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NEW PORT RICHEY GIRL, 5, IS FOUND DEAD IN HER BED

A sister can't wake her for school. Then her father realizes the terrible truth and falls apart.

Nine-year-old Sarah Rivers couldn't wake her younger sister for school Friday morning, so she went to their dad for help.

Kevin Rivers went into his 5-year-old daughter's purple bedroom to rouse her from her Tinker Bell sheets, and fell apart. Hannah's body was cold. She died sometime in the night.

Sarah called 911.

Her aunt, Donna Auger, said Hannah had no history of medical problems. Her older sister suffers from seizures, she said, so family members wonder whether Hannah had some undiagnosed affliction.

New Port Richey police Capt. Jeffrey Harrington said it is too early to say whether Hannah's death was suspicious. Her body is being examined at the Pasco County Medical Examiner's Office.

"It is an open, active, ongoing death investigation," Harrington said Friday afternoon. "We haven't categorized it one way or the other."

Hannah felt fine Thursday night, Auger said.

The girl hadn't wanted to go to bed, and at 11:30 p.m. she sneaked out of her room and ate popcorn with her mother, Tina Rivers, a nursing assistant. After a while, Tina told Hannah she needed to sleep for school.

Hannah had just started kindergarten at Gulf Elementary School, which is across from their home on Madison Street. Tina Rivers often leaves for work before the girls get up, so Kevin, who works at a Dollar General store, gets the girls up and walks them to school.

Hannah was excited about school, and working on learning her vowels and consonants, Auger said.

Hannah was bubbly and skinny with brown hair, Auger said. If she sensed someone was sad, she cupped that person's face with her hands, drew her face close and said, "I love you." She also liked to tell people, "You have my heart."

"What a wonderful child she was," Auger said outside the family's home Friday.

Inside, family members sat in the living room, quiet, the lights off. They keep thinking it was a mistake, that any minute they will get a call saying she really isn't gone. "She was taken way too soon," Auger said.

Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

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