A Minnesota couple has been charged this week in the August 13 death of eight-year-old Autumn Lee Hallow, who was allegedly abused, neglected, and alienated from her loving mother for almost seven months under the guise of “quarantining.”
On Thursday at 3:43 PM, first responders arrived at an apartment complex called The Depot at Elk River Station, located at 10653-172nd Avenue in Elk River, Minnesota. When they arrived, the girl’s stepmother, 28-year-old Sarah Hallow, was performing chest compressions on little Autumn’s rigid body.
First responders took over lifesaving attempts, but sadly, they were unable to save her. Autumn was pronounced dead at the scene.
Sarah Hallow told police that Autumn had told her she was going to take a shower, and that 40 minutes later, she found Autumn face down and partially submerged in the bathtub. Autumn’s father, 30-year-old Brett Hallow, told police he was awakened by his wife’s screams, at which point they moved Autumn to the bedroom floor and attempted to revive her.
According to charging documents, “Based on the condition of [Autumn’s] body, law enforcement believed [she] had been deceased for some time.” Autumn was described as “extremely frail and thin,” and her skin was dry and her hair only slightly wet, which implied she had been removed from the water quite some time before. Her fingers were blue, she was missing patches of hair, and there were abrasions and “pin-like” marks on her forehead. Investigators found blood in the bathroom.
Sarah told investigators her stepdaughter was in good health but that she hadn’t been eating lately. Brett told them he didn’t remember much of the events of August 13.
An autopsy by the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office subsequently revealed that Autumn, who was emaciated and weighed a mere 45 pounds at the time of her death, was “markedly cachetic” and had very little body fat. Her muscles had atrophied, and she had experienced significant hair loss. In addition, there were signs of bruising on her hips and hands and wounds on her head, and she had experienced abdominal and brain bleeding. The autopsy indicated that Autumn may have been asphyxiated.
Her death was ruled a homicide caused by asphyxial injuries and blunt force trauma.
Brett Jason Hallow and Sarah Kay Hallow were arrested on August 14, and in Sherburn County District Court on Monday, August 17, they were each officially charged with one count of second-degree murder without intent while committing a felony and one count of first-degree manslaughter. They are being held without bond in the Sherburne County Jail. Each faces up to 55 years in prison and/or a $30,000 fine if convicted.
I’d love to know what explanation Sarah gave for those wicked gouges in her forehead. I’m also very interested to find out if her DNA was found under Autumn’s fingernails.
The charging documents contain allegations that the Hallows physically abused and neglected Autumn inside their Elk River apartment, tying her up when she “misbehaved” and withholding food from her.
As I mentioned, Autumn’s mother, Kelsey Kruse, had not been permitted to see her daughter since January, when, Kelsey told police, Autumn was in good health, and her weight and development was in the average range for a child her age. Whenever Kelsey asked to see her daughter, the Hallows denied her, using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse.
Other children who lived in the apartment were also questioned by detectives and CPS workers. Autumn’s six-year-old brother told them Brett and Sarah often tied Autumn up with a brown belt before zipping her into a red sleeping back with only her head exposed. Other times, they tied her hands behind her back with a long, gray shirt.
When “she is being bad,” the little boy told police, Autumn had to sleep like that, describing incidents in which Autumn was restrained in the sleeping bag overnight in the living room, kitchen, or bathtub. His sister was punished when she wet her pants, urinated on the floor, or tried to get food. He told detectives that on the morning of his sister’s death, when Brett and Sarah were both in the bathroom with Autumn, he heard Autumn screaming and then a loud bang.
Autumn’s ten-year-old sister reported similar atrocities to police, telling them Autumn was also tied up so she couldn’t access medications. She told the detectives she had seen blood in the bathtub and witnessed Autumn not breathing.
The family also includes a three-year-old child. The custody status of all three surviving children is currently unknown.
Crime scene technicians used Luminol to detect blood in multiple places in the bathroom, with the most blood evidence discovered in the shower area. Sarah Hallow denied any clean-up had taken place and said no argument or yelling had occurred that day between herself and Autumn. She claimed she did not know what caused her stepdaughter’s injuries.
