Hiker Rios
Photo: Gwinnett County Police Department
Photo: Gwinnett County Police Department

Cop: Infant killed by Gwinnett dad had too many injuries to count

When a 2-month-old girl was hospitalized July 2, she had so many hemorrhages on her brain and retinas, a child abuse specialist couldn’t count them, a Gwinnett County detective said Wednesday.

Mayalen Grace Rios died on July 4 after sustaining serious brain trauma. Her father, 22-year-old Hiker Rios, has been charged with first-degree cruelty to children and felony murder in connection with her death.

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Rios faced a preliminary hearing Wednesday to establish probable cause for the case to move forward. His lawyers asked a judge to dismiss the charges, but the judge declined that request.

July 1 began as a normal day for Rios, his wife and their child — who they called by her middle name, Grace. The couple took their newborn to the Pendergrass Flea Market, about 40 miles northeast of their Lilburn home, and spent a few hours there before going to the Lawrenceville home of Hiker Rios’ brother, said Cpl. Dee Lancey, a Gwinnett County homicide detective who testified at the Wednesday hearing. 

At the Lawrenceville house, Grace began to get fussy, so her mother went to Kroger to get more formula, she told police. As soon as she pulled into the parking lot, she got a call from Hiker Rios saying that Grace was having trouble breathing, she told police. He told police he had gone to get a glass of water while Grace was fussing on the couch, but she was limp when he got back to her. 

A woman who had come to the house in Lawrenceville to pick up a package drove Hiker Rios and the baby to an urgent care facility in Duluth around 10 p.m. When a Gwinnett police officer went to the facility, a doctor said it was only a medical call and there was nothing criminal to report, Lancey said. Shortly after, Grace was transported to Gwinnett County Medical Center.

At 1:40 a.m., a social worker from Scottish Rite called Gwinnett County police. Grace Rios had been transported to the children’s hospital with “significant brain trauma” and bruises all over her body. Lancey responded to the hospital and arrested Hiker Rios after questioning both parents. He was charged with cruelty to children at that point. 

When the hospital’s head child abuse physician was discussing Grace’s injuries with Lancey, he said the infant’s retinal hemorrhages were “too numerous to count.” The baby’s brain swelled to the point that the sutures on her head at birth expanded; her skull plates had not yet fused together. 

After scans showed no brain activity July 4, Grace was pronounced dead. The Gwinnett County Medical Examiner said the death was a homicide caused by internal brain trauma, leading to Hiker Rios being charged with felony murder.

Hiker Rios’ attorney Max Hirsh argued that more than a dozen medical and emergency workers who had access to Grace at the Duluth urgent care center and Gwinnett Medical Center could have caused the baby’s fatal injuries, as no injuries were reported to police until after she had been to both locations and transported by Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services.

“There should be a dozen or so people in Mr. Rios’ chair, and Mr. Rios shouldn’t be there,” Hirsh said.

Hiker Rios’ charges were found to have probable cause. He is being held without bond at the Gwinnett County Detention Center. The issue of bond will be addressed by Gwinnett County Superior Court at a later date.

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