An emaciated 14-month-old girl apparently died of "nutritional neglect" before she was stuffed into a suitcase and put in a neighbor's trash can, according to police who charged the mother with homicide.
Tania R. Coleman, 20, of Erie, was being held without bail Thursday after identifying herself as the mother as police canvassed the neighborhood. Coleman is pregnant and has two other girls, ages 2 and 3, authorities said.
The other children were examined and appear unharmed, authorities said. They were placed with Coleman's relatives.
It's not clear how long the youngest daughter had been dead, but Erie County Coroner Lyell Cook told the Erie Times-News the remains were "in very poor shape." There were no obvious signs of trauma, he said. DNA tests will be done to confirm her identity.
"It would appear that the evidence would support finding that the child was neglected for a period of time and left to die essentially in that house," Erie County District Attorney Jack Daneri said Wednesday.
Coleman and a man described by police as her boyfriend, 19-year-old Xavier A. Hollamon, tried to conceal the death by removing the body from the home, he said.
They were charged with concealing the child's death, tampering with evidence and abuse of a corpse. Coleman is charged with child endangerment, along with criminal homicide.
It was not immediately clear if either suspect had an attorney. Hollamon also was being held on $50,000 bail.
The body was discovered by firefighters who noticed the suitcase while responding to a kitchen fire nearby.
Heavy rains Monday had washed the suitcase down the street after an unsuspecting neighbor removed it from the trash can, according to police and neighbors.
Neighbor Darlene Justka, a baker at Gannon University, said she saw the neighbor remove the black suitcase from her trash can Sunday night. The elderly woman placed it at the curb without opening it, she said.
"I'm sure that garbage can smelled awful, and that's why she dumped the suitcase out on the street," Justka, 51, said Wednesday. "Now I know there was a little baby in there. It's so horrifying."