Teen's Christmas diary reveals cause of baby sister's death 4 months ago

December 30, 1992|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- When the Fremont, Calif., couple put thei 4-year-old to bed, she was happy and alert. The next morning she was dead.

At first, there seemed to be no explanation. Perhaps the child died during an asthma attack? But on Saturday, the parents stumbled upon a chilling entry in the diary they had just given their 14-year-old daughter for Christmas:

"Dear Diary: Well, it's the New Year so I'm going to start telling you everything dearest to me. I have to get something off my back. I killed my little sister. I went into her room and got her and took her into my room and told her I loved her and covered her mouth and suffocated her. You're the first person I've ever told. Well, I feel better."

As a result of the diary entry and a new examination of the August death by the Alameda County coroner, the 14-year-old girl was charged yesterday with murder, said Fremont police Capt. Mike Lanam. Her name was not released because she is a juvenile.

The girl was to be arraigned today.

Captain Lanam said police do not know of a motive.

The teen-ager, who has a long history of psychological problems, denies she killed her sister, police said. She told police she wrote the diary entry to get attention.

"Her first comment was she didn't write it, which was implausible," said Captain Lanam. "Now her comment is that she wrote it but didn't mean it."

The arrest capped a lengthy investigation that began after the 4-year-old was found in the crib by her mother early Aug. 18. The parents told police that the child, who had asthma, was fine when they put her to bed about 9 the night before.

The coroner's office initially ruled that the child died of "traumatic asphyxia," a catch-all term that means the breathing stopped, either naturally or unnaturally, according to Dan Apperson, a superintendent deputy coroner.

There were reasons to believe the death could have been natural: The child was asthmatic, took medication and used a special machine to get medicine deep into her lungs, he said.

But natural causes didn't explain the trauma of the death, so the coroner's office listed the cause as undetermined. That sparked a police investigation.

"We get these periodically," said Mr. Apperson. "Which means our doctors did an examination and tested everything -- the blood, the urine -- but didn't come up with anything substantial."

The break came Saturday after the 14-year-old ran away from home. Desperate to find her, her parents opened the high school student's new diary. The single entry was all they found.

After notifying their pastor, the parents called police, who found the teen at her boyfriend's house about 3:20 a.m. Sunday. They arrested her.

But, the Alameda County district attorney's office did not charge her until yesterday, after the coroner's office re-examined the case and determined "there was no pre-existing medical condition that would have caused the traumatic asphyxia," Dr. Lanam said.

The parents could not be reached for comment.

"They're having a hard time believing their daughter could be responsible for this," said Captain Lanam.

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