Gary Sisk

The foster mother of a 2-year-old Catoosa County girl who died from head injuries on New Year’s Day told authorities the child fell down twice, including a fall down stairs.

Catoosa County sheriff Gary Sisk declined Thursday morning to comment on how the child, Sahara Palmer, came about the injuries.

But the initial incident report shows that the foster mother claimed Sahara fell down stairs and then later fell against a piece of furniture. Both falls occurred on Sunday, Dec. 29.

The child was taken to T.C. Thompson Children’s Hospital in Chattanooga, Tenn. The child died New Year’s Day after being taken off life support.

According the report, the foster mother stated the girl was playing with a ball at the top of the stairs around 3 p.m. She said the girl lost control of the ball and fell down the stairs while trying to retrieve it.

“She (the foster mother) stated the infant then slid down the stairs on her rear and bumped her head on the floor,” sheriff’s deputy Todd Pitts wrote in his report. “She stated the child began crying, but then stopped.”

The foster mother went on to tell police that between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., Sahara’s brother told the couple that the girl had fallen again and hit her head. The foster mother said the brother claimed Sahara had fallen and struck her head on a wooden wardrobe case, reports show.

Attempts to speak with the foster mother and her husband were unsuccessful Thursday afternoon. No one answered the door of their house in The Meadows, a Ringgold subdivision.

Investigators are hoping to learn more about the extent of the child’s injuries following an autopsy that was slated to be conducted today.

“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 Thursday morning. “The GBI is also investigating the case, and we’re sparing no resources. 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,” he explained. “We’re trying to determine what took place, and we’ll do our best to find the answers.”

The sheriff’s office was notified of the situation by the hospital medical staff.

Deputy Potts was dispatched to the hospital just before 5 a.m. Monday while the child was in surgery, after a hospital worker informed the office of a possible child abuse case, reports show.

The foster mother further told police that after the victim’s brother notified her that the girl had fallen a second time, she went into the room and found her unresponsive.

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

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 New Year’s Day, 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.”