3-year-old died of fentanyl overdose, parents charged

One day after the medical examiner determined that the death of a 3-year-old girl at a Bradford County apartment in August was caused by an overdose of fentanyl, police arrested the child’s mother and father and charged them with aggravated child neglect, according to the Starke Police Department.

The girl was found unresponsive Aug. 26 at an apartment on South Water Street. Police, then the Starke Fire Department performed lifesaving efforts until she got to the North Florida Starke Emergency Room, where doctors determined she could not be revived.

Detectives then began a suspicious death investigation.

While they did not note any obvious cause of death, the District 8 Medical Examiner’s Office ordered toxicology testing. The results of the autopsy completed Thursday found the child died from an overdose of fentanyl -- a very powerful narcotic that has caused thousands of deaths throughout the country.

After collection of evidence and interviewing witnesses, detectives determined that at the time the child ingested the fentanyl, the only people present with her were the mother and father.

Lieutenant Michael Rooney with the Starke Police Department was one of the first to respond to the scene and is part of the investigation.

“When we went back and determined who was present in that timeframe when that was possible, it was only the mother and the father,” Rooney said. “One of the things you have to have to prove something more sinister like a homicide is intent and right now, we just have not come to that. However, the investigation is still ongoing.”

Warrants were obtained for the mother, D’Lana A. King, and father, J’Shawn D Murrah. Both were charged with aggravated child neglect causing great bodily injury.

King was arrested Friday by Starke offers and booked into the Bradford County Jail where she is being held on a $1 million bond. The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office arrested Murrah at a residence in Gainesville. He was booked into the Alachua County Jail where he is also being held on a $1 million bond pending extradition to Bradford County.

Medical experts say opioids, fentanyl, in particular, can pose an extreme danger of overdose, even in adults.

“The problem with fentanyl is because it’s so potent, a tiny little bit is enough,” said Dr. Jonathan Kantor. “You know, obviously, every parent’s nightmare is for their kid to get anywhere near a medicine cabinet, or get anyone your medicines.”

A dosage that might help for pain in an adult with back pain may actually quickly put a young child into overdose, said Dr. Sunil Joshi.

“Anybody losing their life prematurely and unnecessarily is tragic,” Rooney said. “When you’re dealing with kids, it’s even harder. You know, I’m a parent, a lot of my coworkers are parents. That’s something that stays with law enforcement forever.”

Lt. Rooney said there is no celebration after the arrest.

“It’s somber. It’s not a win for law enforcement because we put these people in jail because this 3-year-old is no longer with us,” Rooney said. “Even at the end of this, we pray for the family, we pray for that child, we pray for the extended family. No one’s winning in this.”

About the Authors:

Digital election producer in 2022. He created WJXT.com in 1995 and managed The Local Station's website through 2021.

McLean is a reporter with WJXT, covering education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.