WISCASSET — The 4-year-old girl allegedly murdered last week by a 43-year-old Wiscasset woman showed signs of previous traumas, and suffered multiple severe injuries that included a fatal blow to her abdomen, court records show.

Shawna L. Gatto of Crickets Lane in Wiscasset is charged with the murder of Kendall Chick, who died of blunt-force trauma to the abdomen but also had serious injuries to her head, neck and limbs. Gatto, who made an initial appearance in Wiscasset Superior Court Friday morning, is being held at Two Bridges Regional Jail without bail.

Gatto was caring for Kendall in the home they shared with the girl’s grandfather, Stephen Hood, and two of Gatto’s grandchildren. Kendall had been placed there by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services in January, according to a police affidavit, although it was not clear why the state was involved or whether the girl was legally in the custody of the state when she died.

A DHHS spokeswoman refused to confirm or deny the agency’s involvement in the case, citing confidentiality laws.

Emergency personnel responded to 19 Crickets Lane on Dec. 8 after Gatto called 911 and reported that she found Kendall unresponsive in a bathtub a few moments after stepping away from the girl to get her a drink of chocolate milk. Kendall, who was cold to the touch and pale when EMTs arrived, was rushed to Mid Coast Hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Kendall had severe and extensive injuries visible when the first police officer, Wiscasset Sgt. Craig Worster, arrived on the scene, to a state police affidavit states.

Worster told state police that he believed Kendall’s skull had been fractured, there were lacerations on her head, neck and face, bruising around her eyes, under her nose, and on the side of her face and neck.

An autopsy later said she had suffered significant blunt-force trauma to her head and neck, in addition to her abdomen.

According to a police report and an application for a search warrant filed with the court, Gatto’s account of what happened did not align with the forensic evidence gathered from the trailer home where Gatto lived, or with the evidence found during Kendall’s autopsy.

Two of Gatto’s grandchildren also live in the home. One is also 4 years old and the other is 9 months old, police said.

It is state policy to give priority to family members when DHHS officials make decisions about placement for a child who is involved with the child welfare system, the department said. “As with all out-of-home placements, providers of care must meet basic health and safety requirements,” the DHHS website states.

Gatto told investigators that shortly before Kendall became unresponsive, the girl had vomited and had diarrhea. Gatto said she had placed Kendall in the bathtub to clean her up. Gatto said that Kendall then asked for a drink, so Gatto walked a short distance to the kitchen, but when she returned Kendall was unresponsive and she called 911. Lincoln County dispatchers received Gatto’s call for help at 4:30 p.m.

“She was fine like 10 minutes ago,” Gatto said to the dispatcher during the emergency call, the police report said.

Four minutes later at 4:34 p.m., Gatto texted her daughter-in-law, who works at Mid Coast Hospital in an unidentified capacity, where Kendall was also transported.

“U need to get home now I think Kendall is dead,” the text message read, police said.

The daughter-in-law later texted Gatto back, apparently after seeing Kendall at the hospital.

“I’ve never seen something so bad in my life,” the daughter-in-law wrote to Gatto, police said. “Did she hit her head off something? That was horrible.”

Police said Gatto was the only one who was alone with Kendall that day, and that neither Hood nor Gatto’s adult son, Joshua, who had stopped by the house that day, had any reason to hurt the girl.

But Gatto’s account is contradicted by autopsy results that showed Kendall had suffered blunt-force trauma to her abdomen resulting in lacerations to her pancreas and parts of her digestive tract, according to a report by Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Mark Flomenbaum that is described in the police reports. The blow to the abdomen occurred between one and 12 hours before she died, court records state.

In addition to the abdominal injuries, Kendall suffered multiple injuries of varying age to her head, neck and limbs, indicating she suffered trauma in the past. A further microscopic examination of her thymus gland showed signs of chronic physiological stress. Kendall also had a cut on her chin that seemed to be fresh, but had not bled, the report said.

There also was physical evidence in the home that seemed to point to prior instances of violence against the girl. Evidence technicians found red-brown stains that presumptively tested positive for blood on sheets of a bunk bed where Kendall slept and on the bathtub where Kendall had been placed near the time of her death. Technicians also documented blood near a round indentation in a wall in Kendall’s bedroom that seemed to correspond with the size of Kendall’s head.

Blood also was found on paper towels in a wastebasket in the bathroom and on a towel in a laundry hamper in the kitchen. A sponge found in the bathtub also tested positive for blood.

“In sum, there is physical evidence present indicative of trauma and subsequent cleanup of what has tested presumptive positive for blood,” Maine State Police Detective Jonathan Heimbach wrote.

Hood, who left for work at about 6 a.m. and returned about 3:30 p.m. that day, told police that his granddaughter did not greet him when he arrived, which was unusual. In explaining the girl’s absence, Gatto told Hood that Kendall had made a mess of herself and was in a time-out in the bathtub. Hood told investigators the next time he saw Kendall was after Gatto called him into the bathroom and reported that the girl was unresponsive.

Gatto has no criminal record in Maine, according to the State Bureau of Identification. Her next court date has not been set yet.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MattByrnePPH

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