“Now we lay her down to sleep.
We pray the Lord her soul to keep.
We pray the bruises that hurt her skin
were healed by kisses from angels when
her soul hovered over an Arizona town,
her body dead in a hospital gown.
Thank You, Lord, for her two years
beginning with joy, ending with tears.
We wish we could have had more time
to love her longer, to prevent this crime.
As we say our prayers in silence
please show us a way to end this violence,
and keep our angel close to You
until You’re ready for our souls, too.”
~ L. Schraad
On September 20th, 2015, the world became much brighter with the birth of a beautiful brown-eyed baby girl. She was named Gabriella, and she spent eight hundred and forty-eight days on earth. She was born on a Sunday and died on a Sunday, and brought unconditional love and joy to those around her in the time in between.
However, her light was cruelly snuffed out – allegedly by those who were supposed to care for her. Now, loved ones and strangers alike are fighting for justice for the precious child who cannot fight for herself.
The last time Britney Hartman saw her niece was just a few months after her first birthday. The family gathered at Britney’s father’s house for Christmas, and was blessed with the time to play with Gabriella, along with interacting with the baby’s parents, Andrew LaMorie and Brittany Rodriquez.
Britney was playing with Gabriella on the bed, watching the one-year-old babble and play with her feet. At one point, the family dog jumped up on the bed, and the infant burst into giggles.
“She was so happy,” Britney recalls. “The whole family seemed normal. It was actually probably my favorite visit I’ve had.”
Britney was Rodriquez’s step-sister. When the girls were children, Rodriquez’s mother married Britney’s father.
“I believe she was about six or eight at the time,” Britney remembers of Rodriquez. “She was my favorite out of all the step-family members. I thought if anyone could make something of themselves, it would be her. She wanted to be a nurse.”
According to Britney, Rodriquez left home as soon as she was old enough and moved in with LaMorie and his mother. The couple soon gave birth to their firstborn, and in 2015 gave birth to Gabriella. Britney recalls that nothing seemed out of the ordinary with either child, and that the family appeared to be happy and healthy.
“About a year after she was born, they moved to Arizona,” Brittany states. “That was the last time I saw them. My relationship with her mother and her mother’s mother prevented me from being a very good aunt, and I will regret that the rest of my life.”
By analyzing police reports, a shocking portrait is painted of a winter night in Lake Havasu City that went terribly, terribly wrong.
The evening of January 11th, 2018, two baby sisters fought over a toy. Their dad put his youngest daughter in a closet for punishment, then resumed eating his steak dinner. He claimed when he didn’t hear any noises, he opened the closet door and found his daughter unconscious.
A woman identifying herself as the girl’s grandmother immediately dialed 911 shortly after 9:00 p.m.
“I think my granddaughter’s died,” the woman proclaimed.
After first responders arrived, they noticed that Gabriella was having difficulties breathing, her face and head were covered in bruises, and she was so emaciated that her ribs were showing.
Emergency responders took the child to Lake Havasu Medical Center, where she was then life flighted to University Medical Center of Las Vegas. LaMorie was arrested, and Gabriella courageously fought for her life for three days. She was ultimately taken off of life support on January 14th.
The coroner would find that while malnutrition was a contribution to her demise, Gabriella ultimately died from “blunt force head and neck trauma.” In addition, the little girl also had a brain bleed with contusions and intestinal trauma.
According to some rumors, Rodriquez wasn’t at her baby’s side as she took her last breaths.
“The fact that he was in jail and she would rather deal with him than her dying daughter just didn’t sit well with me,” Britney says.
Britney remembers the heart-wrenching call from her father she received in mid-January.
“I was upset I didn’t know sooner. I was worried I missed the funeral,” she recalls.
Gabriella’s tiny body was cremated, but no services were scheduled. According to Britney, half of the ashes were directed to go to LaMorie’s family, and the other half was to be given to Rodriquez’s mother so each side of the family could have private services on their own.
“Brittany’s mother kept all the ashes,” Britney alleges. “Last I heard, they were in the back of some stuff on a shelf. No funeral, no memorial, no distribution of ashes for anyone — his side or ours. None of us got to say goodbye.”
LaMorie and Rodriquez were indicted in the death of their daughter. Rodriquez was pregnant when she was arrested, and her newborn along with their oldest child are both reportedly in foster care. Whether they are with family members or not is unverified. The couple’s trial is set for November 5, 2019.
Gabby’s aunt Britney has made it her purpose to raise awareness about the murder of her niece, along with supporting other victims of child abuse. She says the members of her family are supporting their respective relative, but no one appears to be standing up for Gabby.
“Nobody was Team Gabby,” she angrily explains. “So I said I will stand up and be her voice. I opened up the Justice for Gabriella LaMorie page and started to try to grow it into not just justice for her, but for ANYONE seeking justice.”
Britney has also begun volunteering for groups in her area whose loved ones have gone missing, offering services such as bloodhounds free of charge by the blessings of donations.
“So far in the name of Gabby, we have successfully closed five cases and are working on ten cases currently,” she explains. “I promised Gabby the day she died that I would fight and get justice. I think I’ve found my calling.”
Britney is persistent in running the Facebook page for her niece, as well as advocating for other abused children including pursuing a petition in the case of Noah Tomlin, who was also only two years old when he was allegedly murdered by his mother.
“I want Gabby to be a movement,” she says. “I want people to see and make changes about the injustices in the world. I try to just share her – because she was amazing!”
Britney has not gone without backlash from others, however. She says that the LaMories and the Rodriquezes do not particularly support her activism, claiming that Gabriella’s aunt “didn’t even know her.”
“I have two issues with that,” Britney says. “One – I don’t need to know you to fight for justice for you. I do it all day long for others, and the Facebook page I created — all those people care and are fighting and yet they don’t know her. Two – I DID know her! I knew she was born. I saw pictures. I met her in person.”
The mission Britney has for her baby niece is evident in her never-ending fight for justice. When asked what she would say to Gabriella if she had the chance, she poignantly describes the love she has for the baby whose life was taken in such a cruel manner.
“I would tell Gabby that I’m so terribly sorry,” Britney begins. “I don’t know if maybe I could have done more when your mom and I were children. I don’t know if I should have tried harder to have her and ultimately you in my life. I just thought I had time. I thought once you were old enough to understand step family relationships maybe we could bond..but I was very wrong. We did not have enough time. And I’m sorry. I’m sorry you suffered. I’m sorry you didn’t feel the love you should have. I’m sorry I didn’t save you. I would have had I known, had I even had a suspicion…but I fight daily for you, Gabby. I love you and miss you and thank you for giving me your amazing light.”
“Angel ashes inside an urn
of a child for which we yearn.
The world here did not treat you well;
you brought love and it brought hell.
Colored bruises on your skin –
a testament to your parents’ sin.
Broken bones inside your frame
could not begin to describe your pain.
Dust you were and dust you went.
Your borrowed time on earth was spent.
Hopes and dreams – your future, too –
each one died along with you.
Angel ashes in a jar,
but your spirit flew beyond each star.
We’ll cherish your memories within
while we wonder who you might have been.”
~ L. Schraad