HOUSTON -- A Houston mother who was arrested Sunday is accused of starving her 8-year-old daughter to death inside an empty apartment.
Halle Smith weighed 15 pounds when she died, and the only photos available of her -- taken at the time of her death -- are disturbing, said Estella Olguin, a Child Protective Services spokeswoman.
“[They are] probably the worst pictures I have ever seen,” Olguin said. “It’s upsetting to look at them.”
Halle was limp and unresponsive when her mother brought her to a hospital emergency room in January 2009. Because Halle was a special-needs child who had to be hooked up to a feeding tube, the investigation took time, as did determining her cause of death, investigators said.
“The officers had to get an autopsy report, complete sets of medical records, and then conduct a thorough investigation to determine if this was, in fact, a deliberate injury,” said Donna Hawkins with the district attorney's office.
Prosecutors said they now believe Halle's mother, Almita Nicole Lockhart, 34, isolated her in an empty secluded apartment off Northborough and did not feed her.
“The medical examiner said her death was a homicide and said it was due to malnutrition and dehydration,” Hawkins said.
CPS said Lockhart is the mother of nine other children. However, when CPS looked into her situation after Halle's death, they said they found none of the children, who are between the ages of 2 to 18, were living at home. Some of them hadn't been in school, CPS said. CPS said it is in the process of terminating Lockhart's parental rights.
“We had concerns because, once we found those children, they were being taken care of by adults who had drugs and weapons in the home,” Olguin said.
CPS said it had visited Halle and Lockhart's home back in 2006 after Lockhart was convicted and served time for illegal drugs.
“When we saw her she appeared healthy. The house was furnished. There was food in the home. The children appeared healthy,” Olguin said. “So something happened in the last two-and-a-half years.”
According to court documents, Lockhart was offered free nursing care for Halley 24-7, but she told them to stay away.
Medical documents show when Halley was 2 she weighed 35 pounds, but that on her last visit to the doctor in 2006 she weighed just 27 pounds. That is the same year CPS visited her home.
At the time of her death, the medical examiner said Halle had lost 40 percent of her body weight and it was clear the mother was "failing to properly nourish" the child.
CPS said it is reviewing what it could have done differently.
“We don’t have the right to just go check up on people, unless we have a new report,” Olguin explained.
She said the agency had not heard anything about Halle’s family for more than two years.