Saturday 17 August 2019

'Confess what you did to my baby' - mum of murdered toddler Santina speaks out

  • Mother of tragic Santina recalls 'loving and happy' girl

  • Urging child's killer to confess

  • Tells how she held her little 'broken' baby in her arms

Bridget O'Donoghue tends to the grave of her two year old daughter, Santina Cawley
Bridget O'Donoghue tends to the grave of her two year old daughter, Santina Cawley
Santina Cawley
Bridget O'Donoghue at her daughter Santina Cawley's grave at St Catherines Cemetery in Kilcully, Co. Cork
Tragic: Santina Cauley (2), who was found beaten to death in a Cork city apartment

Patrick O'Connell

THE devastated mother of murdered two-year-old Santina Cawley today directly calls on her little girl's killer: "Confess what you did to my baby."

In a heartbreaking interview with the Sunday World, Sabrina's mum Bridget O'Donoghue tells how she cradled the little girl in her arms on the morning of her murder as doctors switched off the respirator keeping her alive.

Tears streaming from her eyes, Bridget also reveals the full horror of the injuries sustained by the "loving and happy" little Santina, whose cruel death her mum today describes as "pure evil".

"How could you kill my baby that way?" she asked.

"Her little body was broken. She has bruises going all the way down from her neck to her feet.

"Her beautiful little white teeth were broken when I held her in my arms. I was cradling her as they turned off the machine, I could feel the broken bones in the back of her head. All I could think was my beautiful little baby had been kicked around like a football.

"My poor Santina, she was always so happy and she never complained. And now she's here in a grave. Santina was an angel. Come forward and admit what you did to her. You took my baby's life… at least give her the justice she deserves."

Bridget broke down as she revealed her anger that Tusla had removed Santina from her care three months ago after the toddler broke her femur when she fell down some steps in her grandmother's apartment.

"She fell down three steps in the apartment and when she got back up I could see she wasn't walking right, so I took her to the hospital," Bridget said.

"I begged them not to take her from me, but they said they'd made up their mind and there was nothing I could do.

Santina Cawley
Santina Cawley

"Her leg was in a cast and, because I've the four other children, they gave her to her father to look after while she was recovering.

"I'm so angry about that right now - if they hadn't taken her from me she'd still be here."

Little Santina was discovered by her father Michael lying unconscious and having suffered multiple bone fractures, cuts and bruises, at an apartment in the Elderwood Park complex off Boreenmanna Road in Cork at 4.50am on Friday of last week.

Gardaí investigating Santina's death arrested a woman on Monday and she was conveyed to Gurranabraher Garda Station for questioning. The Sunday World understands the woman has denied causing the injuries to Santina.

Tot Santina was laid to rest following her funeral Mass at the North Cathedral in the city on Friday.

Visiting her daughter's grave yesterday, heartbroken Bridget said more than anything she wants justice for her baby.

Bridget O'Donoghue at her daughter Santina Cawley's grave at St Catherines Cemetery in Kilcully, Co. Cork
Bridget O'Donoghue at her daughter Santina Cawley's grave at St Catherines Cemetery in Kilcully, Co. Cork

"I can't sleep, I can't eat, not knowing what was done to her," she said.

"I'm getting weaker every day, but until Santina has justice... I'm haunted by the not knowing.

"There are more than 40 gardaí working on Santina's case. They've told us this is a priority.

"And I believe they will get the person who did this, but they need to have everything perfect for when they charge them."

Recalling the moment the nightmare of her daughter's death began for her, Bridget told how gardaí came to her door at 7am on the Friday morning of the killing.

"The garda said: 'It's Santina, she's in hospital, you need to go there now.'

"I put my hands to my face and said: 'Tell me she's not dead.'

"But the garda said I needed to speak with the doctors.

"Michael, my little 10-year-old came with me, and when we got to the hospital the doctors were waiting for us. There were five or six doctors waiting in a private room where they took me and told me that Santina was dead… only the machine was breathing for her.

Tragic: Santina Cauley (2), who was found beaten to death in a Cork city apartment
Tragic: Santina Cauley (2), who was found beaten to death in a Cork city apartment

"When they brought me in to her, she was freezing. They'd checked her heart, but they said her heart was gone.

"There was a blanket over her, but they asked me if I wanted to hold her.

"I said: 'Of course, I want to hold my baby.' And when I lifted her, the blanket fell away and that's when I saw the bruises.

"The bruises were everywhere, all up and down her legs, her chest, all the way up to her neck.

"And then Michael said: 'Mommy, look at her teeth.' Santina had the most lovely white little teeth, but they were all pushed back and chipped.

"We had to close her mouth in the coffin and put a polo neck inside her lovely pink flowery dress to cover the bruises on her neck.

"When I picked her up and was rocking her, I could feel the damage at the back of her head. It was dinged in and there was all blood around her mouth and her ears were black and blue. The child had been brutally and badly beaten.

"The doctors said they couldn't tell me what happened to her so I just cradled her.

"I rocked her back and forth and kept whispering: 'I'm here baby, wake up, wake up for mommy.'

Relatives carry the remains of her two year old daughter Santina at her removal in Cork. Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Relatives carry the remains of her two year old daughter Santina at her removal in Cork. Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

"I'm sorry baby, I'm sorry I wasn't there for you. It's not my fault, it's not my fault… if you were with me, you'd still be alive.

"I can't explain how someone would do this to my baby. I had such plans for her."

Bridget said she had seen little Santina five days before the murder, on the Sunday, and the little girl was full of happiness and life.

"She didn't have a mark on her. She was perfect," she said.

After Bridget gave her daughter a final heartbreaking kiss goodbye in the hospital, she was informed by the medical staff that the little girl's body needed to be removed to undergo a post-mortem investigation.

Bridget said the one chink of light in the darkest of weeks imaginable came when she heard on Monday that gardaí had arrested a woman in connection with the murder.

"I thought: 'Thank God, they've got someone.' So, when they released her without charge, that was so hard because it meant we knew nothing all over again. That broke my heart.

"I don't have the words to describe the person who did this to my daughter… monster… evil… I can't describe what kind of person would kill a baby like that… you'd have to be an evil, evil person."

Bridget said when Santina was placed in the coffin, she was surrounded by the teddy bears that had meant so much to her in her life.

"We buried her with her Barney bear, a unicorn, a truck and her Peppa pig.

"Santina was an angel - I didn't want her to be alone."

Anyone with information relevant to the case is asked to contact gardaí at Anglesea Street station on 021 4522000 or the Garda Confidential Line on 1800 666 111.

Irish Independent

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