On the night of her child’s disappearance, the Louisiana mother said it was a kidnapping.
But according to newly-released court records, the mother and another woman are responsible for burning the child alive — and after lighting the fire, the other woman went straight to her shift at IHOP, Alexandria Town Talk reports.
Hanna Barker, the 23-year-old mother, called 911 around 9 p.m. on July 17 to report that two kidnappers had taken her child from her home in Natchitoches, Louisiana.
After officers responded to her Mayberry Trailer Park residence that night, Barker told them an elaborate story: Two individuals banged on her trailer door, then sprayed her with mace when she opened it, Barker said. That’s when Barker fled her home, she said. But when she returned, her 6-month old son, Levi Ellerbe, had vanished, Barker told police, according to a police-department post on Facebook.
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Just before 10:30 p.m., a fire was spotted nearby — and when authorities went to investigate, they found a 6-month-old child severely burned, police said.
The child was Levi, according to police. He was rushed in critical condition to a hospital and then airlifted to another, but died of the injuries.
An indictment said Smith took the child from Barker’s trailer just after 9 p.m. and traveled a mile away, where she soaked the baby in gasoline and then lit him on fire — all before heading to her shift at IHOP before 10 p.m., Town Talk reports. Court records also said Smith confessed to the murder, according to the newspaper.
According to the indictment, the fatal fire left the baby with second- and third-degree burns covering 90 percent of his body, Town Talk reports.
Smith faces first-degree murder charges, while Barker faces charges of principal to first-degree murder charges. Each was arrested just days after the child’s death.
“When you’re charged with a principal to a crime that means you had a part in the crime,” said state Fire Marshal Butch Browning, KTBS reports. “You may or may not have physically been there when the crime occurred. But you played a part in the execution of that crime.”
State fire officials said Smith wasn’t a stranger to the child’s family, and “knew the child.”
“This individual had a relationship with the family and certainly had access to the child, so we’re still vetting through those things,” Browning said in an interview with KEEL. “It wasn’t a random act, which is important for us to put out.”
A judge’s gag order has prevented authorities from releasing more information as the investigation into the two women continues, a spokesperson for the fire marshal told McClatchy.
A grand jury indicted Smith on the first-degree murder charge late last month, according to Natchitoches Parish District Attorney Billy Joe Harrington. A grand jury requested more evidence on the murder charge facing the mother, prosecutors said.
“These cases are still under investigation,” Harrington said in a statement. “As additional evidence is obtained and presented, we will proceed accordingly.”
Both women are still in custody following their arrests, and are being held at separate jails, Town Talk reports.
An obituary for Levi described him as “the happiest baby who always had a big smile.”
“He was an animal lover and anytime he could get his hands on his dog, (Rex) he loved to pull his ears,” the obituary said. “Levi was a blessing to our family and everyone who met him. We will always remember him as our little ‘Chunky Monkey.’ ”