I’m sure you’ve at least seen a story about the death of 9-year-old Savannah Hardin by now. She was the child whose grandmomma-turned-grandmonster made her run until she passed out, vomiting, dehydrated, exhausted, dying.
A jury rightly found Joyce Hardin Garrard of Gadsden, Alabama guilty of capital murder last week, three years after Savannah’s death. Justice is not swift in this country. Anyone who tells you otherwise has never stepped foot inside a U. S. courtroom.
There is much about this case that I can’t wrap my brain around and too much of it that I can.
How does a grandmomma get so broken that she intentionally inflicts deadly harm upon her own flesh and blood? A precious child at that?
The part I can get my brain around – sadly – is the acrimony that underscored Savannah’s short life.
Savannah’s daddy, Robert, is a State Department contractor who abdicated his responsibility for his daughter, handing her over to his mother. This after he bullied Savannah’s mother through the court system, not at all an uncommon practice for parents, both male and female, who view children as property to be owned.
Don’t read over that line too quickly. That we view children as property in this nation is the problem.
I swear to all the green frogs that jump, children today have so much to deal with, primarily their neglectful and self-absorbed parents.
There can be no question that Savannah Hardin was treated as property to be owned, to be divided, to be distributed, to be neglected, and,ultimately, to be abandoned in the battle between her parents and her step-mother and yes, even her grandmonster.
This job of Robert’s? The one that took him overseas to work as a contractor? It pays really well. Contracting jobs in places like Pakistan usually start at $600 a day and go up from there. The average salary is a hefty six-figures and counting.
Of course, when he was married to Savannah’s mother, Robert Hardin wasn’t working as a military contractor. He was serving in the military. He was gone a lot then, too. The truth is that for much of Savannah’s life, her father was absent, either overseas with the military, or working as a military contractor.
But that didn’t mean he didn’t view her as his property – property he intended to reclaim.
Robert Hardin resented paying child support for his daughter. He resented his ex-wife having custody of his daughter. So in 2009 he fulfilled a promise he made to Heather Hardin Walker- a promise to make her pay for leaving him. He took his daughter and refused to return her.
A battle in the courts ensued. Robert accused Heather of abuse. She accused him. Children’s Services was caught up between the bickering parents. The Daily Beast reports: “According to Florida Department of Children and Family records, Robert filed at least five complaints between 2009 and 2012. The state investigations found his accusations—from physical and mental abuse of Savannah to inhabitable living conditions—to be unfounded and each of the cases were closed.”
“The level of dysfunction was high, but we did not deem the child at eminent risk while in her mother’s care” Terri Durdaller – DFC
Robert Hardin wasn’t around to be the father Savannah needed, but he wanted to make darn sure that his ex-wife didn’t have possession of his property.
At the time of Savannah’s death, Robert was also in divorce proceedings from Jessica Hardin, Savannah’s stepmother, who he claimed was bi-polar and drank too much. Jessica, 27, was pregnant. She and Savannah lived with Robert’s mother.
Savannah’s pediatrician testified in court that she was worried about the relationship between Savannah, her grandmonster Joyce, and her step-mother Jessica
“The child’s pediatrician testified that she worried about the relationship between Garrard, the child, and stepmother Jessica Hardin, who also is charged in the girl’s death. Dr. Deborah Smith said the relationship among the three “was not a normal dynamic” and that she had considered contacting authorities but didn’t. Smith didn’t explain exactly what she considered to be odd, and a prosecutor didn’t press her.”
Did you catch that?
She considered contacting authorities.
A pediatrician is legally bound to contact authorities if she should see any harm or even have the slightest suspicion of any harm to a child. But this doctor hasn’t been charged, won’t be charged. Doctors are always given a buy. Because, you know. they are doctors, after all, we can’t expect them to get involved in these domestic things.
But Dr. Smith wasn’t the only observer who didn’t want to get involved.
A surveillance video taken from the bus Savannah rode to school captured a conversation between bus driver Raeanna Holmes and Garrard. On it, Garrard tells the driver, “She’s going to run until I tell her to stop. She’s going to learn,” Garrard said.
