Emani Moss knew she had to escape.
The pigtailed little girl with the sweet smile told a school counselor in February 2010 she didn’t want to go home because “she was afraid of what her parents might do to her.” She ran away twice in July 2012, telling a police officer her stepmother, Tiffany Moss, had placed her under a cold shower, “tied to a chair with two belts.”
Early Saturday morning, police discovered 10-year-old Emani’s charred, emaciated body stuffed in a trash can. Police said she was starved to death, denied food since October 24. They say she may have died as early as Wednesday.
Tiffany Moss, still on probation for the 2010 incident in which she beat Emani with a belt, and her husband Eman, the victim’s birth father, have been charged with her murder. The couple are being held without bond at the Gwinnett County Detention Center.
Meanwhile, questions linger about whether officials paid enough attention to the warning signs predating Emani’s death.
Neighbors at the Lawrenceville apartment complex where Emani died said they rarely saw the Mosses or their little girl. Two younger siblings who were also living in the apartment are now in state custody.
Police say Emani was probably being home schooled at the time of her death, sheltered from outside eyes.
“Through our investigation we determined that she was not being fed regularly,” Gwinnett police Det. Colin Flynn told reporters Monday. “There were some signs of abuse,” Flynn said, though he declined to elaborate.
Those signs can be traced back to March 2010, when a counselor at Cooper Elementary School noticed abrasions all over 6-year-old Emani’s body.
“Emani had several marks that appeared to be welts on her back and had several marks on her chest that were scabbed over,” according to the Gwinnett police incident report. “She also had a bruise on her right thigh that appeared to have been made in the last couple of days.”
Tiffany Brown, who told officers she was a schoolteacher, was charged with cruelty to children and sentenced to five years probation. The Georgia Department of Family and Children’s Services signed off on the plea deal allowing Emani to stay with her father and soon-to-be stepmother after Brown and her future husband Eman Moss completed parenting classes, Brown’s attorney, Eric Carter, said in court records.
DFACS spokeswoman Ashley Fielding declined comment when reached Monday afternoon.
The agency had also been made aware of the accusation from July 2012 made by Emani after she had run away from home, said Gwinnett police spokesman Edwin Ritter. Tiffany Moss was not charged in that incident after the officer reported no injuries consistent with Emani’s story about being tied to the chair.
A little more than three weeks later, Emani ran away again. Her stepmother had explained to police that the little girl “resented her” because she had been an only child living alone with her father and now was competing for attention with a little brother and a baby sister on the way.
There had been no other allegations made by Emani against her parents before Saturday, when police were called to the Landmark at Coventry Place apartments by Eman Moss, who called 911 and told an operator he was suicidal.
When officers arrived Moss told them his daughter “drank some chemical and was dead.” According to the incident report, Moss said he placed her body in a trash can and tried to burn the body because he “panicked and did not know what to do.”
Moss was previously arrested in 2004, charged with battery in a case involving Emani’s biological mother, who police said had given up custody of her daughter.
The Moss’ first court appearance is scheduled for Friday at 1:30 p.m. at the Gwinnett County Magistrate Court.