Mid-Missouri woman helps family cope after toddler dies

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CENTRALIA - A woman from mid-Missouri is doing everything she can to help a family in Texas who's toddler was killed in Florida. 

According to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, deputies arrested 26-year-old Shannon Short and her boyfriend, 26-year-old Christian Thompson, in Davenport, Florida Thursday in the death of the woman’s 2-year-old son, Harley Hiatt Jr.

The Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Harley died from blunt force trauma. He died last Tuesday after deputies say he suffered months of abuse.

Ashley Evans, of Centralia, said she’s known Shannon and Harley’s biological father, Harley Hiatt, for 16 years. She said they were on the same traveling sales crew selling an all-natural purpose cleaner. 

Evans is also Harley's godmother. Evans and Harley’s half-sister, Haley Hiatt from Houston, Texas, started a GoFundMe page to help cover funeral and travel expenses. The family is trying to bury Harley’s body in Houston.

Evans said, at first, she was told the baby died because he had a seizure from an eye infection. 

“We were completely lied to,” Evans said.  

After she found out what really happened, she said she broke down. 

“You never really think that someone could do that to their child,” she said.  

Evans has two children of her own — one close to Harley’s age. 

“The next day, I like sat and watched her playing and all I could think was 'how can someone tear up a baby like that and hurt a baby like that?,'” she said. 

She said Short is not a mother. 

“My child’s two,” she said. “I don’t spank her. I redirect her and I teach her and that’s what we’re supposed to do as mothers. In my opinion, she’s not a mother. She’s a carrier. She carried that child. That’s it. She’s not a mother. A mother is supposed to protect her child. She did not protect Harley.”  

On Facebook, Haley Hiatt mourned her little brother's death and wrote:

"You were so beautiful and you didn't deserve what happened to you. After hearing the horrific past two weeks you've encountered, I will never be the same." 

"When you hear what this precious baby boy was put through, it's sickening,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said in a release. “His mother knew about the abuse, allowed it, and continued to leave him in the care of his abuser. She and her boyfriend even joked about it. The whole thing is heartbreaking, and I don't think it's possible for me to be more disgusted by their actions." 

Short called 911 after Harley became unresponsive, but it was too late. Harley passed away a few hours later. The medical examiner said Harley would have survived if medical treatment had been sought the day before. 

According to the medical examiner's report, Harley had visible bruising on his face and a rash on his left arm and leg. 

Short said the marks were from July 27 when she left her son in the hands of her boyfriend while she was at work. 

Judd said Short failed to care for her child’s injuries because she was afraid that child services would be called. 

Short has been charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child, negligent child abuse with great bodily harm, child abuse, failure to report child abuse, possession of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia.

Thompson faces charges of first-degree murder, aggravated manslaughter of a child, aggravated child abuse, negligent child abuse, possession of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia. 

According to the news release, they both have criminal histories.