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Published: Thursday, 4/5/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Coroner: Slain child was abused previously

Bowling Green tot died after being taken off life support

BY TAYLOR DUNGJEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Emma Zehnpfennit Emma Zehnpfennit
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BOWLING GREEN -- A 2-year-old girl whose death in March was ruled a homicide Wednesday had signs on her body of previous abuse, authorities said.

Emma Zehnpfennig, who lived in Bowling Green with her elder sister, mother, and mother's boyfriend, died March 1 after spending seven days on life support at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center, Lucas County Deputy Coroner Dr. Diane Scala-Barnett said.

The young girl with strawberry-blonde hair was taken to Wood County Hospital on Feb. 22 before being transferred to Toledo, Bowling Green police Lt. Brad Biller said.

Autopsy results, which were made available Wednesday, showed the child died from "severe head trauma," Dr. Barnett said, who added that she found evidence of previous abuse to the toddler.

Dr. Barnett described the fatal injury as "inflicted head trauma."

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The doctor added that the girl had bruising on her face and scalp, and both internal and external blunt-force trauma.

It's unclear exactly what caused the girl's injuries, but Dr. Barnett said "multiple stories" were being told about how the girl was injured when she was brought in to the hospital. She did not say who told the stories.

Lieutenant Biller said the girl was taken to the hospital by "an acquaintance" of the girl's mother, Tabitha Zehnpfennig, 30, who could not be located for comment.

A neighbor, Melissa Herzig, said Ms. Zehnpfennig had left town.

No arrest warrants have been issued, but Lieutenant Biller said anyone who was inside the Fairview Avenue apartment on Feb. 22 would be considered a person of interest.

He said four people were there that night -- the mother, the acquaintance, and two children.

Ms. Zehnpfennig, whose husband, Martin, died in 2010 of a heart attack, has four other children -- none older than 8 years old.

Several people who live in the same Bowling Green Estates apartment complex said the other children live with Ms. Zehnpfennig's mother.

Ms. Herzig said she saw Emma the night she was taken to the hospital. She said Ms. Zehnpfennig's boyfriend, Nathan Brenner, took the child to the hospital.

No one was at the family's apartment, which was empty except for multiple cardboard boxes packed and put into tall piles in the living room.

Ms. Herzig described Emma as "generally happy," but said the girl did not talk at all -- she turned age 2 on Feb. 4, only weeks before being admitted to the hospital.

Another neighbor, Debbie Weidner, described the mother as someone who kept to herself, but when the boyfriend moved into the apartment less than a month before the incident, the mother became more visible in the area, Ms. Weidner said.

Ms. Herzig, who has known Mr. Brenner for several years, said that three weeks before Emma was taken to the hospital, he came to stay with her, after the heat in his residence was shut off.

That's when Ms. Zehnpfennig and Mr. Brenner met, Ms. Herzig said. Soon after they moved in together and "were talking about getting married."

Lieutenant Biller said people "need to be aware of what their limitations are and have trusted people be responsible care for their children."

Anyone with information is asked to call Bowling Green police at 419-352-2571 or Wood County Crime Stoppers at 419-352-0077.

Contact Taylor Dungjen at: tdungjen@theblade.com, 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @tdungjen_Blade.



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