Stepmother and Grandmother Run Nine Year-Old Girl To Her Death

GADSDEN, Ala. – “At the end of a dirt road leading to a double-wide trailer in rural Alabama, authorities say 9-year-old Savannah Hardin was being forced to run for three hours as punishment for having lied to her grandmother about eating candy bars. The severely dehydrated girl had a seizure and died days later, her death ruled a homicide.

Her grandmother and stepmother who police say meted out the punishment are in jail, facing murder charges Wednesday.

Witnesses told deputies that Savannah was told to run and not allowed to stop for three hours on Friday, an Etowah County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman said. The girl’s stepmother, 27-year-old Jessica Mae Hardin, called police at 6:45 p.m., telling them that Savannah was having a seizure and was unresponsive.

“Authorities are still trying to determine whether Savannah was forced to run by physical coercion or by verbal commands. Deputies were told the girl was forced to run after lying to her grandmother, 46-year-old Joyce Hardin Garrard, about having eaten the candy, sheriff’s office spokeswoman Natalie Barton said.

Savannah Hardin died Monday at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, according to a news release from the sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s release says the autopsy report showed the girl was extremely dehydrated and had a very low sodium level. A state pathologist ruled it a homicide.

The sheriff’s office received calls from concerned citizens who had witnessed the running. No other details were released.

“It seems like a very happy extended family around here,” Denny said. “There are mothers, grandmothers, kids. It sounds like a punishment that got out of hand.”

No Denny, it sounds like sadism to me. I’ll bet the grandmother and step-mother took pleasure in watching Savannah experiencing pain and humiliation, and I am certain it was not the first time. I also think Savannah’s father knew damn well he left his daughter with two dangerous women. It is being reported that the grandmother was the mother of Savannah’s father. How can anyone think he was not aware his mother was capable of abuse –that is, unless he has mentally blocked anything she did to him as a child.

“Garrard and Jessica Mae Hardin are being held in the Etowah County Detention Center, each on a $500,000 cash bond.

Court records show that Robert Hardin filed for divorce in August of 2010. In his complaint, he asserted his wife was bi-polar and of had alcoholic tendencies. He accused her of previously having run off with the couple’s own child.

In her response, Jessica denied all of Robert’s allegations. Five months after filing for divorce, the two asked a judge to dismiss their case.” ~Fox News

CNN’s Nancy Grace is reporting that Savannah had a “bladder condition” that might be aggravated by a chocolate candy bar. Or, even more likely, Savannah’s “condition” was bed-wetting due to prolonged child abuse.

However, it is possible that, because of a bladder condition, Savannah sometimes wet the bed. Grace reminded her viewers how many parents with no patience, punish their children for wetting the bed.

I have been told by my family, that I wet the bed until I was nine years-old. I have no memory of doing this. I do have one memory of having to carry a plastic sheet in shame, to a friend’s sleep over, after my mother made a phone call to alert the friend’s mother of ‘my little problem.’

After a few years in therapy, I did finally recall my mother’s anger and resentment for having to change my urine-soaked sheets. After the previously repressed memory surfaced, I wondered how many times those sheets had semen on them.

There is a link to child abuse and bed-wetting, and I also wonder how long Savannah’s step-mother and grandmother had been abusing her before they finally killed her.

Savannah’s stepmother has given birth to a child in jail. The baby was born on the day she was arrested for the murder of Savannah. No report yet on the sex of the child. Jessica also has a 3 year-old son with Savannah’s father.

According to CNN, Savannah’s birth mother is living in another state, and has no custody rights, and has not been very involved in Savannah’s upbringing.


CNN Headline News, 2-23-12
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9 Responses to Stepmother and Grandmother Run Nine Year-Old Girl To Her Death

  1. Anonymous says:

    This is sad. I feel that these two should have the endure the same punishment Savanah suffured.

  2. Lulu says:

    Read the State of Florida’s investigations in the Ledger link. Protective services suspected coaching of Savannah, child support issues, reported missing of school caused by the reporter not returning her to mother!, dislike of mother’s boyfriend and alledged abuse while boyfriend is not in the home while working in Wyoming, Robert’s own assault conviction, his military service, and his ongoing attempts to gain custody. This is very informative.

  3. Lulu says:

    More information is leaking out. The two news stories give more insight into the very disturbing dysfunction of this family.…” The attorney of the grandmother charged with killing her granddaughter,
    Savannah Hardin, by allegedly forcing the 9-year old to run for 3 hours says the child’s father–his client’s son– is supporting his mother and wife Jessica Hardin.” “Garrard’s attorney, Dani Bone, tells ABC 33/40 he has spent time with his client and Savannah’s father, Robert Hardin. Bone says the family is grieving the loss of Savannah and is united during this difficult time.
    The defense attorney says there is no division in the family and
    insists his client will be vindicated”
    “In a 2009 DCF report, an investigator wrote that Robert Hardin
    complained nothing was being done after abuse complaints involving his ex-wife.” “In Florida, DCF had received
    abuse complaints and investigated Heather Hardin at least four times between 2007 and 2009, records show.Each time, investigators found no evidence of abuse and said the girl did not seem to be in danger while in her mother’s care.”

