Manassas police searched for answers Thursday as to why a 19-month-old girl was left in a van for seven hours during the hottest part of the day Wednesday, likely causing her death.
A neighbor discovered Frances Kelly dead, likely from heat stroke, at about 7:40 p.m. in front of the home at 9727 Zimbro Ave., police and Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert said at a press conference Thursday.
While police were tight-lipped about who was responsible for the child’s death, Chief John J. Skinner said that it was likely accidental.
“It appears that her father [Kevin Kelly] was the last to drive the van,” Skinner said. “All of the windows were completely up.”
During the hours that the infant was abandoned in the van, the outside temperature was in the mid-80s. Inside the 1992 Dodge, it was more like 140 degrees, Ebert said.
“In any circumstance, you don’t want to leave a child in a car unattended,” Ebert said. “Fatalities in such instances can happen in 15 minutes. There’s nothing we can do to bring the child back. I intend to prosecute this aggressively … and send a message.”
As of Thursday afternoon, it was still up in the air whom he plans to prosecute.
Sometime after noon, Kelly returned home with Frances seated in a blue car seat directly behind him. He parked the car and left her there. When the neighbor discovered Frances’ body later that day, Kelly was not at home, having left in another family car, police said. No other member of the family drove the Dodge after Kelly parked it.
When the neighbor discovered the girl in the locked van, a nearby repairman called police, Skinner said. A medical examiner for Prince William County pronounced Frances dead at the scene at about 8:30 p.m. Her body was examined during an autopsy Thursday, Skinner added.
Dr. Jared E. Florance, director of the Prince William Health District, explained previously that the heat from inside a car and the lack of outside ventilation does not allow the moisture from the body to evaporate enough to cool off, leading to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Frances, one of 13 children, was left solely in Kelly’s care; her mother, Mary, was on vacation in Ireland with one of the infant’s sisters at the time of her death, Ebert said.
Neighbor Erin Beacher said that she often witnessed the parents doing a head count, making sure all 13 children were present and accounted for.
“Everyone thinks this is horrible,” said another neighbor, who would not give her name. “All of our hearts go out to the family.”
Still, Ebert gave indications Thursday that he intends to throw the book at whomever is deemed responsible.
Ebert named felony murder — the inadvertent death of someone during the commission of another felony — reckless endangerment and manslaughter as possible charges.
Wednesday’s death comes nearly a year after a 31-year-old Centreville woman left her 10-year-old daughter and 5-year-old nephew in her parked truck for 30 minutes while she went to a hair salon in Manassas; the temperature reached 97 degrees that day. While neither of the children was seriously hurt, a judge ordered her to take parenting classes.
— Staff writer Louise Cannon contributed to this report
Staff writer Adam H. Beasley can be reached at (703) 878-8065.