A three-year-old St. Paul girl survived several days alone in an apartment with her dead mother, living off leftover food in the refrigerator.
Authorities do not suspect foul play in the death of Shanta Hamiel, a 22-year-old woman who was seven months pregnant with a baby boy when neighbors discovered her body Tuesday night.
Shanta was raising her three-year-old daughter Tremea by herself, but had made many friends at the Afton View Apartments in the Highwood Hills neighborhood in the southeast corner of the city.
One of those friends, Amanda Hammett, is the one who discovered Shanta's body Tuesday.
"She was lying on the floor next to her bed, and her daughter was full of blood, her daughter had blood all over her pajamas," Hammett told KARE 11.
Hammett believed Shanta had vomited blood, and little Tremea had been snuggling with mom totally unaware she was dead, let alone comprehend what death is.
"I believe throughout the days she was there Tremea just crawled up next to her mom and went to sleep."
Hammett said Shanta had struggled recently with severe nausea, and had been to her clinic in St. Paul and to the Emergency Room at Regions Hospital.
"The hospital gave her medication for her vomiting because she wasn't keeping anything down. She'd been on the phone telling the nurse she was throwing up blood," said Hammett.
But she said Shanta felt well enough last weekend to cook a big meal and to share it with Amanda's family, which lives one floor below.
"Friday night she cooked greens, cornbread and chicken," Hammett recalled. "She was trying to eat. She knew that she had to eat. She always made sure that Tremea ate, and everything was okay for Tremea."
Hammet said she became concerned when she didn't hear from Shanta all day Sunday. She said Shanta expected her phone service to be reconnected on Monday, and she was expecting a call from Shanta with her new phone number.
On Monday, Hammett and her boyfriend went upstairs to knock on Shanta's door.
"I got worried because she never fails to answer her door. She never leaves her lights on."
After several more attempts over the next two days, Amanda Hammett finally tried the door knob Tuesday night at 6:30. The door opened.
"The door was unlocked. Before, I never tried the door because I'm not one to just walk in her house."
She knew something was wrong when she saw Shanta and her daughter in the back bedroom, because normally they spent all of their time in the living room.
"I pulled on her leg and said 'Shanta! Shanta! What's wrong?' Tremea said 'Mommy wake up! Mommy wake up!' and I turned her over and I felt that she was cold."
"I just started screaming and I grabbed Tremea and came downstairs and grabbed the phone."
Hammett remembered the little girl had been taught never to go into the apartment building's hallway by herself. That may have kept her from running for help.
"Tremea said that her mom did tell her to come get me. But she was scared to leave the house," said Hammett.
With her home phone out of service, Shanta's only other option would be her cell phone. But, according to her friendds, Shanta was out of cell phone minutes.
The little girl said she'd been eating chicken and greens from the refrigerator, leftovers from the last big meal her mother cooked. She still doesn't realize mother's gone forever.
"She's so close to her mom, I mean it would probably scare her really bad," Hammett remarked. "She just assumed that her mom's sick. That's all she kept saying. 'My mommy's sick, my mommy's sick'."
Tremea was in good enough health Tuesday night to be released to her grandmother, Brenda Hamiel. She naturally has many unanswered questions as she sorts through her grief, but uppermost is, "How do you explain to a three-year-old child that her mom is gone forever?"
In fact, when we visited Brenda Hamiel's home Wednesday we found Tremea in good spirits, and focused on getting back into her home so she could get her Dora the Explorer video.
Amanda Hammett believes the loss of her good friend was totally preventable.
"She was a real caring person, she loved her daughter, she was really excited about the baby," Hammett said. "Everything was fine until this started. This shouldn't happen."
Hammett made sure the paramedics who arrived on the scene collected the medications Shanta was taking, in case that can shed any light on what precipitated her illness and death.
A spokesman for the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's office tells KARE 11 that the cause of death may not be know for weeks, but that the preliminary take on the "manner of death" is natural causes as opposed to homicide or suicide or accidental.
Toxicology test results are pending but St. Paul police found no signs of trauma, force or violence.
(Copyright 2008 by KARE11. All Rights Reserved.)