Girl Forced To Run For Three Hours Dies, Two Charged In Case

ATTALLA, Ala. (AP) -- Roger Simpson said he looked down the road and saw a little girl running outside her home but didn't give it another thought. Police, however, said the man witnessed a murder in progress.

Authorities say 9-year-old Savannah Hardin died after being forced to run for three hours as punishment for having lied to her grandmother about eating candy bars. Severely dehydrated, the girl had a seizure and died days later. Now, her grandmother and stepmother who police say meted out the punishment were taken to jail Wednesday and face murder charges.

Witnesses told deputies Savannah was told to run and not allowed to stop for three hours on Friday, an Etowah County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman said. The girl's stepmother, 27-year-old Jessica Mae Hardin, called police at 6:45 p.m., telling them Savannah was having a seizure and was unresponsive.

Simpson said he saw a little girl running at around 4 p.m., but didn't see anybody chasing or coercing her.

"I saw her running down there, that's what I told the detectives," Simpson said from his home on a hill overlooking the Hardins. "But I don't see how that would kill her."

Authorities are still trying to determine whether Savannah was forced to run by physical coercion or by verbal commands. Deputies were told the girl was made to run after lying to her grandmother, 46-year-old Joyce Hardin Garrard, about having eaten the candy, sheriff's office spokeswoman Natalie Barton said.

Savannah Hardin died Monday at Children's Hospital in Birmingham, according to a news release from the sheriff's office. The sheriff's release said an autopsy report showed the girl was extremely dehydrated and had a very low sodium level. A state pathologist ruled it a homicide.

The sheriff's office received calls from concerned citizens who witnessed the girl running. No other details were released, but an official with the local volunteer fire department said rescuers thought something seemed odd when they responded to a call about the child.

"One of the ones who were down there said he didn't feel like everything was right," said Ruby Ward, vice president of the Mountainboro Volunteer Fire Department.

Gail Denny and her husband Phil, live just up a dirt road from the home. They've known the family since they moved to the area in northeastern Alabama seven years ago.

The couple said they were used to seeing Savannah and other neighborhood children out waiting on the school bus in the morning. Gail Denny said her grandson had a crush on Savannah.

"My grandson asked her to be his girlfriend on Valentine's Day, and she said `yes,'" she said before dissolving into tears. She left a candle and stuffed animal outside the girl's home Wednesday night, saying a prayer as she paused beside the road.

The trailer where Savannah lived was surrounded by a wooden fence, playground equipment and toys. Neighbors say they never saw children playing in the yard.

They told The Associated Press that Garrard owned a lot of property along the road and much of her family lived in homes on that property.

"It seems like a very happy extended family around here," Denny said. "There are mothers, grandmothers, kids. It sounds like a punishment that got out of hand."

Garrard and Jessica Mae Hardin are being held in the Etowah County Detention Center, each on a $500,000 cash bond.

Court records show that Robert Hardin filed for divorce in August of 2010. In his complaint, he asserted his wife was bi-polar and had alcoholic tendencies. He accused her previously of having run off with the couple's own child. In her response, Jessica denied all of Robert's allegations.

Five months after filing for divorce, the two asked a judge to dismiss their case.

Savannah Hardin was a third-grader at Carlisle Elementary School. Superintendent Alan Cosby said her desk had been turned into a makeshift memorial where her classmates could leave notes and mementos. He said counselors and social workers were made available for students.

"This is obviously a very tragic, devastating, heartbreaking situation," Cosby said. "Nothing like this has ever happened before."

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  • by Tybo Location: Grimesland on Feb 24, 2012 at 05:48 PM
    This is VERY sad . how can they make someone run that long. . You can't make me.? I want to know if they attached her to a self propelled device .like a car. That. is way too far. and I was brought up with a tanned hide...Hope they get what's supposed to be coming to them.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Mar 1, 2012 at 10:45 AM in reply to Tybo
      Why are you sensationalizing the situation... strapped to the car? They had a witness that just said he saw the girl running alone. They also need to clarify "forced"
  • by Sarah Location: Goldsboro on Feb 24, 2012 at 04:57 PM
    I bet Mom/step and grandmom are about 300 lbs each. EATTING HER CANDY!! What a Creep!! God has an angel.. that probably could not take another day on earth with those women.. and the devil is waiting for the Lard butts!
  • by outraged on Feb 24, 2012 at 04:28 PM
    This is sad she looks like a sweet child and she died cause she lied about some candy really i agree maybe she should have been punished for lying cause lying is wrong but to make her run for three hours this is crazy they should make these two run for three hours this really makes me sick but now they have to live with what they did and hopefully pay with life in prison with no chance of parole.
  • by Pat Location: NC on Feb 24, 2012 at 03:57 PM
    They need to be made to run until they die. Let them see how it feels. an eye for an eye as the old testament states.
  • by Me Location: Creswell on Feb 24, 2012 at 02:44 PM
    They should both be hung!!!!
  • by suzy on Feb 24, 2012 at 10:07 AM
    what a sweet looking little girl. what kind of people would hurt her? I hope they get what the deserves. make them run. they could afford to lose some weight from what I seen of them on TV.
    • reply
      by What Kind Of People? on Feb 24, 2012 at 02:26 PM in reply to suzy
      The same kind that raise a pitbull to attack LEOs.
  • by valarie Location: nc on Feb 23, 2012 at 06:12 PM
    im sick about this, this is so stupid and crazy. Most grandmoms love spoiling their grandchildren and treating them to a candy bar or ice cream ,i see so many grandparents with their grand kids all the time and they appear to really enjoy them. so sad. people like these folks an eye for an eye is best suited for them.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Feb 24, 2012 at 12:35 PM in reply to valarie
      This makes me physically sick....Evidently this granny was absent the day they taught spoiling at Grandparents' School. My 2 granddaughters pretty much rule the roost when they come to Nana's house, as it should be!
  • by aww Location: enc on Feb 23, 2012 at 04:56 PM
    There are some sick people in this world.I just don't understand how cruel people can be to little ones,so sad!!!
  • by Anonymous on Feb 23, 2012 at 03:48 PM
    This poor little girl. She suffered while on earth but I know she is MUCH better off in heaven. No more pain sweet girl. As for the adults responsible, I hope you live a miserable life for doing this to this poor child. I hope you are treated in jail the way you treated this child.
    • reply
      by aww on Feb 23, 2012 at 04:56 PM in reply to
      YES I hope so too!!!
    • reply
      by outraged on Feb 24, 2012 at 04:29 PM in reply to
      Amen this is sad.
  • by Anonymous on Feb 23, 2012 at 03:45 PM
    Typical south.
    • reply
      by REM on Feb 23, 2012 at 05:27 PM in reply to
      ^typical snooty, rude north
      • reply
        by sue on Feb 23, 2012 at 06:24 PM in reply to REM
        man there are some real jerks on this page. and you are one. always being a jerk about south & north. Get a real lift jerk.
        • reply
          by Anonymous on Feb 23, 2012 at 07:52 PM in reply to sue
        • reply
          by REM on Feb 24, 2012 at 04:32 AM in reply to sue
          LOL, are you serious? I replied to the idiot who was stereotyping the south. Ever hear of sarcasm?
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Feb 23, 2012 at 06:19 PM in reply to
      Why don't you leave the south then? I hate transplanted yankees living around here bashing the south.
    • reply
      by outraged on Feb 24, 2012 at 04:32 PM in reply to
      No this is not typical south things like this does not only happen in the south that is a very dumb and ignorant thing to say., i am proud to be from the south.
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