Florida

Father accused of beating his 3-month-old girl to death

Olivia Dykes suffered skull fractures, bruising and cuts.
Olivia Dykes suffered skull fractures, bruising and cuts. Tampa Bay Times

It only took a moment for Pinellas sheriff deputies responding to a 911 call to determine that 3-month-old Olivia Dykes died a violent death.

The infant's face, neck and head were bloodied, bruised and cut, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.

More bruising covered her tiny feet, as if she had been swung around a room, hurled into objects, Gualtieri said. She sustained two skull fractures.

"He slammed her hard," the sheriff said. "He slammed her very hard."

Authorities say the man responsible for the girl's death early Thursday was her father, 44-year-old Steven Dykes of Pinellas Park. Deputies arrested him on a first-degree murder charge Saturday afternoon.

Gualtieri said the events leading to Olivia Dykes' death unfolded early Thursday.

Melissa Schroll, 33, the girl's mother, went to bed early the night before, happy to be starting a new job.

She awoke at 4:15 a.m. to get an early start, Gualtieri said.

A couple of hours later, she stepped outside her home on the 6300 block of N 71st Street in Pinellas Park to smoke a cigarette.

That's when Dykes appeared, cradling his daughter's limp body and yelling that she wasn't breathing.

The two tried to revive her, Gualtieri said.

Gary Robertson, the property owner and landlord who also lived there, awoke to Schroll's screams and called 911.

"I couldn't believe what was happening," he recalled on Saturday.

Deputies and EMS arrived. The infant was taken to St. Petersburg General Hospital but never regained consciousness. She was pronounced dead there.

"She didn't deserve this," Schroll said tearfully Saturday night, outside her home, clutching a bouquet of flowers a paramedic had given her. "She had her whole life ahead of her. She was only 3 months old. And I let this monster into my life."

Gualtieri said Dykes violently shook and struck the baby sometime in the early morning hours.

The couple were trying to sleep when they were awakened by Olivia's crying from a nearby makeshift crib, Gualtieri said.

Schroll nudged Dykes to feed the girl. About a half hour later, they were awakened again, and again Schroll nudged her husband to tend to their baby.

Sometime after that, Dykes killed the girl, likely taking her into the living room while his wife slept in the bedroom, Gualtieri said.

Deputies settled on the unemployed Dykes as a potential suspect early on, noting that aspects of his story didn't make sense.

"He basically said I don't know anything," the sheriff said.

Gualtieri said there were no reports of violence in the household prior to Thursday. For the past year, the couple had rented a bedroom in the house, which they shared with their 21-month-old son, Bryce Dykes. After the incident, the boy was removed from the home and sent to stay with Schroll's parents in Tarpon Springs. She also has a 12-year-old son who lives with her parents.

Though deputies interviewed Dykes, they didn't charge him immediately.

Instead, they watched as he ventured to a homeless shelter Thursday night and then on Friday night as he went to the Cactus Motel in St. Petersburg. In between, deputies said, Dykes went to a drug store to refill a prescription for more than 100 Xanax, which is commonly used to treat anxiety.

On Saturday, with surveillance still in place, detectives recorded a conversation in which Dykes acknowledged that he harmed his daughter, Gualtieri said.

With enough evidence, deputies went to Pinellas Park and arrested Dykes outside the home.

"She was the perfect baby," Schroll said as she showed reporters a cellphone picture of Olivia Saturday night. "I can't fathom this."

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