year-old Yanelli Vasquez in his arms. The girl — her family called her "Yanelli belly" — was in cardiac arrest. She had cuts and bruises on her head, arms and legs, and was suffering from internal bleeding, according to a Tampa police report. The paramedics rushed her to Tampa General Hospital, where she died later that day.
The girl's grandmother — Carida "Charity" Cobb, 41 — told detectives she had been bathing Vasquez when the girl "started jumping and bouncing around the tub and off the walls and she may have hurt her back on a soap dish," a police report stated.
Detectives didn't believe her.
"The victim appeared to have been beaten and drowned," a detective wrote.
Carida Cobb was arrested Friday night on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse. A week passed between the girl's death and the arrest while police awaited an autopsy, and then for the grandmother to recover from an apparent suicide attempt. A day after the child's death, Dec. 14, Cobb consumed a "large amount of pills," police said, and was hospitalized until Friday.
Carida Cobb has never been arrested before in Florida, state records show. But the wheelchair-ridden woman had violent tendencies that bothered Janice Cobb, her sister-in-law and next-door neighbor in Port Tampa. Janice Cobb said she once witnessed Carida Cobb jump from her wheelchair to slap her husband, Michael, during an argument and saw her sister-in-law assault him numerous times.
"She abused him," Janice Cobb, 52, said Saturday. "He would never put his hands on her."
Michael Cobb could not be reached for comment Saturday. Tampa police records show they were called to the home three times this year before the girl's death: two calls on April 3 that resulted in someone being taken into protective custody under the Baker Act, and a May 17 call about a family-related car theft.
Yanelli Vasquez had lived with Carida Cobb, her paternal grandmother, since 2011, according to family. That summer, police found Yanelli and her five brothers and sisters alone in their Tampa apartment. Their mother — Maria Vasquez, 27 — was later convicted of child neglect, state records show.
The four older children went to live with their mother's grandmother, while Yanelli and a brother went to live with Carida Cobb.
While Janice Cobb felt her sister-in-law shouldn't have been trusted with two young children, Yanelli's maternal grandmother was shocked by the little girl's death and Carida Cobb's arrest.
For two years, Darlene Guzman has talked to Carida Cobb regularly, checking on her other grandchildren and arranging events so the six children could be together.
"We thought she was a nice person," Guzman said Saturday. "She represented herself as a religious, God-fearing person."
The first sign of trouble came this summer, Guzman said, when Cobb complained that the children were getting to be too much for her. She was considering putting them up for adoption.
"I told her not to do that," Guzman recalled Saturday. "We have lots of family. We could have found someone."
Guzman, 56, and her husband Raul, 47, are raising Yanelli's four older siblings. They are trying to get custody of their 2-year-old grandson, Yasiel, who has been in a shelter since Yanelli's death. State officials told them they couldn't because that would be too many children in their four-bedroom home.
Guzman holds her daughter accountable for Yanelli's death, too.
"All of this could have been avoided if she had done what she was supposed to do," Guzman said of her daughter, Maria Vasquez, who she has not heard from since an exchange of text messages in October. Maria Vasquez has drug problems, her parents said Saturday. In addition to child neglect, she also has three convictions of cocaine possession.
Guzman flipped through pictures of her granddaughter on her cellphone Saturday as Yanelli's siblings watched cartoons. She stopped on a picture of Yanelli taken this Halloween. She dressed as a green fairy princess, with wings and a wand.
Cobb spent Saturday in the Hillsborough County Jail. A judge denied her bond.
After paramedics rushed Yanelli to the hospital last Friday, Janice Cobb prayed for the little girl to survive. The next day, she watched as paramedics rolled Carida Cobb from the same home, after the woman's apparent suicide attempt.
Again, Janice Cobb asked God to save a life, but for a different reason.
"I wanted her to survive, so she can face the consequences of what she did," Cobb said. "That little girl never had a chance."
This story has been edited to reflect the following correction: Darlene and Raul Guzman, grandparents of Yanelli Vasquez, are raising four of Vasquez's siblings in a four-bedroom home. A story in Sunday's paper incorrectly described the size of the home.
Times researcher John Martin and staff writer John Woodrow Cox contributed to this report. Will Hobson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3400.