It’s the story of a seemingly forgotten child, who mysteriously stopped breathing inside her Elkhart home, under the watch of numerous adults.
Taylor Leah Hartung-Mann would only live to be 15-months-old. She was sweet and carefree, as most babies are. Still to this day, more than a year after her death, no one knows how Taylor died and consequently, no one has been held responsible.
It was Dec. 31, 2011 at the Forest Glen Apartments; a low rent complex tucked-off E. Bristol St. on Elkhart's north side. Around 4 p.m., Brandi Lord left Taylor and her older daughter Callie, then four-years-old, with four friends. Lord drove her van to her evening shift at the Cracker Barrel restaurant off Cassopolis St., it was a night she’ll never forget.
Most of what transpired behind the walls of Lord’s second story unit over the next three hours is still a mystery. What is clear, things climaxed with a panic-stricken phone call.
"The only thing he said was, ‘you need to come home, there's something wrong.’ As a mom, that's the worst feeling in the world as your heart kind of skips a beat,” Lord said with tears in her eyes.
Flashing lights from a parked Elkhart ambulance, fire truck and a few squad cars greeted Lord in the parking lot outside her apartment.
"I ran up the stairs and lost my shoe on the way. I didn't even turn around to get it. I walked inside and I walked into a nightmare,” Lord recalled.
Although Callie was unhurt, Taylor was lying limp on a stretcher, ghostly white and not breathing. Paramedics managed to transport her to Elkhart General Hospital. It wasn't 20 minutes before doctors pronounced her dead; the cause of death ruled undetermined.
"It was unbelievable. I just fell to the floor. She had a personality; she was always a happy little girl. We got robbed of her future at 15 months,” Taylor’s paternal grandmother Rachel Mann said.
The Elkhart Police Department quickly launched a death investigation, looking closely at the four adults left to watch over Taylor on that fateful New Year’s Eve night.
The cast of characters included Lord's boyfriend Shane Tucker, Tucker's half-brother Tony Capas, Lord’s roommate Ashlea Lantz and Lantz's boyfriend Aaron Paul.
Those close to the investigation tell NewsCenter 16, Lantz is the only individual who has agreed to talk with detectives and take a polygraph test, which she reportedly passed.
"Everyday people ask us if we've got any news and we just tell them no. People keep asking why the police aren't doing anything about it. That's what we want to know, ‘why aren't they doing anything about it,’” Taylor’s maternal grandmother Kris Jiskra said.
Based-on Jiskra’s talks with medical staff at Elkhart General, Taylor had a large bruise on her forehead and another significant mark near the crown of her head. There were also old and untreated broken ribs, and most bizarre, a BB bullet found in the base of her diaper. To this day, Lord is perplexed as to where Taylor’s pre-existing wounds came from.
Still the Elkhart Police Department and the Elkhart County Prosecutor's Office maintain there is not enough evidence to make an arrest and file charges against any of the four individuals left to care for Taylor.
“We just can’t get to a point where we can file criminal charges. There’s just not enough there,” Ed Windbigler, a spokesman with the Elkhart County Prosecutor's Office said
"Whoever it is and whatever they did, I consider them a monster. The person is still out there and can do it to anyone else's kid. That's why we need to find the who, what, when, where and why,” Jiskra argued.
For the first six months following Taylor’s death, family members let Elkhart Police Department detectives investigate. Yet with growing discontent about the lack of progress, they recently launched a grass roots effort to bring justice to center stage.
On Saturday Feb. 16, loved ones gathered at Willowdale Park in Elkhart for a candlelight vigil in Taylor’s honor. A Facebook memorial page, titled “Justice for Taylor Leah Hartung-Mann”, has also been launched, with close to 300 “likes” as of Wednesday night.
However the fact still remains, life after Taylor has nearly elapsed the time she spent on earth.
"You watch TV, you watch CSI, you watch all that stuff and it's done within an hour. This isn't the movies, this is real life and it's been over a year now,” Lord added.
"I want them to find out who did it. I want them to come forward. I want them to say something. Give our family some peace and answers as to what happened on that night. Someone has to know with as many people that were in that apartment, somebody knows, they just need to come forward,” Jiskra concluded.
Looking forward the big question is, will the Elkhart Police Department turn-up the heat in this cold case or let it sit stagnant?
If you want to show your support for Taylor Leah Hartung-Mann, just click here: Justice for Taylor Leah Hartung-Mann