Police: Greenfield baby sitter slapped 5-month-old

GREENFIELD — A Greenfield baby sitter was charged with neglect after police said a 5-month-old left in her care was slapped so hard a blood vessel in the baby’s eye ruptured and bruises were left across her face.

Terri VanAlst, 24, of Greenfield, was arrested Thursday after taking the child to the hospital, where doctors determined the redness, swelling and bruising on baby’s face could not have resulted from an accident, court records state. The baby girl had two long bruises on the left side of her face, and a blood vessel had burst in her left eye, police said.

VanAlst told police she recently left the three children she was caring for, including the baby, alone while she smoked a cigarette in the front yard of her home in the 800 block of North School Street in Greenfield, according to court documents.

From outside, VanAlst said, she heard a scream and ran back inside to find the baby, red-faced and crying, court records state. She told police she immediately took the baby to Hancock Regional Hospital. Staffers there opted to send the girl to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis for more specialized tests, court records state.

Doctors at Riley told police the injuries the baby suffered were intentional and appeared to have been caused by an adult hand hitting the child’s face, court documents state.

“My first impression was that the injury was caused by a hand,” Detective Sgt. Ron Chittum wrote in his police report. “There was an area to the left of the swollen eye that … resembled an adult-sized finger.”

VanAlst’s story about what happened to the little girl changed several times during police questioning and was different from the one she reportedly told the baby’s parents immediately after the child was hurt, court documents state.

The child’s parents told police that VanAlst called them to say another child dropped the baby, but VanAlst told police the baby might have hit her head on a coffee table or been sat on by another child, according to court documents.

When police told VanAlst the baby’s injuries were consistent with being slapped by an adult, she denied having touched the child. Whenever she feels like she’s about to lose her temper with the kids, she said, she goes outside to smoke for a few minutes, court documents state.

The child’s mother told police her daughter was in the early stages of teething and could get fussy when she’s hungry.

The baby is expected to make a full recovery, according to police.

Hancock County Jail records show VanAlst was still being held at press time. A defense attorney had not been appointed at press time, court records show.

The neglect charge VanAlst faces is a Level 5 felony, carrying a penalty of one to six year behind bars.

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