On Christmas morning, 2-year-old Da’Laijah Smith was playing with a Mickey Mouse toy and educational games.
Four days later, on Monday night, the toddler died when, police say, her mother shoved her against a shower wall in their Baton Rouge home.
Police arrived at the home in the 7000 block of Beechwood Drive around 9:30 p.m. Monday after they got a call about an unresponsive child, said Cpl. Don Coppola, a Baton Rouge Police spokesman.
They found Da’Laijah with bruises all over her body, and fingernail marks on her arms and legs, according to a police report. Emergency responders tried to save her and performed CPR, but she was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Police then questioned the girl’s mother, 21-year-old Candice Shanee Smith, who admitted that she forced her child against the wall and that the child hit her head, Coppola said. The act was part of “numerous and ongoing acts of physical abuse,” according to the police report.
Police arrested Smith and booked her into Parish Prison on a count of second-degree cruelty to a juvenile, but a murder charge may be added based on the results of an autopsy, the report says.
That autopsy is scheduled for Wednesday, said Dr. Beau Clark, the East Baton Rouge Parish coroner. A bail amount for Smith has not been set.
Family members describe Da’Laijah as a peaceful and joyous child who was walking and running and talking.
“When she did something wrong, you would just laugh about it to where you’d forget about what she did,” said Smith’s boyfriend, Terrell Gilmore, 21.
For the last year or so, Da’Laijah lived in the Beechwood Drive home with Gilmore’s family, who had accepted her as their own, he said.
“It’s hurting me bad,” he added about the child’s death. “I was just running around and playing with this child yesterday. To hear that she’s gone, I mean it still hasn’t registered in my mind. Reality hasn’t really hit.”
Smith and Gilmore also were raising a daughter who was born in June, named Lyric Terrell Gilmore.
The death also devastated Gilmore’s mother, Nicole Jones, 45, who said Smith called her Monday night to tell her Da’Laijah had stopped breathing. When she rushed to the home from her own home just down the street, the ambulance had already arrived. She couldn’t believe the last time she had seen the child was on Christmas.
“She was like my own grandbaby,” Jones said. “I feel like somebody ripped my heart. And I keep on thinking this is all going to go away, and that child’s going to be OK. This feels like a big nightmare to me.”
The family is now preparing a funeral for the child.
“I’m just focused on making sure she can get buried in peace,” Gilmore said.
Follow Daniel Bethencourt on Twitter, @_dbethencourt.