Police say Lancaster girl, 3, was beaten to death, 'died within minutes'

Police in Lancaster have charged a woman with homicide by child abuse in the December death of a 3-year-old girl whom authorities say suffered a fatal head beating.

Kayla Cook, 25, was arrested Dec. 29 in Cleveland County, N.C., and transported back to Lancaster Tuesday, said Chief Scott Grant of Lancaster Police Department.

Grant told The Herald on Wednesday that Cook was the live-in girlfriend of the deceased child’s father.

Grant said the death of the child, identified in arrest warrants as Lillian Schroeder, 3, “has taken a heavy toll on the families involved.”

Lancaster County coroner officials said in a statement Wednesday the child died from blunt force trauma to the head, which caused bleeding inside her skull. The coroner ruled the cause of death a homicide.

Lillian was unconscious and not breathing when police were called to a Heath Circle home on Dec. 18.

Cook told police she was “caring for the victim” while the toddler’s father was at work, police records show.

Lillian had “numerous bruises” on several parts of her body, an arrest warrant says.

Cook told officers she put Lillian in the bathtub on Dec. 18 and when she checked on her, the child was “unresponsive but looking around and breathing,” the warrant states.

Cook also told police Lillian was “not acting right” and asked a neighbor to call 911, the warrant states.

The arrest warrant states Lillian’s brain injuries were so severe she “died within minutes of this head injury.”

Cook is being held without bond at the Lancaster County jail, officials said.

Lancaster police, State Law Enforcement Division and other agencies with S.C. Child Fatality Task Force investigated the case, said Randy Newman, 6th Circuit solicitor.

Newman declined further comment because the case is pending.