Instead of a Birthday Party, a Memorial Vigil for Girl Found Dead

In front of the home where Amari Hall lived, Joselyn Hall, 11, left, leans on Darlene Geter, Amari's great-aunt, while Amari's uncle, Michael Hall, is comforted by fiancee Alethia Head.
In front of the home where Amari Hall lived, Joselyn Hall, 11, left, leans on Darlene Geter, Amari's great-aunt, while Amari's uncle, Michael Hall, is comforted by fiancee Alethia Head. (By Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)
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By Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 30, 2008

On Amari Hall's eighth birthday yesterday, family and friends brought stuffed teddy bears and colorful balloons, placing the items under a tree in front of the Congress Heights home where she was found fatally injured Friday.

Early that morning, a naked woman flagged down a police cruiser in the area and told officers that she had hurt her child and left her in a burning house, police said. Authorities later said that Amari's injuries appeared to be stab wounds and were not fire-related.

On Sunday, D.C. police arrested Carlese Hall, 29, whom they identified as the girl's mother, and charged her with felony murder.

During a candlelight vigil last night, which brought more than 100 people to the home in the 3300 block of 11th Place SE, several spoke of a need to take more responsibility for the welfare of neighbors and relatives. Especially children.

"These little people need to be protected. When you see something going wrong, rescue the child. Snatch the child and deal with the consequences later," said Sandra Seegars, a Ward 8 advisory neighborhood commission member who lives around the corner.

Michael Hall, Amari's uncle and one of many family members in attendance, said he saw his niece about once a month. He said that he did not suspect she was in danger but that he had grown concerned when he had not heard from his sister Carlese for more than a month.

"It's hard to know my sister allegedly did that to her. I'm trying to cope with it," he said, tearing up.

Another family member repeated, "I'm sorry, Amari," as a pastor spoke. "I should have come and got her," she said.

Michael Hall remembered his niece as a voracious reader who preferred books to television.

An enlarged photograph staked in the yard showed the smiling young girl clutching a kitten. A card wishing happy birthday to the girl it called a " Little Angel" was next to the tree, along with stuffed animals and other remembrances.

Several of Amari's classmates at Terrell Elementary School said she was also a devoted friend.

"She was a best friend," said Tania Booth, who recently performed with Amari in a Christmas play. She said that when she heard what happened to Amari, she got on the edge of her bed and prayed.

Assistant Police Chief Diane Groomes, who attended the vigil, said "there is no explanation" for Amari's death. Groomes reminded the crowd that the year began with the chilling case of Banita Jacks, who is accused of killing her four daughters and living with their dead bodies for months.

In an interview, Groomes recounted the events of Friday morning, when she said a woman pounded on a police cruiser, saying, in Groomes's words, "I think I killed my child." Groomes said it appeared that the woman might have been under the influence of a substance, but she did not elaborate.

Firefighters arrived at the two-story house and found the girl on the second floor. She was alone, wounded and not breathing. Authorities later determined that her injuries were not caused by fire but that she had been stabbed. A small fire in another room was quickly put out.

She was taken to Children's National Medical Center, where she was declared dead shortly before 10 a.m.

Groomes said that Carlese Hall, who had been hospitalized, was released into police custody last night but hospitalized again.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company