Detective: Mom told lies about baby’s hot car death — then broke down

Dijanelle Fowler, 25, in court  Aug. 3, 2017, with attorney Charles Brant, on a second-degree murder charge in the hot car death of her 1-year-old daughter, Skylar. BOB ANDRES  /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: Bob Andres

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Dijanelle Fowler, 25, in court Aug. 3, 2017, with attorney Charles Brant, on a second-degree murder charge in the hot car death of her 1-year-old daughter, Skylar. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

After the baby died, DeKalb County police went to Dijanelle Fowler, the 25-year-old mother, multiple times to ask what happened.

She gave a new story every time, Detective Keith McQuilkin testified in court Thursday.

First, Fowler suggested something had gone wrong while she was watching her daughter at a relative’s home. Next, she said she’d left 1-year-old Skylar with a friend while getting her hair done. Then, Fowler said she’d left the baby at the relative’s home but forgot to tell anyone Skylar was there.

McQuilkin said the truth didn’t come out until Fowler broke down and told the baby’s father what happened: she had left Skylar in the car, with the air conditioner running, while getting her hair done on June 15. By the time the appointment was over, after nearly six hours, the car had shut off and Skylar was dead, a victim of the Georgia summer heat.

Louis Williams II, a 26-year-old Air Force reservist who was deployed in the Middle East when his baby died, called police to report Fowler.

Once police investigated further, it turned out that even Fowler’s confession contained a fabrication, McQuilkin said. She had told Williams she checked on Skylar every thirty minutes, but surveillance footage and witness statements showed she never returned to the car until leaving the salon.

In court, the mother betrayed no emotion as the evidence came out, even as prosecutor Lance Cross accused her of going into “self-preservation mode” and lying to protect herself. Fowler was stoic and still in an orange jailhouse jumpsuit, cuffed and shackled.

The preliminary hearing's revelations amounted to the first new information in weeks on a case that's drawn national attention. But the hearing did little to answer the question at the heart of the story, the question of how a mother who all say loved her child could allegedly do something so reckless.

The detective didn’t answer that. Neither did the prosecutor. Nor did Fowler’s attorney, Charles Brant.

Perhaps, Brant suggested, Fowler was “naive” to think it would be OK to leave the baby outside, even if the air conditioning was on and she could see the car from inside.

“I know that doesn’t satisfy everyone,” Brant told reporters after the hearing. But he insisted, “This is not a total lack of concern.”

He declined to discuss why Fowler didn’t take Skylar inside Mahogany’s Hair Studio on Lavista Road, where children are allowed, or why she didn’t get someone to watch the child. Fowler was in town from her home in North Charleston, South Carolina, staying here with relatives.

She was expecting to soon start a job in Georgia. Good things were happening, Brant said.

She now finds herself facing charges of second-degree murder, child cruelty and concealing a death. If convicted, she could be sentenced to between 12 and 50 years.

Much of the evidence revealed so far centers on the mother’s behavior in the aftermath of discovering that the car had shut off and seeing Skylar’s condition.

Fowler had a man jump start the car while she Googled symptoms of seizures, McQuilkin said. The good Samaritan didn’t notice anything wrong with Fowler.

She also looked into urgent care clinics and, more than an hour after leaving the salon, Fowler called 911 from an Emory University Hospital parking deck and said she was having something like a seizure. Fowler did not mention the baby and was unintelligible on the call, police have said.

When police found the car, Fowler was slumped over the steering wheel, McQuilkin said. Skylar was in the back in her car seat, stiff, obviously gone.

Research is underway to determine what sort of medical conditions Fowler might have, McQuilkin said.

Brant made clear there are still several unanswered questions as he’s building Fowler’s defense and figures out what happened.

In the meantime, Judge Richard Foxworth found probable cause for the state to continue with the case against the mother. Fowler has been in jail without bond since last month.

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