An 8-year-old girl was wasting away physically from a lack of food and was tied up in a sleeping bag as a form of punishment in the time leading to her death in the family's Elk River apartment, according to murder charges filed Monday against her father and stepmother.
Brett J. Hallow, 30, and Sarah K. Hallow, 28, were each charged in Sherburne County District Court with second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter in connection with the death of Autumn Hallow at their home in the Depot at Elk River Station apartment complex.
The Hallows were jailed without bail Friday, a day after law enforcement came to the home after being told that Autumn was partly submerged in a bathtub, the charges said. Police found Sarah Hallow in a bedroom giving the girl chest compressions despite her body being rigid and her fingers blue.
"Based on the condition of [Autumn's] body, law enforcement believed [she] had been deceased for some time," the charges read.
An autopsy found fatal injuries pointing to her being asphyxiated, along with wounds to her head.
The Midwest Medical Examiner's Office described Autumn as being "markedly cachectic," based on her scant fatty tissue, atrophied muscle and significant hair loss. She weighed 45 pounds at the time of her death, the charges read.
The family also includes children ages 3, 6 and 10. Chief Deputy County Attorney Samuel Wertheimer declined to disclose the custody status of the children.
Autumn's mother, Kelsey Kruse, addressed the Hallows in a Facebook posting two days after her daughter was found dead, writing, "You have given me and my family a permanent scar. You took something we will never get back. ... I hope your other children know what you did, and I hope they grow up knowing that their sister saved them."
In a separate posting, she said, "Your father kept you from me for several months, and he then took your life. I hope you know how much I tried to get you. ... All of your siblings were lucky to have a sister like you."
According to the charges:
The officers on the call saw cuts and "pin-like" marks on the girl's forehead. The autopsy revealed paired puncture wounds on her head, bleeding in the abdomen and on the brain, and bruises to her hands and hips.
Blood was found around the bathroom.
Sarah Hallow told law enforcement that she checked on Autumn in the shower and saw her facedown in the water. She said Brett Hallow moved the girl to the bedroom, and she called 911. The girl's father gave essentially the same account.
The stepmother said Autumn was in good health but had not been eating.
Kruse told authorities that she had not seen her daughter since January, when her weight and development appeared average for her age.
She added that the Hallows had prevented her from having any parenting time with Autumn, citing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.
On Friday, the 6-year-old son who lived in the home told authorities the Hallows would tie up Autumn with a belt and put her in a sleeping bag, leaving only her head exposed. Other times, they would tie Autumn's hands behind her back with a shirt, the boy said.
Autumn would have to sleep while restrained "when she is being bad," after urinating on a floor or in her clothing or trying to get food, the complaints read.
The 10-year-old daughter gave a similar account, adding that Autumn would also be tied up to prevent her from getting medications.
Sarah Hallow denied restraining Autumn, yet acknowledged that the girl was losing weight but she didn't take her to a doctor.
Brett Hallow said he had little memory of what occurred on the day police came to the apartment. He said he was keeping the children out of sight over COVID-19 concerns.
A friend of Autumn's mother set up a GoFundMe campaign to help with funeral and other expenses.