SANFORD, Fla. - Relatives and family friends held a candlelight vigil in Sanford Tuesday night for a 2-year-old girl whose body was found buried in shallow grave in Putnam County.
“That was my goddaughter, of course it saddens me that she’s no longer here,” Aja Lytle said.
Lytle is the sister-in-law of the child's mother, Rachel Fryer. Investigators said 32-year-old Fryer admitted she stuffed the girl's body in a suitcase and buried it in Crescent City. The toddler was found behind a vacant home on a dead-end road.
Fryer has been charged with aggravated child neglect and is being held on a nearly $1 million bond.
According to an arrest warrant, the little girl, Tariji Gordon, stopped breathing on Thursday and instead of calling 911, Fryer attempted CPR. The arrest warrant said 30 minutes later, the toddler was dead.
Fryer’s arrest papers said she turned herself in at the Sanford police station on Monday with a bag packed for jail and told detectives she made a deadly mistake.
At the vigil, family members said Fryer suffers from depression and they think she panicked.
"All she was thinking was they're going to take my kids, I just got my kids back," Lytle said. "She fought 2 years to get her kids back."
Officials with the Department of Children and Families held a press conference Tuesday to discuss their involvement with Fryer and her family.
The agency revealed Fryer’s children were taken away from her in 2011 after another one of her children died.
“The Medical Examiner’s Office determined that the infant’s death was attributed to positional asphyxiation, more commonly known as a co-sleeping death. We know that no charges were filed,” DCF spokeswoman Carrie Proudfit said.
Proudfit said at the time there were child neglect concerns and that led the agency to place the children in foster care.
The children were reunited with Fryer in late 2013 after she completed the necessary classes and court requirements, Proudfit said.
Tuesday afternoon, a judge was forced to set a bond for Fryer because she’s only facing a child neglect charge.
“At this time I am going to set a bond, OK? However, I will set bond at $950,000,” the judge said.
One of the suspect’s surviving children told investigators the 2-year-old was abused. According to the arrest warrant, Fryer’s oldest daughter said her mom hit Tariji with a broom, a mop and a stick because the toddler misbehaved.
The St. John's County medical examiner will perform an autopsy on the little girl.