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Guardian charged with murder in death of 4-year-old girl after falsely telling police the child fell from a window, DA says

Samilya Brown, 38, has been charged with the murder of Zya Singleton, 4, who died from blunt-force trauma and sepsis Nov. 3. Authorities said Brown abused the child for years.
Samilya Brown, 38, has been charged with the murder of Zya Singleton, 4, who died from blunt-force trauma and sepsis Nov. 3. Authorities said Brown abused the child for years.Read morePhiladelphia police department (custom credit)

The 911 call said a child had fallen from a window. Paramedics rushed to the aid of 4-year-old Zya Singleton and sped her to a hospital. There, authorities said, doctors found evidence of sustained and extensive abuse.

On Tuesday, her guardian, Samilya Brown, 38, was charged with murder, endangering the welfare of a child, and related counts in what prosecutors called a “horrific” case of child abuse.

“The truth is, this child was killed brutally and was abused for an extensive period of time,” District Attorney Larry Krasner said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

Assistant District Attorney Chesley Lightsey called the case one of the worst cases of child abuse she had seen. Brown, she said, had repeatedly beaten and burned the child, then stitched up her wounds only to abuse her anew.

Zya was in a bathtub of cold water on the second floor of a home on the 1700 block of Folsom Street when first responders were called there on Oct. 30. Brown told them the child had fallen from a window while playing with a cat.

She was rushed to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, then to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where doctors determined that her injuries did not match up with a fall from a window but were the result of long-term abuse.

Doctors discovered that Zya was missing almost her entire upper lip, had “homemade” stitches in her mouth, burns and healing scars on her left arm and left thigh, broken bones in her arms that appeared to be from having been restrained, and open wounds on her head, some closed by crude stitching, Lightsey said. The child died four days later.

The medical examiner determined that Zya died from blunt impact, thermal injuries, and sepsis.

Prosecutors said Zya’s mother had voluntarily placed her in Brown’s care shortly after she was born. The abuse, they said, had likely occurred over the course of at least two years. Records indicate that the child had not been to a doctor since April 2016, they said.

When questioned about Zya’s injuries, Brown admitted to hospital personnel that she had stitched up her wounds, but did not give a statement to police, Lightsey said.

Brown was being held without bail at Riverside Correctional Facility.

Her four children, whose ages range from 2 to 13, were removed from the house by the Department of Human Services and placed with their fathers, said Lightsey.

At Tuesday’s news conference, an emotional Krasner asked the public to help law enforcement officials prevent crimes against children and apprehend those who harm them.

“As a community of 1.6 million people, every one of us has a responsibility to protect our children, and that means we have a responsibility to report when we are afraid that they may be coming to some sort of harm,” Krasner said.

He said any incident of child-abuse or neglect can be reported to the Philadelphia Police Department at 215-686-8477, the District Attorney’s Office at 215-686-9608, the city’s Department of Human Services at 215-683-6100, and the Pennsylvania Child Line at 800-932-0313.