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Mother and her boyfriend arrested in 4-year-old’s death

NATCHEZ — Natchez police arrested and charged a mother and her boyfriend in the Wednesday death of 4-year-old Armani Hill and the hospitalization of her 3-year-old sister.

Friday afternoon during a press conference at the Natchez Police Department, Police Chief Walter Armstrong said the children’s mother, Lakeshia Jones, 25, is charged with two counts of child deprivation of necessities with substantial harm and received a bond of $500,000.

Jones’ boyfriend, James Christopher Anderson, 24, is charged with two counts of felony abuse and did not receive a bond.

Armstrong said Jones left her children in Anderson’s care at 1401 Lafayette St. Tuesday and Wednesday while she was at work and told investigators the children were fine when she left the residence Wednesday morning.

Later that day, Anderson walked with the girls a quarter of a mile from the residence on Lafayette Street to Holiday Apartments, Armstrong said, during which time the girls were badly injured and one of them had trouble walking.

At approximately 11 a.m., Armstrong said Natchez police officers responded to an ambulance call at 601 Washington Road, where they stopped a private vehicle carrying what appeared to be a very sick child.

Armstrong said Hill had been moved from a private vehicle to an ambulance and both girls were then transported to Merit Health Natchez hospital in separate vehicles.

Adams County Coroner James Lee pronounced Hill dead at the hospital at 12:35 p.m. Wednesday and the 3-year-old girl was transported to University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson with severe injuries where she was still being treated Friday afternoon.

“Armani Hill did succumb to her injuries, but her sister is still clinging to life at the university hospital,” Armstrong said. “Myself and investigators were up here at the police department Wednesday night up until midnight. I said to them we will advocate for these young children. We will not leave any stones unturned, and we will make sure justice is done on behalf of these kids.”

Armstrong said police immediately recognized that the children were abused at the hospital Wednesday and took both Jones and Anderson into custody for questioning, but neither was charged with any crime until Friday.

“I have seen abuse before, but this was the worst case of child abuse that I have ever seen,” Armstrong said. “We have seen the pathology report that lists more than 12 injuries to these young children, and with just one of those injuries to any of our bodies we would be wracked with pain. I won’t go into details on what was on either of these reports, but I will say that these children were severely beaten.”

Armstrong said during the investigation, police learned the Department of Human Services had been contacted and opened two cases for the children due to previous injuries before the incident Wednesday and both cases were recently closed.

Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services, which was formerly under the Mississippi Department of Human Services, issued a statement Friday night saying workers in MDCPS were saddened to learn of the case.

“MDCPS has received two prior reports of abuse involving the same children in this case since December 2018,” the statement reads. “In both instances, the agency investigated the reporters’ concerns and the evidence did not support substantiation of the allegations made.

“Although our investigator was unable to substantiate the allegations made in either of the two reports, MDCPS nevertheless opened an ‘in-home’ case and made repeated face-to-face visits with the children and family from January to May 2019. At no time during that monitoring period did any safety concerns arise or were any new concerns of child abuse or harm noted. The in-home case involving the family was closed on June 4 after MDCPS staff met with both of the children, the mother and the grandmother.

“The children involved in this case were never placed into MDCPS custody.

“All of us at MDCPS are saddened to hear of this week’s tragic events in Natchez. Even as child welfare professionals, we are shocked by the heinous acts reported in this case. MDCPS is providing all possible assistance to law enforcement in hopes that the responsible individuals are brought swiftly to justice. This case serves as a painful reminder that despite everyone’s best efforts, evil people will commit evil acts. We hope those responsible for this tragedy are appropriately punished.”

Armstrong said the charges against Jones could carry a jail sentence up to 10 years and a fine up to $10,000 while Anderson could serve between 5 years or a life sentence per count of felony abuse.

“There are indications that this abuse has been going on for quite some time,” Armstrong said. “There is nothing worse than to see the youngest of the youngest abused at the hands of someone who was supposed to be caring for them. This investigation is not over. … We are going to make sure that the individuals who perpetrated the crimes against these babies are punished as they should be.”