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Nine-year-old girl 'died after being forced to run for three hours'

One of the women charged with schoolgirl Savannah Hardin’s murder is now in hospital after giving birth.

Savannah Hardin
Savannah Hardin
Image: AP Photo/Etowah County Sheriffs Office

TWO WOMEN HAVE been charged with murder following the death of a nine-year-old girl who was allegedly forced to run for three hours – in punishment for eating a chocolate bar.

Severely dehydrated Savannah Hardin had a seizure and died days later, her death ruled a homicide.

Her grandmother and stepmother who police say meted out the punishment are now facing murder charges in Alabama. Stepmother Jessica Mae Hardin, 27, is currently under guard in hospital after giving birth to another child on Thursday.

Witnesses told deputies that Savannah was told to run and not allowed to stop for three hours on Friday, an Etowah County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman said. Jessica Mae Hardin called police at 6.45 pm, telling them that Savannah was having a seizure and was unresponsive.

Neighbor Rodger Simpson said he saw a little girl running at around 4 pm, but didn’t see anybody chasing or coercing her.

“I saw her running down there, that’s what I told the detectives,” Simpson said from his home on a hill overlooking the Hardins. “But I don’t see how that would kill her.”

Authorities are still trying to determine whether Savannah was forced to run by physical coercion or by verbal commands. Deputies were told the girl was forced to run after lying to her grandmother, 46-year-old Joyce Hardin Garrard, about having eaten the candy, sheriff’s office spokeswoman Natalie Barton said.

Homicide

Savannah Hardin died Monday at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, according to a news release from the sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s release says the autopsy report showed the girl was extremely dehydrated and had a very low sodium level. A state pathologist ruled it a homicide.

Gail Denny and her husband Phil, live just up a dirt road from the home. They’ve known the family since they moved to the area in northeastern Alabama seven years ago.

The Denny’s say they were used to seeing Savannah and other neighborhood children out waiting on the school bus in the morning. Gayle said her grandson had a crush on Savannah.

“My grandson asked her to be his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day, and she said ‘yes,’” Gail said before dissolving into tears.

The trailer where Savannah lived with her father, Robert Hardin, and stepmother was surrounded by a wooden fence, playground equipment and toys. Neighbours say they never saw children playing in the yard.

Denny had brought a candle to the Hardin property and lit it beside a stuffed animal surrounded by roses.

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