Police: Victim ‘lived in hell’

GREENFIELD — Zoey Wagoner might have already been dead when her father pushed her in a stroller on his way to get a soda at a Greenfield gas station Thursday morning, an hour before a baby sitter called 911 to report the 1-year-old wasn’t breathing.

Hancock County prosecutors filed murder and neglect charges Monday against Zoey Wagoner’s parents, Matthew and Jessica Wagoner, who had been in police custody since Friday. The couple will remain in the Hancock County Jail until an initial hearing, which is scheduled for this morning.

Charging documents reveal more information about the hours leading up to the child’s death and the injuries she suffered.

The toddler, found dead in her home in the 500 block of Wood Street in Greenfield on Thursday morning, sustained multiple blunt-force trauma injuries, including lacerations to her liver, court documents state.

A baby sitter called 911 around 9:30 a.m., saying the child was blue and unresponsive.

That was an hour after Matthew Wagoner had taken her in the stroller to a nearby gas station, bought a soda and returned to the house. His path took him past Hancock Regional Hospital, but he walked by without stopping to seek medical help even though he knew something was wrong with his daughter, court documents state.

“Matthew stated her hands and feet were cold, but the rest of her body was OK,” charging documents state.

Zoey never regained consciousness after emergency responders arrived at her home; she was pronounced dead at Hancock Regional Hospital.

The baby’s parents pointed to a number of possible causes for her injuries, noting the child “(fell) all of the time” because she was just learning to walk and had fallen out of bed the morning she died, charging documents state. Police said the injuries were inconsistent with minor bumps and falls but could have been caused by someone stomping on the child.

And although Zoey was pronounced dead around 10 a.m. Thursday, investigators believe the abuse that caused her death likely occurred hours earlier.

Text messages between the Wagoners indicate they knew their daughter was injured, but they failed to seek medical attention as her condition declined, citing fears the Department of Child Services would be called, court documents state.

During separate interviews with police, Matthew and Jessica Wagoner pointed fingers at each other when questioned about who might have hurt the little girl, and their stories changed several times, police said.

Jessica Wagoner told police her husband has a temper, and that DCS showed up at their door regularly because of her husband, who faces child molestation charges in Henry County.

Zoey was one of three children living in the home on Wood Street, court documents state.

Jessica Wagoner said her husband never hit the children, then later said she did not trust him to be alone with Zoey.

She told police Thursday was the only day Matthew Wagoner had been left alone with the baby for an extended period.

Matthew Wagoner told police it was his wife who was aggressive with Zoey.

He told police she often hit the child, slapped her with a bottle and held a hand over her mouth and nose when she cried. He said he watched his wife punch Zoey in the stomach on at least one occasion, court documents said.

“The honest to God truth, Jessica beat … that little girl all the time,” Matthew Wagoner told police.

Zoey had swelling, scrapes and bruising all over her body as well as internal injuries, court documents state. Some injuries occurred during the hours leading up to her death, and some were weeks old, medical reports showed.

She had a broken arm that had healed over 4 to 6 weeks but was never treated, court documents said.

After examining the medical reports, police pointed to a pattern of abuse, telling Jessica and Matthew Wagoner their daughter “had lived in hell for a year,” court documents state.

Greenfield police officers worked over the weekend, gathering evidence and interviewing people who might have seen Zoey in the hours leading up to her death.

Neighbors set up a makeshift memorial in front of the house where the child lived. Motorists passing the home Monday slowed down to see the balloons, stuffed animals and other trinkets left on the doorstep in Zoey’s memory.

One of the police officers who worked the case left behind a vase of yellow flowers.

Chief John Jester said the investigation has been difficult on everyone.

“Any time there is a baby involved, it’s just hard,” Jester said. “This kid could have grown up to be an amazing doctor or something, and we’ll just never know. She lived her entire life in just one year, and that’s a tragedy.”

Pull Quote

“She lived her entire life is just one year, and that’s a tragedy,”

-Greenfield Police Chief John Jester

Author photo
Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.