Many of you may remember the story of eight-year-old Autumn Hallow, who died of asphyxiation and starvation on August 13, 2020 in the apartment belonging to her father and stepmother in Elk River, Minnesota. I first covered Autumn’s story here and followed up with an update here.
First, a quick recap: despite 31 calls to local police and child welfare agencies by Autumn’s mother, Kelsey Kruse, and other witnesses, Autumn and her brother remained in the care of their father, Brett Hallow, and his wife, Sarah Hallow, who used the COVID-19 pandemic as their excuse not to allow the children to see their mother. Despite a court-ordered 50/50 parenting time agreement, Kelsey hadn’t been given access to her children since January of 2020.
Just before 4:00 PM on Thursday, August 13, 2020, first responders arrived at the Hallow apartment, located in the Depot at Elk River Station complex, where then-28-year-old Sarah was performing chest compressions on her stepdaughter’s lifeless, rigid body. Autumn could not be revived, and sadly, she was pronounced dead at the scene.
Charging documents stated, “Based on the condition of [Autumn’s] body, law enforcement believed [she] had been dead for some time.” Autumn was described as “extremely frail and thin;” her fingers were blue, she was missing chunks of hair, and there were abrasions and “pin-like” marks on her forehead, in addition to blood investigators found in the bathroom.
Brett and Sarah told investigators that Autumn, who they said hadn’t been eating lately, was found face down and partially submerged in the bathtub. However, an autopsy revealed that Autumn weighed merely 45 pounds* when she died; she was “markedly cachetic” and had almost no body fat. Her muscles had atrophied, and she had experienced significant hair loss. There were signs of bruising on her hips and hands, wounds on her head, and bleeding in her abdomen and her brain.
*This week, prosecutors stated in court that Autumn actually weighed 33 pounds at the time of her death.
Other children who lived in the home told investigators that Brett and Sarah often restrained Autumn before zipping her into a sleeping bag with only her head exposed. Her younger brother told police Autumn had to sleep that way when “she is being bad.” She was forced to spend the night in the sleeping bag in the living room, kitchen, or bathtub. Autumn was punished when she wet her pants, urinated on the floor, or tried to get food.
Autumn’s death was ruled a homicide caused by asphyxial injuries and blunt force trauma.
Brett Jason Hallow and Sarah Kay Hallow were arrested the day after Autumn’s death. Each was charged with one count of second-degree murder without intent while committing a felony and one count of first-degree manslaughter, and they were held in the Sherburne County Jail.
After nearly ten months, it was announced this week that Brett and Sarah Hallow accepted a plea agreement, pleading guilty to second-degree murder. In court, the dastardly duo admitted to beating and starving Autumn in the weeks leading up to her death.
New evidence, including security video taken inside the family’s apartment, led prosecutors to state that they were prepared to upgrade the couple’s charges to first-degree murder, which may have been the impetus for the plea agreement being made. In addition to second-degree murder, Brett and Sarah also pleaded guilty to multiple new charges relating to the abuse of Autumn’s brother and another child in the home as far back as 2019.
When the couple is sentenced in September, they face up to 40 years in prison.
During her plea hearing, Sarah had the audacity to weep while she described how she and her husband both assaulted Autumn in the bathroom, where she had been forced to stay for several days prior to her death.
After the hearings, Kelsey spoke with KTSP 5 Eyewitness News, saying, “I feel like them taking a plea deal for less time was kind of the coward’s way out, but also I liked that they were admitting some guilt, and I knew part of what happened, at least.”
Kelsey now has a tree called an Autumn Blaze maple planted in her front yard in memory of her precious daughter.
Kelsey’s attorneys filed a federal lawsuit on her behalf in May against Sherburne County Child Protection and the Elk River Police Department for their failure to intervene in the situation to protect Autumn. Kelsey has also created the “Have a Happy Heart Fridays” campaign on the In Memory of Autumn Hallow Facebook page; “Have a happy heart” was Autumn’s motto, and Kelsey encourages others to live by it, as well, by performing random acts of kindness in Autumn’s memory.
Click here for my ongoing coverage of Autumn’s story.
Sources: KTSP 5 Eyewitness News, Facebook, KNSI radio