Imagine having the courage to admit you don’t have the means to care for your children.
Imagine trusting someone close to you to take custody of one of your babies until you get your life together.
Imagine having no idea where your child is for over a year, because that person, close enough to be family, won’t tell you her address.
Imagine that when you finally do see your daughter, she’s lying in a hospital bed, malnourished and ravaged by innumerable gruesome injuries, and she dies just days later.
That was the nightmare scenario faced by 29-year-old Jasmine Singleton of Philadelphia, who entrusted her godsister, 38-year-old Samilya Brown, who is married to Jasmine’s step-brother, with the care of her daughter, then-two-year-old Zya Singleton. In 2017, Jasmine made an agreement with Samilya, made semi-official with a notarized letter, giving Samilya custody of Zya until Jasmine was able to move into a more suitable residence and get her life in order. According to the agreement, Zya would eventually be returned to her mother’s care.
Jasmine told 6ABC that the reason she asked for Samilya’s help was because the Department of Human Services declared her home unfit for her children. “I looked at her and said, ‘Can you take my daughter until I got proper housing’ because I thought that was the best thing. Prior to that, she always looked after Zya because she was getting paid through CCIS [Child Care Information Services] to be a child care provider.”
She said she had no idea Zya was being abused. “Never. If there was ever a thought this girl was abusing my kid, you would have never got my kid.”
It seems Samilya sure as hell “got” the kid, as investigators were soon to find out. Four-year-old Zya was admitted to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia on October 30 after police responded to a home in the 1700 block of Folsom Street in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia. Someone had called to report a “person screaming” at the residence; Samilya, who family members described as Zya’s guardian, told police that Zya, who was in a bathtub filled with cold water when police arrived, fell out a second-floor bedroom window while playing with a cat.
An examination of Zya at the hospital revealed that her injuries were inconsistent with the story Samilya told, to say the least. Brace yourselves, guys; this one is brutal.
Zya was missing most of her upper lip, all the way up through her nose, and had “homemade” stitches inside her mouth. Open wounds on her head were also sewn up with the same rudimentary stitching. Broken bones in her arms appeared to have been caused by Zya being restrained. According to prosecutors, there was evidence of “bite marks [and] open wounds” on her “face and scalp, cigarette and other larger burns to her left arm and thigh, puncture wounds and signs of malnourishment.” Some of the crude stitches had become infected.
It was all too much for Zya’s little body. She succumbed to her injuries in the hospital on November 3.
The Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office determined Zya’s death was caused by blunt impact, thermal injuries, and sepsis, which is a condition caused by infection that can cause damage to multiple organ systems. It is believed this was the result of the infection of the homemade stitches. “It became clear very soon after doctors were able to try and stabilize her that this was a case of long-term child abuse, not a fall out of a window,” said Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Chesley Lightsey during a news conference on November 12.
Over the course of the investigation, police determined Samilya had likely kept Zya indoors and abused her for most of her short life. Reportedly, Zya had not seen a doctor since 2016.
“[Samilya] abused her, stitched her up, abused her again, stitched her up,” Lightsey said. “She burned her with some kind of scalding liquid and patched her up at home.”
“There are wounds all over her body that appear to have been stitched and healed at different times, fully healed injuries. She was never taken to a hospital. This would have all been done at home. I honestly cannot count the injuries for you. There’s more than I can say,” Lightsey also said. “This is potentially one of the worst cases of child abuse that anyone has ever seen.”
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner called Zya’s case a “horrific, heartbreaking case of abuse, neglect, and murder of an innocent, defenseless child. All children deserve care, protection, and love — no matter the circumstances of how they come into this world.”
Regarding Samilya’s story about Zya falling out a window, Krasner said, “That’s not the truth. The truth is that this child was killed, and killed brutally, and was abused for an extensive period of time.” Officials believe the abuse had gone on for over two years.
Jasmine saw Zya for the first time since September 27, 2017 after she was informed Zya had been admitted to the hospital. “You can’t prepare no mom for what I walked in that room and saw,” she told KYW. “My baby’s face was destroyed; all she had was eyes and a head that was taped up with burns on her body. I walked into the room and walked out.”
“She had no nose,” Jasmine told 6ABC. “All you saw was the frame.”
Jasmine added that she saw Samilya at the hospital. “This girl tried to hug me and tell me that my daughter went out a window. I hope she burn[s] in this jail cell. That’s it.”
Jasmine, who has four other children, told NBC10, “I blame myself, to be honest. I deal with this every day, but no one will understand the pain that I go through every day knowing that I will never see my daughter again.” She told the news station she had been looking for Zya for the past year. “I want to know why you did this to my kid,” she said. “Because at the end of the day, that was my daughter. She has brothers and sisters out here that will never see her again.”
“You could have given me my child back,” Jasmine lamented to KYW. “I don’t see the purpose of keeping her to beat on her, like she had three broken bones, two broken arms and a broken hand.”
Samilya Brown has been charged with murder, endangering the welfare of a child, tampering with evidence, and other related charges. Four other children, ages ranging from two to thirteen, were unharmed and have been removed from Samilya’s home by the Department of Human Services to live with their biological fathers.
District Attorney Krasner said, “I urge all members of the public to learn how to spot signs of child abuse, and encourage you to report suspected cases of abuse to authorities.”
Jasmine plans to cremate Zya. A community candlelight vigil is scheduled to take place at 17th Street and Folsom Street in Philadelphia this evening (Tuesday, November 19) at 5:30 PM, courtesy of the United Francisville Civic Association.
There’s no silver lining I can see to this dark, horrible story, so all I have to fall back on is this: at least sweet little Zya doesn’t have to suffer any more torture at the hands of the woman who promised Zya’s mommy she would protect her.
Click here for more of my coverage on Zya’s case.
Sources: MyFox8, Philly Voice, Daily Mail, NBC Philadelphia, 6ABC, CBS 3 Philly, Oxygen, Fox29, Facebook, PEOPLE