According to Bell County Commonwealth Attorney Lisa Fugate, the child showed signs of physical and sexual abuse. She was taken to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital and died to the severity of her injuries.
Her mother, Erica Lawson, was arrested in connection to her death.
On Tuesday, members of the community held a vigil in her honor at the City Parking Lot in Middlesboro. The city mayor and family members of the child also attended.
“I miss my little girl a lot, she’s too young for any of this, I wouldn’t put this pain on anybody,” said Trey Hembree, the child’s father.
Hembree said the support from the community has helped the family through this rough time.
“It’s great really, just seeing the town pulling together so much, and even outside of town and as far as it’s going, it’s a really good feeling about that. That’s about the only hope and clarity that I get, it’s just a good feeling. It’s the only thing keeping me going right now,” he said.
Bell County Commonwealth Attorney Lisa Fugate said she will not rest until everyone involved is held accountable.
“It’s very heartbreaking to know that that was a 17-month-old baby that mama failed to protect. But not only mama, that there were many other individuals along the way in weeks prior that did absolutely nothing for that baby, and who could have and changed the outcome,” Fugate said.
As a mom of three, the case is personal for her.
“So, I wanted to come out to support that child more than anything and let this family know, that as long as I’m here, justice will be done. Anyone responsible will be charged, and if I can keep them in prison for life I’ll do it,” she said.
Fugate said the rest of the community feels the same way.
“Why did they not protect them? They’re all upset, they’re all angry, that’s why we’re here tonight. Mama should’ve protected that child, individuals shouldn’t have done this, and people are here to say it’s not going to happen again, they’re not getting away with it,” she said.
The child’s family is hoping for the same outcome, and now reflecting on memories with her.
“She was the best little girl ever, she was attached to me, she’d stand the way I stand, she’d follow me on my heels wherever I went. She would always say, ‘da da da’ in my ear. She was a good kid, she never cried. She never cried I don’t know why someone would do it,” Hembree said.
The Department of Child Services is assisting the Middlesboro Police Department in the investigation. Lawson’s next court appearance is scheduled for Aug. 10.