School bus drivers are mandatory reporters. They are required by law to report any sign of abuse or any hint of suspicion of abuse. It is not up to them to determine whether abuse is taking place. It is the job of a school bus driver to report what may be abuse and let the authorities figure it out. But Holmes didn’t report it. She won’t be charged, of course, because we can’t expect our school bus drivers to concern themselves with things like the abuse or possible abuse of a child, now can we?
Several neighbors saw Savannah running that day. Saw her grandmonster and step-mother sitting, watching, barking orders at the tearful girl, begging for relief. Those neighbors may not have been legally bound to report the abuse the way the school bus driver and the pediatrician were, but surely all adults ought to be considered mandatory reporters, shouldn’t we? Are we any less guilty if the child dies if we turn the other way and walk away?
Samuel L. Hudgins, who said he was doing vinyl work on a house in the neighborhood near the Garrard house and saw Savannah running in the yard. He described her as running laps around the house. He said he saw her on the way to the job and on his way back out to exchange materials for the job. On the second viewing, he said she was carrying wood.
He stopped and asked another neighbor, Roger Simpson, what was going on. Simpson died before the trial began; he likely would have been called as a witness. Hudgins said Simpson told him “something was going on,” but said Garrard had threatened his life previously, indicating that’s why he was not going to investigate. Reading from a statement he gave investigators after the trial got underway, he said Simpson told him she said she would “blow his brains out. ”Hudgins said he’d just kept quiet about what he saw that day until he started reading about the trial in the newspapers. He said after reading coverage, including that of Garrard’s testimony, he decided he “ought to speak up.”
So let’t try and wrap our brains around this: Simpson didn’t want to get involved because Joyce Hardin Garrard had threatened his life on a previous occasion? Here was a grown man refusing to intervene for a small child because he knew the grandmonster to be an emotionally unstable woman? And because Simpson was worried about the grandmonster might do him harm, so Hudgins, who is working in the neighborhood and witnesses the abuse also decides that he, too, isn’t going to intervene.
“You’ve got several witnesses in the neighborhood who saw the child struggling for air and vomiting and even that didn’t stop Garrard. You’ve got four or five different people who saw parts of it, and you stitch together what happened through all of their testimony”
District Attorney – Jimmie Harp
Joyce Hardin Garrard may very well get the death penalty for the killing of Savannah Hardin. She certainly deserves it.
But she didn’t act alone.
Jessica Hardin is also facing murder charges for her part in Savannah’s death.
Still there are host of others who contributed to the death of Savannah Hardin who have not been charged in the young girl’s death. People who will never be charged for their part in her death.
Shall I name them for you?
– Savannah’s father, Robert Hardin.
– Savannah’s pediatrician, Dr. Deborah Smith.
– Savannah’s school bus driver.
– Savannah’s neighbor Roger Simpson.
– And last of all, Samuel Hudgins, who knew something was bad wrong and started to intervene but decided to not help the child.
There are likely others. Relatives who saw first-hand the mistreatment Savannah was receiving. Teachers who may have suspected abuse. The parents of friends who gossiped about it but didn’t take action.
Joyce Hardin didn’t have to hide the fact that she was abusing her granddaughter. She abused the poor child in broad daylight, in front of God, and a doctor, and a school bus driver, and neighbors all around. She ran that child for hours. Until Savannah was puking and crying and begging for somebody, anybody to help her.
But nobody did.
Not one soul.
The problem with child abuse in this nation isn’t that abusers are so adept at hiding the physical abuse they inflict upon suffering children.The problem with child abuse in this nation is that so many adults are so willing, so eager to look the other way, to pretend what they are witnessing isn’t abuse.
We treat other people’s children as if they are property to be owned and any intervention on our behalf is traipsing on other people’s property.
As long as adults refuse to cross that Keep Out sign, children will continue to suffer and die at the hands of monsters like Joyce Hardin Garrard.
But, remember, child abusers rarely act alone. It takes a community of complicit people looking the other way to torture a child to death.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Karly Sheehan: True Crime Story Behind Karly’s Law.