A 13-day-old baby girl is dead in what Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has described as one of the worst cases he’s seen in his career. While authorities say the child’s 6-year-old brother admitted to the violent assault that caused the infant’s death on Monday, her 62-year-old mother is the one who faces criminal charges.
Gualtieri painted a picture of ongoing issues related to the North Redington Beach family during a Thursday press conference announcing the woman’s arrest. The children’s mother, Kathleen Steele, reportedly lost her husband to cancer in 2011. Before his death, Steele’s husband had his sperm frozen. The 6-year-old boy, Gualtieri said, was born before his father’s death. His 3-year-old brother and newborn sister, also named Kathleen, were born through artificial insemination, the sheriff said.
The elder Kathleen traveled to New York City late last year to have a doctor perform the artificial insemination that resulted in the baby’s birth, Gualtieri said. Since the child was born on July 26, the Florida Department of Children and Families and Pinellas County child investigators had several run-ins with the family, the sheriff added.
The first brush with authorities came on July 29 while the family was staying in a local hotel following an accidental fire at their home. A fire alarm happened to go off at the hotel, Gualtieri said. When it did, Kathleen Steele put baby Kathleen in her car carrier but did not buckle her in. She then proceeded down the hotel stairs, but tripped. Baby Kathleen fell out of her carrier and struck her head, the sheriffs said.
The child was taken to All Children’s Hospital with a minor brain bleed, the sheriff said. DCF and the sheriff’s office responded and the case was investigated. No evidence of abuse was found, Gualtieri said.
Baby Kathleen went home on July 31, the sheriff said.
An appointment was scheduled for a home visit with child protection authorities on Aug. 1, but Kathleen Steele changed the date to Aug. 10, Gualtieri said.
DCF received a call about the family on Aug. 2. All three children, the caller reported, were being inadequately supervised. A child protection investigator responded to the home after the call but found no evidence of neglect at that time, the sheriff said.
On Monday, Steele reportedly took the baby to a pediatrician’s office. Following that appointment, her 6-year-old son broke her cellphone. The family traveled to a local store to get the phone fixed. It was upon their return to the store to pick up the phone that the assault on baby Kathleen occurred, the sheriff said.
Kathleen Steele reportedly left the three children locked in her van outside the store for an estimated 30 minutes, Gualtieri said.
At some point, the 6-year-old removed baby Kathleen from her car seat and “began flipping her multiple times back and forth, slamming her head,” Gualtieri said. The baby’s skull was fractured in several places.