INDIANAPOLIS — Officials announced that the death of a toddler in Indianapolis is now being investigated as a homicide.
According to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD), officers with East District were called on May 6 to the Norwood Inn, located at 2349 Post Drive, for a report of an unresponsive child. When officers arrived, IMPD said they located 1-year-old Erieomairy Dingui, who was unresponsive.
Police said the child was transported to Riley Hospital for Children by Indianapolis EMS (IEMS), where she died later that day.
According to officials, the Marion County Coroner’s Office (MCCO) conducted an autopsy several days after the child’s death and determined the cause of death to be multiple blunt force injuries. The MCCO later determined the child’s manner of death was homicide.
IMPD said that detectives have been able to determine who was with the child at the time the incident occurred and plan to present their findings to the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office (MCPO) for a charging decision. The MCPO said the case remains under investigation by detectives with IMPD and no charges have been filed as of Monday afternoon.
When it comes to investigating crimes against children, detectives with IMPD’s Child Abuse Unit may become involved in several different ways, authorities explain.
“It kind of depends on how we get the case. There’s several ways that we normally get cases,” said Sergeant Justin Hickman.
One of those ways is referrals from the Department of Child Services (DCF), Hickman explained.
“Some of the cases come from uniformed officers responding to runs, you know, 911 calls. We’re taking reports there and then we pick up the case from there,” said Hickman.
Other times, cases may come to IMPD’s Child Abuse Unit from inside or outside Marion County, depending on the nature of the investigation. The unit deals with crimes against children, ranging from sexual abuses to physical abuses, and neglect cases.
While Hickman isn’t the detective handling the case involving the 1-year-old child killed, he was able to talk about how these investigations work, generically speaking, and the timeline of how they proceed to the next steps.
“One of the biggest factors that we have is working with our partners at the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, the doctors at Riley and Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital, working with them, working with the coroner’s office, those sorts of things,” explained Hickman, who said, many times they are able to learn things that help the investigation from the tests and exams doctors conduct at the hospital.
“And the follow up, of course, with the coroner’s office and the autopsy report, the final pathology report,” said Hickman. “That sort of takes some time for us to even get our hands on that.”
In Dingui’s case, the autopsy was conducted on May 9, but it was later confirmed that her manner of death was homicide, which is why police hadn’t announced it as a homicide investigation sooner.
While child abuse investigators try to attend most autopsies for cases they are investigating, Hickman said, sometimes it isn’t as simple as knowing right there on the spot.
“Sometimes, there’s just answers we won’t have, toxicology, things like that, which just take time to get back,
He said he believes these cases tend to have a greater significance and weight given that they’re dealing with the most vulnerable of victims. Oftentimes, Hickman said, individuals accused of child abuse aren’t a stranger to their victims.
“Many of our perpetrators unfortunately are in the home with the children,” he said.
Although investigators haven’t released specifics on anyone allegedly involved in Dingui’s death, they reiterated that anyone believed to be present at the time of the incident has been identified.
Hickman said, in any child abuse investigation, it’s crucial that their investigators take every step to comb through every bit of the case and be incredibly diligent, especially knowing there is a possibility they could be dealing with repeat offenders who live in homes where children are present or where they have access to children often.
“Many of our cases, we have a mandate where it’s two detectives, especially on these more serious death investigations or possible death investigations. We want to make sure that we’re not missing anything, but also that we’re following best practices, and that we just have more eyes on the case, more eyes on the situation,” said Hickman.
Investigators and child abuse prevention advocates alike call cases of child abuse and neglect ‘preventable.’
“Yes it is preventable. We just need to do that and ensure the tools are there to assist families and nurture children,” said Sandy Runkle, Director of Programs at Prevent Child Abuse Indiana, a division of The Villages.
Hearing of these cases where a child loses their life to alleged child abuse never gets easier, but Runkle said it’s important that people push for positive change to prevent things like this from happening again.