    Robert Hardin, the father of Savannah, is supporting his mother in fighting the charge of murdering his daughter and also his wife who he claimed in divorce filings was mentally ill and alcoholic. He reported child abuse and hassled and complained to the Florida child authorities at least four times in two years. The state of Florida found no abuse. He picked the child up for a spring break visit and refused to return her to her mother. He got custody even though he does not live in the country and handed her over to his mother and by his own statement messed up wife. He allegedly has an older child with another ex-wife. He has a three year old and newborn with this wife who is in jail for murder. Savannah’s mother had a hearing scheduled next month to regain custody (and child support).

    The many and complicated public records of Robert Hardin and his messy relationships have been closed to the public so prosecutors can review them and consult with experts, attorneys involved, and probably ruling judges. By openly and publicly siding with his mother and wife rather than staying neutral he is admitting involvement in some form. He may have committed perjury to regain custody (ending the financial strain of child support) . He may have been aware of the abuse. He may have been subjected to the same kind of abuse his mother meted out to Savannah. Whatever the facts are, he would not return his child to her biological mother against a standing court order, reported child abuse repeatedly which was found to be false by the state of Florida, obtained legal custody after the fact, left the country, and left the child with persons who did not have legal custody. The prosecutors are reviewing what he told an attorney and judge to gain custody and stop child support and he may have committed perjury which would explain why he is siding with the abuser/murderers.

    • little nel says:

      Hi Lulu,

      When I read what you have posted about Robert Hardin, I think that he should be charged also.

      This guy is as irresponsible as they come. Savannah sounds like she had the same status as an unwanted pet in that family.

    • Alethea says:

      Thanks so much Lulu for all the info.

      What a mess.

  4. Lulu says:

    When they mentioned a urinary tract problem “common in young girls” the first thing I thought of was bed wetting. In a household of a middle aged woman, a very pregnant woman, and a three year old they did not want the bother of frequent bed changes and additional laundry. The whole candy bar thing sounds like punishment for bed wetting, and when that punishment did not work out they tried another one- running. They also almost certainly withheld fluids which further contributed to Savannah’s dehydration. She was probably dehydrated all of the time and this time it killed her.

    Resented children are targeted by adults for harsh treatment. This child belonged to an ex-spouse who lost her because she could not afford an attorney. I read she actually had a scheduled hearing to regain custody next month. The biological father was not in the household. He was absent most of the time leaving her care to someone else. He also had remarried and child support is never paid happily when there is an acrimonious relationship with the ex and step children along with new children coming to be supported. Savannah’s mother claims she was not allowed contact with her and her ex took her for a spring break visit and would not return her.

    The press has done a poor job of coverage but alarms ring with a myriad of clues. The emergency workers who were called to the scene said something was very odd about it. Neighbors say the child running for hours but seldom said they never saw children outside playing. The women were not arrested until neighbors called the sheriff’s department reporting the running after they found out the child had died indicating the two women did not tell emergency workers or law enforcement what they had been up to and how they had abused Savannah. Calling bed wetting an illness is another clue to how they viewed it and tried to make it an excuse for not allowing candy (which is nuts). The main clue is the size of their bail which is enormous and indicates that the DA views them in a very harsh light and probably has a lot more damning information than we are aware of. Lastly the grandmother’s own family came out with a statement condemning her actions which is probably an indicator that they were at least partially aware of her abuse and mistreatment of this sweet, biddable child. And the father is fully culpable if he left her with these two so he could spite his ex-wife and not pay child support. (note: I have worked in family law for decades and this is much more common than many are aware).

    • Alethea says:

      Right on Lulu. Great comments. Good observation on her dehydration. God, it makes me wonder if my mother limited my fluid intake.

      Thanks for posting!

  5. little nel says:

    There was so much friction, tension, and violence in my home as a toddler, that I bit my fingers and fingernails to alleviate the anxiety.

    My mother used to complain and humiliate me in public to get me to stop biting my nails. “Stop biting you nails” was a familiar command from her.

    I guess she thought that my “nail biting” was proof that I was rebellious and disobedient, so punishment was in order, especially when she felt threatened by my resistance to her “denial system” in some unconscious or conscious way.

    I have noticed that when I intentionally or unintentionally hit against someone’s denial system that the response is usually extreme and/or violent.

    It is unreasonable to think that Savannah’s only crime was forbidden candy. The punishment does not fit the crime.

  6. little nel says:

    Is this a family that is riddled with substance abuse?

    It sounds like it is. It is amazing the lengths that a family will go to in a effort to rationalize the denial. Everything is extreme in context or comparison.

    There has to be more to this story of this death. Was Savannah challenging the mother and grandmother’s denial systems when she disobeyed? What were they trying to prove or disprove to her?

    Is this a punishment that got out of hand? Of course it is. Punishment is the glue that keeps families of substance abusers intact and manageable.

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