A Mississippi police department is shaken after the 3-year-old daughter of one officer died after being left alone in her mother’s patrol car last week.
“Shocked. Devastated,” Long Beach Police Chief Wayne McDowell told WLOX News. “As you can imagine, something that I really can’t see any excuse for.”
According to McDowell, a tragic sequence of events was set off after Long Beach police officer Cassie Barker ended her patrol shift at 6 a.m. Friday, then reportedly drove to visit colleague Clark Ladner — with her young child in the car, WLOX reported.
Barker went inside Ladner’s home, leaving 3-year-old Cheyenne Hyer unattended in her patrol car for at least four hours, McDowell told the news station.
By the time emergency officials were called to the scene, Cheyenne was unresponsive, Hancock County Coroner Jim Faulk told The Washington Post.
Paramedics worked for 40 minutes “trying to do everything in the world to save her,” Faulk said, but it was too late. Cheyenne was pronounced dead a hospital, he said.
Faulk said it would be “some time” before a crime lab in Jackson, Miss., determined the exact cause of death.
Officer Barker, the child’s mother, was reportedly hospitalized after the incident “in shock,” according to the Sun Herald.
Barker and Ladner at first were suspended without pay as authorities investigated the case. A representative of the Long Beach Police Department confirmed to The Post that both Barker and Ladner had been terminated Tuesday but would not comment further.
Long Beach is a small city on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, about three hours southeast of Jackson. Writing to city officials, McDowell recommended both officers for termination Tuesday for “conduct unbecoming,” according to letters obtained by WLOX News.
McDowell also told WLOX that both officers had violated department policy.
“There is a department policy that family members are not allowed in patrol cars, unless the exception is if they’re coming or going to or from work to be dropped off at childcare,” McDowell said.
McDowell did not return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday. The Hancock County Sheriff’s Office is conducting an independent investigation of the incident and also did not respond to inquiries Wednesday.
Hancock County Chief Deputy Don Bass told the Clarion-Ledger it was unclear what the relationship was between Barker and Ladner, but that both were off duty when Cheyenne was left unattended.
“She was there visiting him,” Bass told the paper. “I can’t speculate on anything more.”
Bass also confirmed that the car was running with the air conditioner on, but that there is “no excuse for leaving your child in the car.”
“There’s no logical reason to do that,” Bass told the paper. “It’s not an accident. She left the child in the car. We hear and read about this, it seems like quite often recently. It seems more than ever that people are leaving their infants and small children in the car to do tasks and shopping.”
The Mississippi incident comes as a separate trial is getting underway for a Georgia man charged with murder for his toddler’s 2014 death in a hot SUV.
Prosecutors say Justin Ross Harris intentionally killed his child after he left his 22-month-old son, Cooper, in a car for seven hours, the AP reported. Defense attorneys say it was an accident.
According to the nonprofit group KidsandCars.org, on average 37 children die each year of heat-related reasons after being left unattended in a car.
“Even the best of parents or caregivers can unknowingly leave a sleeping baby in a car,” the group writes on its website, “and the end result can be injury or even death.”
Cheyenne’s father, Ryan Hyer, of Jacksonville, Fla., told the Clarion-Ledger that he and Barker split after two years together, and that news of his daughter’s death sent him into a tailspin.
“I lost all feeling. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t breathe, then I was flat out crying,” Hyer told the newspaper. “After that I just was angry, and I went in the backyard and started beating up the shed.”
Hyer did not respond Wednesday to phone or email interview requests. He has since created a GoFundMe account to raise funds for Cheyenne’s burial.
In the page, Hyer described Cheyenne as a “sweet, beautiful girl full of life and excitement.”
“I’m not one to ask for help but I want my little girl home and laid to rest,” Hyer wrote. “She did not deserve this. Please help me give her the best and most importantly proper burial that she deserves so she can be at peace and hopefully give me peace.”