Plainfield daycare operator charged with battery in connection with child’s death, in custody

(Provided Photo/Hendricks County Sheriff's office)
(Provided Photo/Hendricks County Sheriff's office)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The owner of a Plainfield in-home day care has been charged with aggravated battery in connection to the death of 16-month old girl who was in her care.

Melanie Messer faces one count of aggravated battery in connection to the case. Authorities say the child was found unresponsive in her Plainfield home back on Aug. 8.

Just before 4 p.m., Plainfield Police Department said that Messer was in custody, having turned her self into authorities. She is currently being held int he Hendricks County Jail.

The child, identified in court records as 16-month old Andi Arnett, suffered a massive brain hemorrhage along with hemorrhages to her optic nerves and retinas in both eyes, according to a copy of the probable cause affidavit obtained by I-Team 8. The Marion County Coroner’s office determined that the child’s death should be considered a homicide back on Oct. 5.

Plainfield Police say Messer, the owner of the in-home daycare likely caused or has lied about what caused the injuries to a 16-month old child who was in her care.

According to court records, Messer told investigators, “I swear on my life that I would never harm a child…”

The toddler, who was under the custody of her grandfather and step-grandmother, appeared to be “fine” when she dropped her at Messer’s home after 7 a.m. on the morning on August 8, the child’s step-mother told authorities.

Hours later, the child’s grandfather received a call that Andi was being taken to the hospital. When the grandfather asked if Andi had sustained any injuries in previous day, Messer sent him a picture stating that she had fallen in the grass and hit her head, according to court records.

But Dr. Tara Harris, a child abuse pediatrician at Riley Hospital for Children, told authorities: “Andi’s injuries are characteristic of Abusive Head Trauma. Her head injury would have result from an acceleration-deceleration mechanism and it would have required an amount of force that a reasonable caretaker would have recognized as dangerous to a small child. Her neurological (sic) injury is devastating.”

On Aug. 8, Messer said in her interview with police that: “It’s weird that that little fall would make such a trauma. It’s very odd to me,” she said. When investigators asked how long she had been babysitting Andi, she said about six weeks, according to the court records. She indicated that she was hesitant to do so because she normally doesn’t get involved with CPS investigations.

Andi Arnett died three days later after having surgery to relieve pressure on her brain.

As part of their investigation, authorities also interviewed a six-year old girl and seven-year old boy who attended Messer’s day care. The two children said that Messer would often leave children unattended in the basement at the children rarely left the room except for lunch or playtime before being picked up.

The six-year old girl told police that on the date of the incident Messer sent her and her brother outside to do some chores. When they came back in to get Andi for lunch, they stated she wasn’t breathing.

The seven-year old boy told authorities that he went to retrieve Andi out of a playpen and that she was “awkward” and sounded like was gasping for breath “like when you cry too much.”

The boy also identified nine children who were in Messer’s home at the time. Messer’s day care is unlicensed. State law requires that daycare operators be licensed if they care for six or more children.

Messer later showed the area in the yard where she said Andi her head in the grass on Friday Aug. 5.

But Dr. Harris later told investigators that bruising on Andi’s forehead appeared to have a pattern that more closely resembled the webbing on a playpen.

She stated that a bruise leaving that distinct pattern lasting three days could not have possibly been caused by Andi accidentally falling onto the grass or the side of the playpen, but had to have been from someone forcefully banging her head into something hard, causing the lasting pattern bruise.

Police also alleges that Messer told them she cares for six to seven children but on the date of the incident named only 5. The seven-year old who was interviewed by police identified nine.

According to the probable cause affidavit, Det. Alyson Ritter alleges that “It has been proven that Melanie is not telling the truth about what happens while children are in her care. Melanie is unlicensed and babysitting too many children in her home, which she has been warned of multiple times.”

I-Team 8 obtained copies of previous complaints filed with the state about Messer’s day care. All the previous complaints were unfounded.

I-Team 8 has tried repeatedly to reach Messer for comment. Calls were placed on two separate numbers listed for her. One appears to be disconnected. Back in August, a man who identified himself as a family member of Messer said the family had not comment.

No attorney was listed for Messer in online court records. Messer turned herself in on Wednesday afternoon.