When Angel Lancaster and her wife, Meagan, were approached in May about adopting Angel’s 4-month-old niece, she said, the couple was ecstatic.
But their joy turned to shock and sadness within the next few weeks — first when the baby’s mother backed out of the adoption, and then when the child died from head trauma days later.
Now the baby’s mother, Hannah Singleton, remains in the Cleburne County Jail with no bond set, charged with capital murder in her daughter’s death. Singleton pleaded not guilty in October to the charge.
Lancaster said she was devastated that the little girl, who was healthy and happy despite her premature birth, had her life ripped away in an instant.
“A baby lost her life after she fought for months in a hospital to survive,” Lancaster said.
‘It was hard to hear’
Lancaster said Singleton, her paternal half-sister, called her in early May and told her she had an important question to ask her and her wife.
Lancaster said the three met May 5 in a parking lot of the Jack’s in Pell City. It was there, she said, that Hannah popped the question: Would Lancaster and her wife adopt her 4-month-old daughter, Luna? According to Lancaster, Luna had recently come home from the hospital after spending three months in the intensive care unit.
“She said she didn’t feel like she could give her the care she needed,” Lancaster said.
Shortly after, Lancaster said, she met with a lawyer to begin adoption proceedings.
Lancaster said she spent most of the next day with her half-sister and Luna in Birmingham while Luna underwent eye exams. By the end of the day, Lancaster said, Hannah changed her mind.
“It was a little heartbreaking,” Lancaster said. “It was hard to hear.”
Amber Goray, Singleton’s maternal half-sister, said Singleton had considered letting Lancaster adopt Luna, but she and their mother, Christine Jackson, talked her out of it.
“She was trying to make the right decision for Luna,” Jackson said.
According to Jackson, Singleton was considering the adoption because Lancaster could provide Luna with better health insurance and Singleton and Luna could still have a relationship.
At the hospital
On May 14, Lancaster said, she received a frantic text from Singleton, who said Luna had been admitted to Regional Medical Center in Anniston. She said Singleton also asked her to drive the child’s father, who was reenlisting in the military, from Bessemer to the hospital. After they arrived, Lancaster said the doctors told her Luna had sustained head and neck injuries.
“The doctors told us there was no natural way the damages could have occurred,” Lancaster said.
Lancaster said she and Meagan got to Children’s Hospital in Birmingham in about an hour, while Singleton and the baby’s father, Zack Jones, arrived nearly two hours later.
Lancaster said doctors at Children’s told her and Meagan that Luna had been without oxygen for a while and that she was “essentially brain dead.”
Goray and Jackson said Singleton had been unable to reach them while Luna was at RMC, so they joined the family after she was transferred that night to Children’s.
Jackson and Goray said they also tried to talk to staffers and social workers, but no one listened to them, and when Goray tried to take pictures of the infant, she said, she was barred by nurses from doing so.
Two days later, doctors took Luna off life support. Lancaster said she was unsure who made that call, but she had nothing to do with it.
Jackson said Singleton had wanted to wait before doing it, but Jones insisted.
At first, Jackson said, she and Goray weren’t told what the funeral arrangements were. Jackson said they were notified in time to attend the service.
When Jackson, Singleton and Goray got to the funeral home, Jackson said, only Jackson was allowed to view Luna’s body.
Lancaster said she and Meagan also weren’t told when the funeral was scheduled, and didn’t know it happened until the day after.
Lancaster said she felt from the beginning that Hannah Singleton was involved in Luna’s death.
According to Lancaster, Singleton had been excited about Luna’s arrival during her pregnancy and had thrown a gender-reveal party. Because Luna came early, Lancaster said, Singleton wasn’t able to have a baby shower.
After Luna’s birth, Lancaster said, she noticed Singleton rarely spent time with the baby in the nearly three months she stayed in the hospital and paid little attention to her after her release.
“When we were around Hannah and Luna, Luna stayed in her car seat unless I was holding her or unless my wife was holding her,” Lancaster said. “When Luna was in the NICU, her social worker had a case against her because they didn’t spend enough time together. I don’t feel like Hannah really wanted to be a mom.”
Goray and Jackson, however, maintain Singleton’s innocence.
