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Florida mother charged after 6-year-old allegedly beats baby sister to death

A mother left her three young children in a minivan for more than half an hour while she went into a cellphone repair shop, authorities said. It was a recipe for trouble — but what happened while she was away was unimaginable.

The woman’s 6-year-old son beat his 13-day-old sister to death to stop her crying, authorities said, as another sibling, age 3, looked on.

It was “one of the worst things that I’ve ever seen,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said at a news conference Thursday.

The mother, 62-year-old Kathleen Marie Steele, was charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child, a sheriff’s spokesman said Friday.

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Police said the boy told them that he took his young sister out of her car seat after she wouldn’t stop crying. He began flipping her, dropping her on the van’s floor, slamming her head against the ceiling and striking her in the face, causing “severe, severe trauma to the baby’s head and face,” Gualtieri said. The incident occurred Monday.

Authorities said all three children are considered to be victims of child abuse. The 6-year-old will not be charged with any crime and is in therapeutic foster care, along with his 3-year-old brother.

The sheriff said the 6-year-old tried to tell his mother about the condition of his sister, whom he had placed back in the car seat before the mother returned. Steele disregarded the boy’s admission, even though he told his mother it was “serious,” Gualtieri said.

The sheriff said the mother drove to another business before going home. At least two hours had passed from the time Steele left the cellphone repair shop to the time the family arrived home.

Only then, the sheriff said, did the mother notice the situation and call a neighbor – a nurse – for help. The neighbor helped perform CPR as emergency services were contacted.

An ambulance took the infant girl to the St. Petersburg General Hospital, where she was pronounced dead, according to law enforcement.

“By numerous witness accounts, Kathleen Steele was an inattentive parent,” Gualtieri said, adding that both brothers were largely unsupervised and had “very serious behavioral issues.”

Steele conceived all three children through artificial insemination, in two cases after her husband’s death, using his frozen sperm, the sheriff said. The baby, Kathleen Bridget Steele, was born in St. Petersburg on July 26.

Steele works for Raymond James & Associates as a financial broker, records indicate. The firm said it could not confirm her status.

Florida’s Department of Child Services Secretary Mike Carroll said in a statement on Friday that his agency is participating in the investigation and was already investigating Steele for an incident that occurred shortly before the infant’s death, in which Steele reportedly tripped on a staircase and dropped the child, injuring her head.

Steele is being held on $100,000 bond.

In 2009, Steele and her husband, Philip Steele, appeared on a reality TV show called “I’m pregnant and …” The show, now canceled, featured pregnant women in nontraditional situations such as imprisonment, homelessness, addiction and, in Steele’s case, approaching retirement age.

Neuhaus is a special correspondent.

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