A Chicago man has been charged with first-degree murder in the death Tuesday of a 3-year-old Oak Forest girl, police said Saturday.
Jessie B. Rodriguez, 42, of 2958 N. Kenneth Ave., killed Gina Presley “without justification,” authorities said. A second person who was being questioned this week has been released and is cooperating with the investigation, police said.
Rodriguez has been in custody since Thursday, Oak Forest police said. He is due in bond court Sunday at the Cook County Criminal Courts Building at 26th Street and California Avenue, Chicago, police said.
The investigation revealed that Rodriguez is the boyfriend of Gina’s aunt, who was Gina’s guardian, police said.
Neighbors said Gina recently celebrated her third birthday. She died late Tuesday due to head trauma caused by child abuse, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
Police said paramedics were called to a home in the 15300 block of Walnut Road for a girl who was choking. Paramedics found Gina unresponsive and transported her to Palos Community Hospital, where she was pronounced dead about 11:30 p.m., police said.
Annette Boyle, a neighbor and friend of Gina’s aunt, said she is a loving person who had taken custody of Gina when the baby was just a few months old. Boyle said her friend had been trying to adopt the little girl.
“She was a great mom,” Boyle said. “She took care of that little girl and did her darnedest to get custody.”
A news release issued by police Thursday indicated the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services had some sort of oversight role of the girl, but Oak Forest police Chief Gregory Anderson said he was unsure to what degree DCFS was involved.
Boyle said the girl’s aunt had been going through a divorce, and it was just within the last few months that she began to see someone new. Neighbors said they didn’t know the man’s name and that he didn’t converse with them.
Neighbors said they frequently saw Gina, and that her aunt was constantly doting on the girl. One neighbor said that just a few days ago they went to Chuck E. Cheese’s for her birthday. As they drove away, the little girl gleefully exclaimed, “I’m 3, I’m 3,” the neighbor said.
One neighbor, Kim Santre, knew there had been police activity at the house directly across the street from her, and was overcome when told Friday of the girl’s death.
“It just shocks me,” she said, wiping at her eyes as she spoke. “She was a wonderful mother to that child. I am just so mortified that child died.”
Santre and Boyle said Gina’s aunt and her former husband had tried for some time to have a child.
“They were a beautiful family,” Santre said. “The girl was the most precious thing to see.”
The South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force and the Oak Forest Police Department are continuing to investigate, Anderson said in a news release.
“A child homicide motivates everyone in law enforcement to determine what happened and who is responsible. This is not consolation for the family or the community and only begins to provide a response to such a horrific act,” Anderson said.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Oak Forest Police Department at (708) 687-1376.
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