CHURCH HILL — The July 4 death of a 6-month-old infant in Church Hill, which was initially attributed to SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), has escalated into a suspicious death investigation in light of a preliminary medical examiner report citing severe head trauma as the cause of death.
Rogersville Assistant Attorney General Doug Godbee confirmed Wednesday that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and an investigator with the attorney general’s office have joined the Church Hill Police Department in an investigation into the death of Zoey Christina Hawkins (also known as Katonya Kilgore) who was born on Jan. 3.
The child’s parents, Brian Keith Hawkins and Amber Marie King, were separated at the time of the child’s death. CHPD Detective Dustin Dean said the child’s legal name was Katonya Kilgore but was in the process of being changed to Zoey Christina Hawkins when she died, due to a paternity question having been resolved.
Church Hill police and Church Hill EMS were dispatched to Hawkins’ home at 104 Messick Ave., Church Hill, shortly before 2 a.m. on July 4 after he reportedly discovered the child whimpering and having trouble breathing. According to a CHPD report, the baby was transported to Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport, where she was pronounced dead.
Emergency room doctors stated “there were no signs of injuries or trauma to the infant, and there were signs consistent with SIDS,” according to the CHPD report.
Earlier this week, however, authorities received the preliminary autopsy report, which attributed the death to a crushed skull and swelling of the brain.
The report indicates severe blunt force trauma to the top of the head causing the skull to break in several spots. The report further states that whatever implement was used to cause the trauma was used with enough force to make indentations into the skull itself like a tool mark.
Godbee said Wednesday that investigators are trying to find out what caused the fatal injuries, where the fatal injuries occurred, and if someone was responsible for causing the injuries. The baby was reportedly in the custody of three different adults during the six hours prior to her death, and thus far none of those questions has been answered, Godbee added.
“We’re working on a timeline as to where the child was during the hours prior to death, and determining who was with the child during those hours,” Godbee said. “The death was originally attributed to SIDS, but apparently the doctors who were present at the time the child was pronounced dead found reason to request an autopsy. Since then new information has surfaced, and we’re now calling it a suspicious death.
“There’s not much more I can say about it at this point. We don’t know what happened, where it happened, and when we narrow down the timeline we might find out it occurred in some other jurisdiction and not Hawkins County.”
Hawkins and King each have two other children of their own. Authorities confirmed Wednesday that Hawkins County Juvenile Court has ordered King’s children placed in the custody of family members and limited her contact to supervised visits.
Hawkins’ children were already in the custody of their mother, and his contact with them has been ordered limited to supervised visits as well.
Hawkins County Juvenile Court Judge James Taylor said Wednesday he couldn’t comment on specific cases, but there are uniform procedures for these type of cases.
“As a general rule whenever a parent is suspected of what we call severe child abuse, then measures are immediately taken to protect the siblings or any other children that parent has contact with,” Taylor said. “Whether to remove custody or to supervise contact, immediate emergency measures are taken to protect the other children in every severe child abuse case.”
Godbee said the final autopsy report is expected in five to six weeks.