Foster mother charged with murder, multiple felonies in toddler’s death

GARY, Ind. --  A foster mother has been charged with murder and multiple felonies including aggravated battery after a toddler in her care died, the Gary Police Department announced Saturday.

According to police, officers responded to a call on May 4 and found the 20-month-old girl unresponsive. She was pronounced dead on the scene by the Lake County Coroner's office. Her foster mother, 32-year-old Jamila S. Hodge, was charged in connection with her death after an investigation, police said Saturday, and she is now in custody.

Prior to the charges being filed, the girl's mother told WGN she believed her daughter died under suspicious circumstances. Angela Salinas said her daughter Emma was just a few months shy of her second birthday when she died.

“It’s the worst feeling in the world to lose a baby, to never hold her and kiss her; it’s very hard,” Salinas said. “She was always playing with her brothers and sisters, and now I don’t have anything – just pictures."

Pictures show a toddler with her toys -- playing with blocks and holding the phone. Whether holding a sippy cup or simply bundled up, she was always a princess in pink, her mother said.

"She was full of joy. She just started talking, she said ‘mamma and dada,’” Salinas said.

Salinas said she moved Emma and her other three children from California back home to Chicago a year and a half ago. She says she spent a weekend with her father in Hammond, IN, and during that time the two had an argument that ended with police arresting her.

“The cops were involved and they took me away for a minute; I proved everything wrong, and they had taken my kids away and made a case out of nothing," Salinas said.

She says Lake County Chid Services placed the children in the foster home in Gary, IN while she worked out her legal issues. Salinas says she visited the children the day before Emma died – and Emma appeared to have a fever, and showed some bruises and scratches.

“Something very bad happened, and they’re not giving me any answers to my questions," Salinas said.

The Lake County Medical Examiner said previously that they expect to release results of an autopsy on the toddler Monday.

Police are asking anyone with information to contact the Lake County/Gary Metro Homicide Unit at 219-755-3855 or the Crime Tip Line at 866-CRIME-GP.