Murder charged in 2-year-old’s death
Rockdale police said Sherill Small admitted slamming Alexandria “Alex” Hill to the floor of the San Jacinto Street home where she and her husband, Clemons Small III, made their living by keeping foster children.
Lt. J. D. Newlin said Mrs. Small told police the slam was an accident, that she was “playing a game” with the child, but also admitted to being “frustrated” with the girl, initially because the youngster got up early that morning to get herself food and water.
DECISION—The Hill family, of course, is in shock. “We’re just getting by on the grace of God,” grandmother Diann Hill of Lexington told The Reporter.
Her son, Joshua Hill, is Alex’s father. The family— including the child’s mother, Mary Sweeney who is engaged to Joshua—was together in Alex’s hospital room Wednesday night when the decision was made to turn off the life support system.
“I was so proud of my son for the brave way he made the hardest decision anyone should ever have to make,” Hill said. “The reality was that she was never going to wake up.”
Rockdale Police received the 911 call from Mrs. Small just after 7 p.m. July 29 saying there had been “an accident” involving a child at 507 San Jacinto.
Firefighters, police and an EMS crew arrived, found the child “not breathing and unresponsive,” according to Newlin.
Alex was treated at Richards Memorial Hospital, Rockdale, then flown to McLane Children’s Hospital at Scott & White where she remained for two days before dying about 10:20 p.m. Wednesday, after the family’s decision to disconnect life support.
“We got a call from Child Protective Services (CPS) saying that there had been an ‘accident’ involving Alex and that we needed to come to Temple,” Diann Hill said. “I think at that instant I knew it was bad, really bad.”
They were joined at the hospital by Alex’s parents who kept a vigil over the next two days while the extent of the child’s injuries were determined and hope faded.
LAST VISIT—Alex had been taken from her parents last year after an investigation by CPS that included the parents’ use of marijuana in their Round Rock home.
Alex was initially placed with a different family, but was taken away after Joshua Hill raised concerns over bruising on his daughter and sanitary conditions.
Then she went to the Smalls, who moved to Rockdale from Austin a month and a half ago. They were selected by Texas MENTOR, a foster care agency which contracts with CPS to place children in foster homes.
Alex had been with the Smalls since January.
Diann Hill said her son had taken Alex to an Austin- area McDonald’s four days previously.
“He believed they were going to get her back within a few months,” Mrs. Hill said.
Instead, there were funeral services held for Alex Monday in Pflugerville.
‘ACCIDENT’—Police immediately began questioning the Smalls Monday evening.
“Mrs. Small’s first story was that Alex was ‘running backwards,’ fell and hurt herself that way,” Newlin said. “Those injuries were much too serious to have been caused that way.”
Police didn’t buy that version of events and further questioning produced a different story.
“Mrs. Small told us she was playing a game, holding Alex high up over her head, swinging her down almost to the floor, then swinging her back up,” Newlin said.
“She told us she did it once, twice and then on the third time lost her grip and the child hit the floor,” Newlin said. “She said it was an accident.”
Newlin said police got Small to demonstrate her actions using a doll.
“When the doll was slammed to the floor of the interview room it was loud,” Newlin said.
Newlin said autopsy records showed Alex received her mortal injury essentially from a blow to the top of the head.
“She also received a bruise to the right side of the face and had a lacerated liver,” Newlin said.
Mrs. Small was arrested at 11 a.m. Thursday and charged with murder. She turned herself in after police obtained an arrest warrant.
She remains in the county jail in lieu of $100,000 bond.
TIME OUT— Newlin said police have interviewed two persons, relatives of Mrs. Small, who spent several hours in the home during the afternoon in question and investigators have pieced together a timeline of events.
“They arrived about 3 p.m. and noticed Alex was in a darkened room in what was described as a ‘time-out’ situation,” Newlin said. “ They were told by Mrs. Small the girl was in time-out because she had gotten up that morning before the couple and had gotten herself food and water.”
“At one point, apparently, Alex had waved to one of the visitors and Mrs. Small got up and moved her to a different place, where she couldn’t be seen,” Newlin said.
Newlin estimated the child was in the time-out for three to four hours during the day.
HUSBAND—Police can’t talk about past convictions but in the wake of the media firestorm that followed the arrest, an Austin television station obtained records showing Clemons Small had an arrest sheet that included charges for marijuana delivery, forgery and cocaine possession.
Newlin said Clemons Small was also interviewed but is not being charged in connection with Alex Hill’s death or any other offense.
“Unless something new comes up in the case, it does not appear that Mr. Small will be charged,” Newlin said.
Newlin said Clemons Small told policehehada7p.m.meetingto attend at a Rockdale restaurant, just about the time the incident occurred, and the restaurant’s video surveillance shows him entering the establishment at 7:02.
“ The video shows he only stayed three minutes,” Newlin said. “He gets a call, which he told us was the one from his wife informing him of what had happened at home, and leaves the restaurant at 7:05.”
AFTERMATH—Questions of accountability have arisen in the aftermath of the incident.
The Texas Department of Family Protective Services said it was taking a closer look at how Texas MENTOR made the decision to license the Smalls.
Texas MENTOR said the organization was “appalled by the allegations involving one of our foster parents.”
Joshua Hill said he and Alex’s mother are working together to prepare a lawsuit against the state and the foster agency.
An eight-month-old child, who was also in the Smalls’ foster care, was removed from the home.
Newlin said he believes the Smalls have had as many as five foster children in the home.
Grandmother Diann Hill told The Reporter the family appreciates the care Alex received at the hospitals in Rockdale and Temple. “I know they did everything they could for her,” Hill said.
And as for Sherill Small?
“All anyone can do now is to pray for her,” Mrs. Hill said.