Four-year-old Alicia Morrow essentially froze to death in her caretaker’s frigid northeast Omaha home, an autopsy concluded this week.
In turn, the woman who was responsible for her, Chelsey Cook, 22, has been charged with child abuse resulting in death, Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said Friday.
Kleine said Alicia died Jan. 3 of hypothermia, which caused her heart, other organs and nervous system to shut down.
“There were several issues with the way the child was being taken care of,” Kleine said. Cook is “charged with child abuse resulting in death because of her failure to get medical attention when she knew the child was in distress.”
Under the charge — which carries a penalty of 20 years to life in prison — prosecutors have to show only that Cook intentionally abused Alicia, not that she meant to kill her.
Alicia’s body was found about 10 p.m. Jan. 5, wrapped in plastic in the basement of the house at 3025 Franklin St. Prior to amending the charges this week, Kleine had charged Cook with child abuse “because Cook didn’t seek medical attention for Alicia when the child was cold and barely breathing.”
Cook has said she was afraid to contact authorities because there was a warrant out for her arrest.
In December 2014, Cook had taken over care of Alicia after Alicia’s mother, Lakisha Morrow — on the brink of homelessness — signed a notarized document turning over the girl.
By the fall of 2015, the two had argued over who would get custody of Alicia. Chelsey Cook said the dispute was based in part on who would receive assistance payments from the state, according to a police report.
Alicia remained with Cook. By winter, Cook was not keeping the house warm, despite a report from Cook’s mother that she was paying for utilities for the recently renovated house.
Omaha police have described the house as “frigid.” The thermostat was set at 50 degrees. Cupboards were barren, save for two packages of ramen noodles. Fast-food wrappers and leftovers were found in the trash. Cook had Alicia and her own child sleep with little or no clothes on.
Cook told police that when she found Alicia early Jan. 3, the girl was unresponsive, blinking and barely breathing.
Instead of seeking help, Cook told police, she took out a Bible and began to pray over Alicia.
An hour and a half later, after wrapping the child in a blanket and rubbing her in an attempt to warm her, Cook told police, she realized that Alicia was dead. Worried that the child’s body would start to smell, authorities said, Cook covered Alicia with plastic, put her under the basement stairs and covered her with boards.
Two days later, Cook’s relatives found the body and called police.
At Alicia’s funeral Jan. 18, Lakisha Morrow and relatives wore T-shirts that read “Justice for Alicia Morrow.”
Lakisha Morrow has said she had been trying to get her child back. She has said other adults should have known about her daughter’s living situation and done something.
“I’m getting justice for Alicia,” Morrow said at the funeral. “My daughter was stolen from me. It’s like a piece of me is missing.”
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