According to KidsAndCars.org, over 940 children have died in hot cars since 1990. It’s among the most tragic and preventable of deaths, not to mention the most brutal and excruciating, and quite often, these deaths occur due to a tragic lapse in memory on the part of a caregiver.
When three-year-old Kaiden Garner was found unresponsive in a hot car on August 12, his death appeared to be one of these horrific accidents. Of course, if that were the case, you wouldn’t be reading about it here, would you?
In fact, I’ve been following this story since news of Kaiden’s death broke in early August, but only when arrests were made this week did I feel it was appropriate to cover the story. I think you can guess where this one’s headed.
At 11:25 PM on the evening of Wednesday, August 12, 2020, police in Florence, Alabama responded to the emergency room at the North Alabama Medical Center, where they were informed about Kaiden’s death. Kaiden was rushed to the emergency room by ambulance earlier that evening after he briefly “went missing” while in his father’s care and was discovered inside a vehicle in the 1300 block of Carver Circle. He was unable to be revived and pronounced dead at the hospital.
According to Florence Police Department Lieutenant Wes Gargis, “The information on the original response of patrol was that he had been in a vehicle most of the day. This is information coming in at midnight in the midst of a chaotic event. That was the original information we gathered.”
Initially, it was believed that Kaiden had died due to heat exposure, but within two days, evidence turned that theory on its head. Preliminary autopsy results indicated that Kaiden’s death had, in fact, been caused by blunt force trauma and had nothing whatsoever to do with hyperthermia.
On August 14, the Florence Police Department released a statement that said in part, “Based on the evidence gathered thus far and statements made, we now consider this to be an active investigation into the homicide of 3-year-old Kaiden Garner.”
At that time, no arrests had been made and no suspects had been named.
On the evening of Saturday, August 15, Kaiden’s family and friends gathered for a candlelight vigil in Kaiden’s honor. His granddad said, “Most of the people here, I know because Kaiden touched so many lives in three years.”
Kaiden’s mom, Lesley Garner, addressed the small group wearing a mask, saying, “I don’t know how to feel. My body is numb. My mind is numb. I don’t know how to feel.”
Another attendee spoke to assure the gathered group, “This baby is going to affect lives for 300 years. What the enemy meant for bad, God can let it work for good.”
On Monday, August 17, Lieutenant Gargis released another statement imploring the public to report any information relevant to the investigation. The statement read in part:
“We believe that there may be others within the community that have additional information beneficial to this investigation. We encourage those who do have information to please contact our police department. Our goal in this case is simple, to bring closure to the family of young Kaiden and bring those responsible for his murder to justice. We need your help. kWe need our community to be alarmed and frustrated at the killing of a 3-year-old child. And we need you to be willing to come forward with any information that may help our investigation. Kaiden deserves justice.
“…Our investigation to this point has confirmed that Kaiden was visiting with his father in the days leading up to his death. Witnesses have confirmed that Kaiden, his father, and others were in the area of the 1300 block of Carver Circle on the night of his death. This area is a common gathering place for members of the community and it is believed that other members of our community may have been in the area and may have important information to our ongoing investigation.”
Evidently, someone came forward with the information they needed, because on September 2, 2020, the Florence Police Department held a press conference at which Chief Ron Tyler, Lauderdale County District Attorney Chris Connolly, and Lieutenant Wes Gargis spoke. During the press conference, Kaiden’s mom, Lesley, stood next to the podium with her hands clasped in front of her, wearing a mask printed with Kaiden’s photo.
At the press conference, it was revealed that 20-year-old Blake Joshwell Townsend, Kaiden’s father, was arrested on Wednesday, September 2 in Decatur, Alabama and charged with capital murder. His girlfriend, 20-year-old Yalrick Zeonsha Pride, was also arrested; she was charged with child abuse. Police believe Kaiden was beaten to death. District Attorney Connolly addressed Lesley directly, promising that he would seek justice for Kaiden.
Both defendants were booked into the Lauderdale County Detention Center, where Blake is currently being held with no bail. Yalrick’s bond was set at $15,000; she posted bond on Thursday, September 3, and immediately posted photos of herself with Kaiden on Facebook, which enraged many.
It is rumored (although not confirmed) that Kaiden died up to 24 hours before his death was reported.
Blake Townsend appeared in court on September 3; his next appearance will be his arraignment, which is scheduled to take place on September 23.
Lesley Garner and her sister, Megan, spoke with WAFF 48 after the arrests. “To describe Kaiden, to know Kaiden,” Lesley said, “a three-year-old that was full of joy. He could make you laugh; to be three, he was very advanced, very smart… Just a blessing miracle baby, that’s what he meant to me. A miracle baby. My little man.”
Megan said, “He’s the type of child, if you were having a bad day, he’ll just light up with that little smile, light up the room with that little dimple. You wanted to throw the towel in, but looking at him would make you happy, and you know it’s going to be okay.”
A GoFundMe has been created to help the family cover the cost of Kaiden’s funeral; if you wish, you can donate here.
From Kaiden’s obituary:
“Kaiden LaJordan Garner entered eternal rest on August 12, 2020. Kaiden was born on May 23, 2017 at 6:00 PM at Helen Keller Hospital in Sheffield, Alabama.
“Kaiden had an amazing smile that would light up any room that he was in. Kaiden loved Paw Patrol. If you knew Kaiden you would instantly love him [and] for a three-year-old he was very intelligent and a joker. Kaiden touched many lives and was loved deeply by family and friends. He will be greatly missed and never forgotten.
Kaiden’s funeral took place at the Greater Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Sheffield at 1:00 PM, after which he was interred in the Watkins Cemetery in Barton. Kaiden was buried in a bright royal blue casket emblazoned with Paw Patrol characters.
A balloon release is scheduled for this evening in Kaiden’s honor (although you guys know how I feel about balloon releases). It will take place at 6:00 PM on Saturday, September 5 at Riverfront Park in Sheffield. Attendees are asked to bring their own balloons. Law enforcement will be on site.
Rest in peace, precious boy.
Click here for my ongoing coverage of Kaiden’s case.
Sources: KidsAndCars.org, WAAY 31, Trinity Memorial Funeral Home, WAFF 48, KIRO 7, Florence Police Department Facebook page, PEOPLE, Associated Press, Facebook