Tamera Wooden, the 4-year-old girl found dead in her mother's apartment over the weekend, died of deprivation of food and water - an unusual scenario for a child her age, even among cases of child fatalities that lead to criminal charges, officials said.
"This is kind of rare, from my experience," said Officer Chris Amos, a police spokesman. "Usually when it happens, they're infants."
Betty Wade Coyle, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Hampton Roads, also said such deaths are more common with younger, crib-bound children who can't talk about what's happening.
More than three-quarters of child abuse or neglect deaths overall involve children 3 or younger, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Coyle also noted that deaths from lack of nutrition were on the rise. "We're seeing more of these, which is just horrifying," she said.
Coyle said she does not think there is a simple answer for the growing numbers. "I think it's stress. I think it's economics. I think it's lack of community resources," she said.
Police found Tamera dead Sunday afternoon in her home in the 300 block of E. Little Creek Road. They began searching for her after her mother called them about 3 p.m. to report her daughter missing, police said.
They declined to release further details.
The state medical examiner's office concluded Tuesday that Tamera died from "deprivation of food and water," said Donna Price, an office spokeswoman.
The girl's mother, Jathiya Khabeer Wooden, 26, and her boyfriend, Troy Allen Edwards, 29, remained in the Norfolk City Jail without bail on murder and felony neglect charges after their arraignment Tuesday in Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Nov. 25, according to court records.
Wooden's care of Tamera had raised concerns for the grandmother of two of her other children, who said she reported her misgivings to Social Services. Doris Conner of New Church on the Eastern Shore said Tuesday that she received a letter promising an investigation.
Conner, who said her son had two children with Wooden, said she had come to love Tamera like one of her own grandchildren.
"She was sweet. She was cute. She was everything," she said.
When Wooden and her son split up, he took their two children, now toddlers, to live with him, Conner said. Conner said she tried to convince Wooden to let Tamera live with her on the Eastern Shore.
Jan Callaghan, spokeswoman for the Norfolk Department of Human Services, said Tuesday evening that she could not publicly discuss any case or investigation.
Jathiya Wooden, who is unemployed, was appointed a lawyer Tuesday. Edwards said he would hire his own.