Gary Sisk

An autopsy is scheduled today on a 2-year-old Catoosa County foster child who died early New Year’s Day after suffering severe head injuries.

Catoosa sheriff Gary Sisk said his office is working with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation on an investigation into the death of Sahara Palmer.

“The child’s body has been sent down for autopsy today, and there are a number of medical records that will have to be examined as part of this investigation,” Sisk said. “The GBI is also investigating the case, and we’re sparing no resources.”

The sheriff’s office was notified of the child’s injuries after she was taken to the emergency room at T.C. Thompson Children’s Hospital in Chattanooga, Tenn., early Monday morning, Dec. 30. The child died Wednesday, Jan. 1, about 1:30 a.m.

“We were notified by the medical staff at the hospital,” Sisk said. “The child was admitted during the late Sunday night, early Monday morning hours. Any time there’s an incident involving an injured child, we’re notified immediately by the hospital so that we can look into a case as soon as possible.”

Sahara was taken to the hospital by her foster parents, with whom she and her sibling had been living with since September.

Although the official cause of death has not been released pending an autopsy, early indications are that the child suffered head trauma, and was unable to recover.

Sisk said the investigation will now involve a review of the girl’s medical records leading up to and after she sustained her fatal injuries.

“In a case like this, we have a team involved, which includes our office, the GBI, the Department of Family and Children’s Services, and the district attorney’s office,” Sisk said. “We’re trying to determine what took place, and we’ll do our best to find the answers.”

At this time, there have been no charges filed against the foster parents.

Sisk declined to comment on the explanation given to his office by the foster parents regarding how the child came about such injuries.

The child’s biological mother, Jennifer Palmer, was notified of the situation and was at the hospital when the child was taken off life-support, reports show.

According to Sisk, Palmer was still involved in Sahara’s life, as well as the sibling, who also is being fostered by the family in question.

“The biological mother still had visitation with the children,” Sisk said. “The mother’s parental rights weren’t abolished, and she still saw the children.”

Although the children had been with the foster family since September, Sisk said they were also with the family for a previous stint.

“The children were placed with these foster parents by DFACS, and they had been with them on another occasion before coming to be with them again from September until now,” Sisk said. “It’s my understanding that the foster family hadn’t been fostering children for very long.”

With many questions still to be asked and interviews still to take place, Sisk said his office is waiting for more information regarding the child’s medical history.

“There are a number of medical records to look over,” Sisk said. “There’s the 72-hour window surrounding the child’s death as well as the weeks and months that lead up to he death.”

Some local news organizations have reported that Jennifer Palmer and neighbors saw signs of possible abuse on the children. The Catoosa County News has not spoken with the mother or any neighbors on the matter as of yet.

While a cloud of uncertainty surrounds the child’s death, Sisk said his staff has prioritized the investigation.

“Like I said, we’ve spared no resources, and we’ve had every available person on the case so that we can find answers as soon as possible,” he said. “We also want to be thorough. … The biggest difficulty in investigating a case like this is the fact that the victim is gone and can’t tell us what happened to them.”