“Because Hannah was there with her child like a mother should be, the last person there doesn’t mean the person did it,” Jackson said.
Goray said Singleton grew up babysitting, and frequently watched her nieces, nephews and boyfriend’s child with no issue.
Jackson said Singleton wanted to be a good mother, but was naive, inexperienced and struggled with Jones’ unwillingness to care for the baby.
An attempt Tuesday to reach Jones was not immediately successful.
In the hours before Luna was admitted to RMC, Jackson said, she and her parents were at Jackson’s in Jacksonville when they got into an argument.
It was then, Jackson said, that she discovered Luna had fallen from her stroller nearly 48 hours earlier at Jones’ trailer in Heflin.
Jackson said Singleton told her she laid Luna down to sleep in her stroller, because there was not a crib or a bassinet at the home, and then went to sleep along with Jones. Jackson said Singleton didn’t strap Luna in because she thought the straps would keep her awake.
Jackson said the couple later woke up to find Luna lying on the floor, halfway under the bed.
While at Jackson’s home, she said, she heard the couple argue over whether to take Luna to the hospital or go to an event.
Jackson said she offered to take her, but Jones took her from her arms and they left.
According to a report from the Alabama Department of Pardons and Paroles, authorities spoke to Singleton on May 14 at RMC, where she told them she had laid Luna down at around 9:30 a.m. and checked on her shortly before noon. Hours later, the report states, Singleton said she found Luna unresponsive and drove with the baby towards the hospital.
According to the report, Singleton met an ambulance at the Buster Miles auto dealership parking lot in Heflin.
When a DHR worker spoke to RMC doctors, the report stated, they told her they found Luna had prior head injuries and now had another one. Family members at the hospital said they had seen bruises on Luna before.
The next day, the report said, investigators from the Sheriff’s Office and the Calhoun-Cleburne Major Crimes Unit spoke to Jones, who told them he had left for work at 8 a.m. the morning before Luna was hospitalized. According to the report, Jones’ supervisor confirmed his alibi.
To his knowledge, Jones reportedly told authorities, Luna hadn’t been dropped or fallen.
An investigator then talked to Singleton again. This time, the report said, her story changed. Singleton now reportedly said she and Luna napped together around 9 a.m.
Singleton denied dropping Luna and said she hadn’t fallen.
When the investigator talked to a UAB pediatrician, according to the report, the doctor said Luna’s injuries were consistent with “rapid acceleration/deceleration,” and she would have shown symptoms almost immediately after she was hurt.
Shortly after Luna’s death, Lancaster said, she spoke to a Cleburne County sheriff’s investigator about the events leading up to Luna’s death. She said she didn’t hear from him again.
Until a Cleburne County grand jury indicted Singleton in September, Lancaster said, she thought police had dropped the case.
Goray and Jackson said four officers came to their home and asked to talk to Singleton, but she wasn’t there. When the mother and daughter tried to tell officers they believed someone else was responsible for Luna’s death, Jackson said, the officers also didn’t listen.
Jackson said Singleton turned herself in after she realized a warrant had been issued for her arrest.
Attempts to reach Cleburne County sheriff’s deputies and prosecutors for this story were unsuccessful.
‘One day at a time’
While the two sides of Singleton’s family disagree on many things pertaining to Luna’s death, they agree on one thing: Luna should still be alive today.
Lancaster said she remembers Luna as a tiny, quiet, happy baby. Despite her premature birth, Lancaster said, she was developing quickly.
“You could tickle her and she’d have this super happy face,” Lancaster said. “Her face would light up when she smiled.”
She said Luna should have been spending her first holiday season with her family.
“She should have been our child,” Lancaster said.
She said she’s since been to some “interesting” therapy sessions and is trying to take things one day at a time.
Lancaster said she has not spoken to Singleton since the day Luna died; she’s not sure if she wants to ever again.
Jackson, on the other hand, said she speaks to Singleton nearly every day. She said she and Goray visit Singleton in jail every Saturday. According to Jackson, Singleton is taking her daughter’s death hard, too.
Jackson said she had planned to teach Luna to ride a horse when she was old enough.
Because Luna was premature, Jackson said, she spent much of her time sleeping.
“She was trying to catch up with life,” Jackson said.
Email Mia Kortright at firstname.lastname@example.org