I have a couple updates today on the case of eight-year-old Autumn Hallow, who died of what appears to have been asphyxiation and starvation while in the custody of her father and stepmother in Elk River, Minnesota.
Before I jump into the updates, I want to say something. People need to stop attacking Autumn’s mom, Kelsey Kruse, saying she should have done more to save her daughter. That’s easy for anyone who’s never been through a custody battle or family court before. It’s great that you think you’d be banging on your ex’s door to save your daughter, but if you took matters into your own hands, you wouldn’t be victoriously reunited with your child; you’d be thrown in jail. The same thing would happen if you tried to defy court orders to send your kids to their father’s home.
The last thing you want to do when you’re trying to save your kids from their abuser’s legal custody is end up in jail. Once that happens, first of all, you can’t protect them from behind bars, but second, the family court judge and your ex’s attorney will use that as “proof” you’re an unfit parent and strip custody from you altogether.
And then there are the people who say the mom should have taken the kids and run. Run where? They’d easily be found if they hid out with family. If they went out of state and were caught, she’d be facing federal kidnapping charges. A great way to ensure you can’t protect your children is to spend hard time in prison.
I know everyone has these vigilante fantasies and loves Monday morning quarterbacking in these cases, but the fact that people are publicly vilifying a grieving mother who did everything she could to save her child not only angers me, but it sickens me, too. It’s called empathy, people. Learn about it. Use it.
Anyway, on to the updates, and maybe this first one will vindicate Kelsey somewhat in the eyes of those who want to hold her responsible for her daughter’s death at the hands of the ex and his current wife, both of whom made the lives of Kelsey and her children miserable for the past several years. Kelsey, for the record, had a protective order against Sarah Hallow, although details on that are not currently available.
Over the past two years, according to an incident log from law enforcement, Elk River police responded to the apartment belonging to Brett and Sarah Hallow thirty times, a good number of those calls coming from anonymous neighbors making complaints about yelling and screaming coming from the apartment, a lot of which sounded to be aimed at the couple’s children.
Five of the calls were welfare checks; thirteen of them were noise complaints. The first was in February of 2019; the most recent prior to Autumn’s death was on May 23. When officers responded to the 31st call to the apartment, which was placed on August 13, 2020, it was too late. Autumn was dead.
Other children in the home told of brutal punishments dealt to their eight-year-old sister by Brett and Sarah, including restraining her by tying her hands or trapping her inside a sleeping bag with only her head poking out. An autopsy revealed puncture wounds on Autumn’s head, hair loss, atrophied muscles, severe emaciation, bruising on her hands and hips, and bleeding in her abdomen and brain. Her death was caused by “homicidal violence,” the coroner said.
30-year-old Brett Hallow and 28-year-old Sarah Hallow were arrested on charges of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter and are being held without bond. They have not yet entered pleas.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the calls made to Elk River police.
February 12, 2019: An anonymous caller heard what “sounded to be yelling at [a] child.” When police responded, the Hallows explained that one of their kids was sick, “which led to the screaming and the male parent was playing an online video game and had animated reactions to the game.” The police report said the “children in the apartment appeared to be fine and were playing while officers were on the scene.”
June 4, 2019: An anonymous caller reported they had “heard periods of shouting and screaming,” although the noise stopped prior to the arrival of officers on scene.
September 13, 2019: An anonymous caller “requested officers speak with the occupants of the apartment and tell them to keep it down.” When officers responded, they didn’t hear any noise from within the apartment, so they left.
September 17, 2019: Kelsey Kruse told police she had not heard from one of her children in several days and asked for a welfare check. Officers responded to the Hallow apartment and noted the child seemed “healthy and was not in any apparent danger.”
September 27, 2019: Police responded to the apartment on another complaint of “possible child maltreatment issues.” One of the children told officers they could “not stand another night” there “because [redacted] has to do chores and if [redacted] does not finish them quick enough, [redacted] gets soap in [redacted] mouth, and had [redacted] arm held behind [redacted] for not doing chores quick enough.”
October 5, 2019: An anonymous caller said “she could hear loud screaming and crying of a juvenile from an unknown apartment. She also heard what sounded like an adult hitting the child.” Officers responded and spoke with the Hallows, who told them one of the kids was “acting out of control” in response to being asked to clean their room, “screaming” and acting aggressively. Police saw “no marks” on the child.
