Why did baby Caliyah have to die? Community wants answers

Outside the mobile home where Caliyah Claire McNabb lived, a plastic doll lay on the ground, tossed aside and abandoned.

Try as they might, it’s still hard for neighbors to believe that infant Caliyah suffered a similar fate.

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The child lived only 15 days and hadn’t yet reached 6 pounds when she was struck in the head and killed, wrapped in a T-shirt and placed in a drawstring bag. As her mother called 911 to report her missing, and her father pleaded on television for her return, Caliyah was already dead. Her body was found in a shallow ravine a three-minute walk from her Newton County home.

Wednesday, three days later, her father Christopher McNabb was charged with her murder.

Baby Caliyah’s death made national headlines, along with a photo of her in a sleeper with pastel owls, her tiny eyelids closed. In the mobile home park where the family resided, the gradually unfolding events have left neighbors shaken and searching for answers: Could Caliyah’s father have been cold-hearted enough to kill her, hide her body, then beg for her return as investigators suspected?

“I don’t understand, being a mother and grandmother,” neighbor Linda Pace said Friday as she stood outside. “This was a precious baby.”

More than 17 years earlier, when the same mobile home park was called Pine Valley, William David Riley set fire to his trailer, killing his three children, ages 6, 5 and 3. Riley was later convicted of malice murder and arson and sentenced to death. The August 2000 tragedy, Pace said, was one she could never forget. Now, the life of another young neighbor has been taken.

“There’s a lot more questions than answers,” Pace said.

Every year, approximately 500 children are killed by their parents, according to an analysis by the Alpert Medical School at Brown University. Locally, 3-month-old Adriana Hamilton died last month from severe brain trauma, allegedly at the hands of her father. And on Saturday, a southwest Atlanta mother was charged with murder after her two boys, ages 1 and 2, were found dead in her home. Investigators had not determined how Lamora Williams’ children died.

Baby Caliyah’s disappearance was a crime that sounded unbelievable from the startsome neighbors say. Had someone really kidnapped the newborn while her parents slept? Some in the community were immediately skeptical, but many offered to help look for Caliyah. As the hours passed, it seemed less likely there would be a happy reunion, though some held out hope.

“I prayed someone had her,” said Sherron Fontenot, who has lived in the mobile home next door to the family for six weeks

Pace, who lives two homes down from Fontenot, has called Eagle Point home for 26 years, and her grown daughter now lives next door with two grandchildren. It’s a poor, rental community, but it’s been cleaned up over the years, she said. And it’s usually quiet, but that changed when sheriff’s deputies arrived to search for Caliyah.

Fontenot watched McNabb yell in front of a television camera that he wanted his baby back, and she desperately hoped the baby would be found unharmed. She cried when she learned Caliyah’s fate.

“She was dead,” Fontenot whispered. “He was so sincere.”

Hours after Caliyah was reported missing, McNabb and the child’s mother, Cortney Bell, stopped in a nearby convenience store and told owner Adil Hossain the baby was missing, said Hossain.

“If you know anything, let us know,” Hossain, the father of a 6-year-old girl, remembered McNabb saying.

McNabb was charged with was charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery and concealing a death.

Back at the Chevron on Friday, Caliyah’s death was across the front page of the local newspaper as customers shared their thoughts on the news of the week.

“This is the talk of the town at the moment,” Hossain said.

On Friday, there were flowers in the ravine where Caliyah’s body was discarded. A large wooden cross adorned with pictures of Caliyah and small baby toys is part of a vigil beside the road.

At the trailer on Lot 31, a teddy bear sat propped in another small memorial to Caliyah. Two bright pink balloons were now deflated on the ground near a plush rocking horse. Someone also placed light pink fairy wings on the ground after writing a two-word sentiment for the baby whose life was cut short.

“Fly high.”

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