Brett and Sarah Hallow, neither of whom appears to have an attorney, have allegedly denied the allegations made by the children. Sarah Hallow did admit to police that despite Autumn’s severe weight and hair loss, they did not take her to a doctor.
Neither Brett nor Sarah have entered pleas to their charges.
Outside the apartment complex where Autumn died, a small memorial has been erected by community members, consisting of handwritten notes and signs along with teddy bears and toys.
Sabrina McWilliam, whose sister lives one floor down from the Hallows’ apartment, told KSTP, “My heart breaks for the mother and the family. I can’t imagine what they’re going through.”
Nicole Robinson, who lives in the complex along with her three children, said, “It’s really sad, especially when it’s something so close to home. My heart’s breaking for their mom and their family. Horrible.”
“I’m not shocked,” Ms. McWilliam said. “Probably what makes me sick to my stomach is I’m not surprised a child died up there… I don’t know about other neighbors, but I know personally, being underneath them, I’ve heard the screaming. I’ve sat outside and heard the cussing and screaming at these kids.” She said she and other neighbors had contacted building management as well as calling 911, and that when officers showed up, the screaming would stop.
She also said she saw Brett Hallow on Thursday night, being questioned by police. “He was sitting with the police and there were no tears on his face,” she said. “Like if my child had just died four hours ago, my face would be red, puffy, I would show emotion. He just sat there.”
A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help Kelsey pay for her daughter’s funeral costs as well as any legal costs that arise from the criminal case against Brett and Sarah Hallow.
On Facebook, Autumn’s mom, Kelsey, posted Brett and Sarah Hallow’s mugshots, writing, “I hate you. I hate you both. You have been ruining my life for YEARS and now you have given me and my family a permanent scar. You took something we will never get back. You neglected and abused my son and when that wasn’t enough you moved down the line of children you have. I will make sure that Autumn is remembered in the most beautiful way possible because she deserves nothing less. I wanted to give her the world and I will find a way to make sure I still do. I hope your other children know what you did and I hope they grow up knowing their sister saved them.”
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is assisting Elk River Police with the investigation.
Autumn Lee Hallow was born on August 24, 2011 in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. She was less than two weeks away from her ninth birthday. According to her obituary, “Autumn has always loved being with family and being actively involved with everything. She just completed second grade at Lincoln Elementary in Elk River, MN. Her kind spirit, abundance of energy, and willingness to help everyone is an inspiration to everyone that has known her. She loved to draw and color beautiful pictures. Special notes to the family were also common. She loved the outdoors and had a passion for gymnastics. She often dressed up to put on a show to show off her dance moves. She loved to sing and dance. Autumn was creative, kind, helpful, and determined. She will be missed and remembered by us all.”
Kelsey wrote on Facebook that Autumn was “her beautiful sweet baby,” saying her daughter was “always smiling and being silly. You loved SO much.
“Your father kept you from me for several months and he then took your life. I hope you know how much I tried to get you. I hope you know how much I love every single part of who you are and I am so proud of how incredibly kind, thoughtful and amazing you are. I have no idea what to do without you… all of your siblings were lucky to have a sister like you. I am so proud to be your mother and I know you will always be with me…”
This sweet girl leaves behind her mom and stepdad, Kelsey Kruse and Justin Osterbauer, as well as six siblings and various extended family members. Her celebration of life ceremony will take place at 1:00 PM on Sunday, August 22, 2020 at the Zimmerman Lions Park.
Also, a candlelight vigil is being held at Lions Park in Elk River this evening (Wednesday, August 19) at 7:00 PM local time. An hour prior to the vigil, students from the Elk River High School will be holding a flag parade in Autumn’s honor.
My heart goes out to Kelsey, Justin, and all of Autumn’s siblings and family members. Rest in peace, precious girl.
Click here for my ongoing coverage of Autumn’s case.
Sources: Minneapolis Star Tribune, PEOPLE, KSTP, CBS Local – Minnesota, Bring Me the News, Dare’s Funeral & Cremation Services, Mirror, The Scottish Sun