November 11, 2019: Another anonymous call made a complaint about yelling from inside the apartment.
November 16, 2019: Police responded to another call about “a male and female arguing loudly.” Although the noise had stopped by the time officers arrived, they spoke with the couple, who said “there were no problems.”
January 1, 2020: An anonymous caller reported “a juvenile female[‘s] loud yelling and pounding.” The police report stated, “On arrival, the apartment was quiet and no answer was received at the door.”
February 11, 2020: Another caller reported “someone yelling at a child… saying, ‘I will hit you!’” Responding officers listened outside the apartment and heard adults and children inside but did not note any issues. They received no response to knocking on the door or calling the known occupants.
February 21, 2020: Police responded to another call, speaking “with parent of juvenile female who was observed by officers to be quite loud.” The report stated that the Hallows were “advised of complaint.”
March 10, 2020: An anonymous caller reported loud yelling from the apartment. The Hallows told police their television had been turned up loud.
April 12, 2020: Kelsey called Elk River police, saying she was there to pick up Autumn, but “the father did not bring the daughter down” to her. She told them that their custody agreement dictated she and Brett could only communicate through a parenting app that could be monitored by the court, but Brett had not responded to her messages since March. The report read, “I made phone contact with the father who stated that he had to communicate with the complainant before that he was not comfortable exchanging the children in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The complainant disputed that and said that a month ago, he only said that daughter had a fever that day and the exchange would not occur. The complainant also advised me that their custody papers allows for each parent to have phone contact with the children in common; however, the male half does not allow it or claims the daughter does not want to speak with the complainant.”
May 2, 2020: Police investigated a report of “suspicious injuries” to one of the children and made a report to Sherburne County’s Health and Human Services. It is unclear whether or not this was followed up by any other department or agency.
When asked by 5 Eyewitness News, Sherburne County spokesman David Unze replied in an email statement, “In this instance, there are active investigations ongoing and whether or not reports of maltreatment had been received or parties had contacted this agency will be a part of these investigations.”
May 4, 2020: An anonymous caller again reported yelling from the apartment several times a day.
May 24, 2020: An anonymous caller reported “loud voices” from the apartment.
Between May 2 and August 2, Kelsey called police five times with complaints that she was trying to get her daughter, but that her ex-husband “expressed concern of the risk of exposure [to COVID-19] if child is transferred from one parent to the other.”
June 21, 2020: Kelsey told police she had not seen Autumn since January. Officers responded to the Hallows’ apartment, where Brett told them he had just set up a date to exchange custody with Kelsey. He told them “his daughter was not able to come to the door at that time but later, had her wave to me from their balcony.”
Why did the officers consider that acceptable?! I’m calling it: right here is where they officially dropped the ball.
August 2, 2020: Kelsey told police “she had been unable to establish contact, whether in person or by phone, with [Autumn] or [Brett] for over two weeks.” When officers reached out to Brett, they failed to make contact and instead left him a voicemail. He did not return their call.
On the evening of Wednesday, August 19, several hundred people gathered at Lions Park in Elk River to memorialize Autumn. A parade of pickup trucks drove through the park in support of Kelsey, who attended the vigil with several family members. Kelsey did not address the crowd, but Teresa McNamee, Executive Director of Rivers of Hope, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to domestic and family abuse prevention, said, “On behalf of the family, we thank you for showing up for them, to remember Autumn during this very difficult time. Their grief is indescribable and for reasons unimaginable.”
She continued, “It is difficult to understand how her death happened in a place where she should feel safe, and at the hands of her parent, a trusted adult in her home… Children and youth face violence in their homes regularly, but all too often it’s considered a family matter, a private matter. We cannot keep this private any longer.”
This is yet another case in which police dropped the ball and the agencies that are supposed to protect children failed to act in time to to do. I’m just disgusted by the alleged actions of Brett and Sarah Hallow, and I’m heartbroken for Autumn, Kelsey, and all of Autumn’s siblings.
A GoFundMe campaign benefiting Kelsey has raised over $32,000 as of the publication of this post.
Click here for my ongoing coverage of Autumn’s case.
Sources: 5 Eyewitness News, PEOPLE, KARE 11