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Girl Found Strangled at Care Home in Lomita

Times Staff Writer

Homicide detectives are investigating the death of a 16-month-old girl who was strangled at an unlicensed day care home in Lomita, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s spokesman said Tuesday.

A preliminary investigation showed that Michele Heasley of Lomita was killed Monday afternoon, Deputy Eric Smith said. A spokeswoman in the county coroner’s office said an autopsy will be conducted this week.

Heasley died at Torrance Memorial Hospital Medical Center, where she was taken after a 19-year-old baby sitter called paramedics to report that the girl had stopped breathing.

Investigators said the woman told them that the infant was fine when she checked on her about 2 p.m., but had stopped breathing when she looked in on her again an hour later.

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Smith said the infant and six other children, ranging in age from 3 to 5, were being cared for at the private home where the 19-year-old woman and her family live.

Sheriff’s officials said they have no suspects in the case and declined to identify the baby sitter.

Not a Licensed Facility

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Social Services said the home, located on West 262nd Street at the foot of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and its occupants, Robert and Linda Zieger, are not licensed day care providers.

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Investigators from the Department of Social Services were sent to the home Monday to conduct an investigation, said Kathleen Norris, a spokeswoman for the agency. A state license is required for any facility that cares for children from more than one family, Norris said.

A man who answered the door at the Zieger home Tuesday afternoon refused to speak to a reporter, but neighbors said the couple lived with as many as seven children of their own at the two-story house in the middle-class neighborhood.

A neighbor said she did not know how many children were cared for at the home, but that cars frequently arrived to pick up or drop off youngsters.

“I would see people coming and going all the time,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified. “They were nice, well-dressed people. They looked like the kind who would be interested in taking care of their kids.”

Dennis Fresenius, a contractor who owns the home next to the Ziegers, said that children next door were unruly and would frequently crawl over a fence into his yard. Fresenius said that his neighbor turned and walked away when he tried to tell her to keep the children off his property.

Another neighbor said she once saw children from the home walking unattended several blocks away.

But a woman who lives across the street from the Zieger home said that she frequently saw the 19-year-old woman walking with children in the neighborhood. “She seemed to be very good with the kids,” said the woman, who asked not to be named.


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