A Rockville, Maryland, day-care operator was ordered held on US$2 million bail after being charged with killing a 6-month-old girl who suffered injuries "too numerous to count," a prosecutor said in court today.
The infant under his care, Miller "Millie" Lilliston, of Rockville, sustained at least 11 cracked ribs, a fractured arm, a fractured thigh bone, head injuries, facial bruises, lacerations to her mouth and other injuries, according to Montgomery County District Court records.
The suspect, Kia Divband, 35, made his first appearance in court, and said little as District Judge Zuberi Bakari Williams reviewed the initial stages of the case and ordered him held.
An autopsy of Millie ruled the manner of death homicide "caused by multiple blunt-force injuries."
Divband and his wife recently opened Little Dreamers Creative Learning Centre, a licensed family day care, in the basement of their home on Grandin Avenue in Rockville's Twinbrook area.
"We strive to provide a safe and fun learning environment," Divband had written on the day care's website. As the case against him surfaced in mid-April, he and his wife closed their operation, according to state records.
Divband's lawyer, Terrence McGann, said in court that Divband has no criminal record, has been in the day-care industry for 14 years and has never had regulatory complaints lodged against him over the treatment of a child. "Nothing like this has ever been alleged," McGann said.
Divband's wife, parents and other supporters watched in court. After the hearing, McGann said: "The family adamantly supports Mr Divband. They don't believe he is capable of something like this."
A relative of the child's parents, who live about a kilometre from Divband, said the parents did not want to comment.
"By all accounts, these are absolutely lovely people," Montgomery State's Attorney John McCarthy said. "They loved this child."
He said the case has touched many residents. "This is an important case to a community that relies on leaving children at day care," he said. "The extent of the injuries speak for themselves."
Divband was arrested on Tuesday on charges of second-degree murder, first-degree child abuse resulting in death and first-degree child abuse. Authorities had consulted doctors who treated Millie following an incident at the day care on April 20 and with doctors who performed the autopsy.
"There is no doubt in any of these experts' minds," Assistant State's Attorney Ryan Wechsler said in court, "that the defendant is solely responsible for the injuries that occurred on that morning, and those injuries were the cause of her death."
Neighbours and state regulators indicate that the day-care operation was very small. Millie was the only child being cared for on the day that emergency services and police were called, McCarthy said.
Records filed by detectives and state regulators, and comments made in court, relayed dueling versions of events.
The weekend of April 17 and 18, Millie appeared normal and healthy, according to statements her mothers gave detectives. She spent the next day at Little Dreamers and seemed fine after she was picked up at the end of the day.
According to a police affidavit, the infant's mothers gave Detective Beverley Then a photo of Millie taken on the evening of April 19. It "showed no signs of bruising anywhere on her face," detectives wrote. "Millie's mothers stated she did not suffer any serious injuries prior to being in Kia's care."
The next morning, Millie was dropped off at Little Dreamers. The girl took a nap, Divband told detectives, and afterward he tried to feed her a bottle of milk while she was in her stroller.
Divband said that over the prior two weeks, Millie had trouble drinking her bottle because of congestion. And on April 20, he said, she drank only half the bottle before choking and vomiting. Divband said he took the baby to the bathroom to clean her and noticed that her "lips had turned blue and she was unresponsive."
Divband told detectives that he tried to save the child and yelled at his wife to call emergency services.
Earlier, in online documents, he stated that he had studied computer science in college before forging a career in early-childhood education. "Not a stereotypical vocation for a middle-eastern guy," he wrote on the day care's website, "but one where I have truly grown and learned about my talents."
Millie was taken by ambulance to a hospital.
Divband's wife called one of Millie's parents. "I'm sorry for interrupting you," Sadia Hameed told her, according to state regulators. "I don't want to alarm you, but [Millie] is on the way to the hospital. We had to call the paramedics, and Kia is escorting her there in the ambulance."
At the hospital, the baby was found to have bleeding in her skull and rib fractures, police records show. She was alive but unresponsive, and was flown by helicopter to Children's National Medical Centre, where tests showed more injuries.
Detectives spoke with Divband and his wife that day. He volunteered to show them the area where Millie allegedly vomited. A detective looked into a trash can where she "viewed multiple wipes with what looked like blood on them." Divband later would say that Millie had not bled, the court files show.
On April 22, with Millie still hospitalised, detectives returned to the day care with a search warrant. The trash can that had held the bloody wipes had been emptied and placed outside. Inside the day care, blood was found in several places, including the stroller, detectives wrote. In their affidavit, detectives described how Millie's name had been removed from the bin that held her belongings, even though she was still alive, and even though the name of a different child, who had left Little Dreamers weeks earlier, was still on that child's bin.
Millie was pronounced dead on April 23. According to Children's Hospital records, her extensive injuries were "not consistent with a choking/aspiration event, as described by Kia, and are most consistent with repeated incidents of physical abuse," the detectives wrote.
McGann, Divband's lawyer, said in court that the injuries in the police charging documents indicate a "horrific situation." But, he added, "what I don't see in the statement of charges, I think, is any sort of overwhelming evidence that it is this defendant who caused these injuries."
The family child-care provider's certificate of registration was issued July 31, 2015, after an initial inspection, with the next state inspection not due until July 31, said Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Education, which oversees the registration.
Two neighbours described Divband as friendly and pleasant.
A third person in the neighbourhood, Katrina Sten, said she was in town staying with relatives, as she was last northern summer when she met Divband outside his home. He was with his wife and their young child, handing out fliers for a day-care business he said he was starting.
"He just seemed like a dad who wanted to stay home with his kids," Sten said. "Your everyday soccer dad, friendly, normal. He had a smile on his face."