“You never get used to it but it’s important to not let any fatality of a child go unnoticed or go unspoken and to take the opportunity to hopefully prevent something like that from happening again,” Runkle said.
Above all, she said it is important for people to know where to find the resources, how to utilize them, and making sure they are accessible to everyone. That could be having pamphlets with information on intervention programs or resources in common places like the barbershop or hair salon, Runkle said.
“We never want any of these children just to be discussed or statistics, because these were little ones who will never know their potential, will never fulfill hopes and dreams,” said Runkle. “Families now will no longer have that for them either.”
On top of intervention programs, Runkle said it’s important to make sure people are being proactive to also prevent cases of child abuse before they ever happen in the first place.
Part of it, Runkle said, is understanding that young children can’t articulate with their words, so many times those ‘words’ come out in the form of crying or screaming.
“Some of this just goes to understanding children of that age. Younger children, they’re our most vulnerable, but they’re wholly dependent on us to meet their needs,” said Runkle.
While she said she understands it can be frustrating, it’s important to know that the best things to do would be take deep breaths, if you can, take a moment to walk away, call a trusted friend or family member who can help, and allow yourself a break.
“We also just need to understand basic child development, which is, children do cry, babies do cry, toddlers do cry,” said Runkle. “Part of this is just self-awareness, too.”
“If you’re having a situation with an infant or a young child that can’t be without care, take a step back, take a walk around the house,” said Hickman.
He said, if you can put the child in a safe place like a crib, do that, go to another room and walk around. He also recommended calling somebody who cares about you or can help talk to you and calm you down.
“We want people to be responsible enough to reach out before something bad happens,” said Hickman. “You have nothing to fear from the police department if you call beforehand.”
Like other places, Hickman said their detectives can help a person or family get the help they need and connect them to resources.
He reminded not only of the importance in reporting any suspected case of child abuse, but also the obligation that every adult in the state holds to do so.
Indiana is a mandatory reporting state, so all adults, by law, are required to report suspicions of child abuse or neglect. A person can make a report by calling the Indiana Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline.
The number for the hotline is (800) 800-5556 and the Indiana Department of Child Services said every call is answered promptly by an intake specialist trained to ask questions that help the caller through the reporting process.
Data from the Indiana Department of Child Services shows there were more than 233,000 hotline reports in 2021. Those include calls, faxes, mail-ins, and the as agency has previously explained, some calls received on the hotline may turn into more than one report per call.
In total, Indiana DCS data shows 193,243 calls were received last year, which is an average of 656 calls per weekday and 237 per day on the weekend.
In the first seven months of 2022, there were 108,716 total calls to the hotline, data shows. That number is down slightly compared to the 110,370 received in the first seven months of 2021.
Officials encourage anyone who suspects a child is being harmed call the Indiana Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline as soon as possible.
“If you know something, please let us know because if we don’t know we can’t do anything about it,” said Hickman.
He said, they also see remorse and guilt from some people accused of child neglect. He knows these incidents that may lead to serious bodily injury or death can be avoided by steps to prevent them on the front end.
“When you’re dealing with child victims, with vulnerable victims in general, society takes a hard line towards people who harm kids,” said Hickman. “Most people don’t intend to hurt the kids, especially our serious bodily injury cases and even some of our death cases, their intention wasn’t to cause that sort of damage to a child. They just lost control.”
A person reporting also doesn’t need to have all of the details. DCS said anything that can help them with information is a good place for their team to start and that every report which meets the standard definition of child abuse or neglect will be recommended for assessment.
DCS also reminds that everyone can remain anonymous, so if you call to report a suspected case, the agency will never share your information or the source they received it.
No arrests have been announced in the case involving Dingui. Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Jamie Hoch at the IMPD Child Abuse Office at (317) 327-6885 or reach out by email at Jamie.Hoch@indy.gov.
Additionally, you can also call Crime Stoppers of Central Indiana to remain anonymous. That number is (317) 262-8477 (TIPS).
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