A Cheery Tot, Caring Mom-and Murder — (Chicago Tribune)

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Chicago Tribune

April 7, 1993

Author: Colin McMahon and William Recktenwald.

The last photograph of Danielle Azalia Daniels shows the 4-year-old lying in bed, covered from the neck down by a flowered spread. The baby blue sheets on the bed are neat and clean. Her hair is carefully braided.

She looks like she might be sleeping-except for the trickle of blood running from her nose and down her cheek.

In the photo, taken by an investigator, there is no hiding the sudden, terrible violence that ended her life, just as there is no denying the care with which she was tucked in, like a doll being prepared for nap time.

Police said that like so many other children, toddlers and babies, Danielle was killed by an adult caretaker in an inexplicable outburst. Her mother, a woman who has grappled with drug and emotional problems, has been charged with her murder.

She is the 12th child under age 15 killed this year in the Chicago area; in six of those cases, a father, a mother or a mother’s boyfriend faces charges.

Danielle was drowned in a bathtub and then suffocated on a bed, police said. For seven hours, her body lay in bed, rigor mortis setting in. Then her mother, Jacqueline Milner, dialed 911.

“I just killed my baby,” she allegedly told police.

Whatever the troubles endured by Milner, there was no hint of such a terrible ending. She had, by many accounts, treated Danielle with tenderness, and the girl was a happy, boisterous child.

“She was outgoing and sensitive to people’s feelings,” said Danielle’s father, Charles Daniels, 45. “She could tell when you were not feeling your best, and she would cuddle up to you.”

Dani, as she was known to family and friends, loved music, Bible school and playing in the water. Cute and smart, she endeared herself to adults.

“She loved communicating with older people; that’s what she liked to do,” said James Thompson, a friend and former neighbor of Milner’s who has known her family for 20 years. “She would just sit with grownups and talk and talk.

“I got attached to her,” Thompson said.

“Even before she could verbalize, she sang and whistled,” her father said. “She had a personality from Day One.”

He remembers Day One vividly.

“I was with her at her birth, 7:01 a.m. on Good Friday morning in ’89. I was the first thing that her little eyes opened up and saw. My hand was the first one she squeezed. I saw her take her first breath and breathe color into her skin,” Daniels said.

“This type of tragedy does not have to happen. It is perpetrated because of the neglect of other people to see the situation and do something about it.”

Yet few saw signs of danger-not even Daniels.

For reasons that are not clear, and probably never will be, on the morning of March 29, Danielle’s mother allegedly submerged her in a bathtub full of water until the child stopped breathing, according to authorities.

She then placed Danielle in bed and held a pillow over the dead child’s face, said Assistant State’s Atty. Peter Wilkes. Finally, Wilkes said, Milner sat on the pillow for several minutes.

Milner allegedly admitted the drowning to police, paramedics, an assistant state’s attorney and nurses at St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, where she was treated the day of the slaying after trying to overdose on anti-depressants.

She told police she killed Danielle because she feared “the child was the devil,” officials said.

Almost as outlandish, in the eyes of some who knew Milner, is the idea that she might have been capable of such an act.

“Jackie loves kids, not just her daughter but other kids too,” said Eli Weathers, a longtime friend and former neighbor. “I know one thing-that it wasn’t Jackie who did that. Sometimes people just have a trigger that goes off.”

“Her daughter was her whole world,” another neighbor said.

In examining Milner’s life for clues, friends and relatives mention her bouts with depression and past drug abuse.

Moreover, Milner, 42, had endured the death of another child-a 20-year-old son who was shot during a robbery.

“She was a lovely person, a very lovely person,” Weathers said. “She just never got over what happened to her son.”

Weathers and others say Milner’s life was defined by the Sept. 16, 1989, murder of her son Linnie, known as “Choo-Choo.”

Choo-Choo, one of Milner’s four children, had run into some minor trouble with the law, including an arrest for drug possession. Family friends knew him as a respectful young man, a part-time student who wanted to be an architect.

He was walking home about 3 a.m. when two men grabbed him at the corner of Monroe Street and Kostner Avenue, according to police. They pushed him to the sidewalk and went through his pockets. As Choo-Choo struggled to get away, one of the men shot him in the back.

Detectives arrested two men in November 1989. The men were freed, however, when a Cook County judge found no probable cause for the charges. No one has since been prosecuted.

The incident devastated Milner, according to friends and one of her brothers, Bobby.

He said his sister never got the care she needed to deal with the loss of her son, that she was never the same again. He believes she was a different person when taking anti-depressants.

“This is the second tragedy for my sister,” Bobby Milner said. “She lost her son, and now this. Listen to the drugs she is taking. She needs help. Anyone who looks at her background will see that she is ill. She is not a criminal. Jackie loved that baby very deeply, and the baby returned that affection.”

A licensed practical nurse, Milner quit her job and was unable to work for more than two years because of her depression, said Marie Edwards, a former next-door neighbor who has known the family for several years.

Milner received psychiatric care but often gave in to despair, friends said. Her suicide attempt after Danielle was drowned wasn’t the first time she had tried to kill herself, one close friend said.

Milner apparently was unemployed at the time of her arrest.

She moved to the 1500 block of West Sherwin Avenue in Rogers Park around Christmas with Dani and a 17-year-old son, Jelani, friends said.

Daniels last visited with his daughter in December, he said. Milner, he said, never told him their new address.

“I did not even know where they were living until I saw it on the news,” Daniels said. “And then one night on TV you hear the names of people in your life, see them carrying a body bag out and realize it may be your daughter. It was like having someone stand on your heart.”

He said he met Milner six years ago while both were completing a drug recovery program.

The two were living together in a West Side apartment at the time of Danielle’s birth. Things were fine, Daniels said, until about 18 months ago when Jackie told him that she wanted him out of the house.

“She went through one of her stages (of depression) and asked me to leave, and I did so,” Daniels said. “She suddenly said: `Leave. Get out of here.’ ”

Daniels said that he saw Milner and Danielle on occasion; he said he was concerned that Milner seemed so distressed, but never believed her capable of harm.

“The way she was acting was very strange. She thought everyone was persecuting her, following her and trying to do harm to her.

“Just because you give birth to a child it does not make you a mother, and just because you lay down with a woman does not make you a father,” he said. “It takes much more. Not that Danielle’s mother was a bad person, but she needed help in areas that she did not get.”

In Milner’s first court appearances last week, the 5-foot-5-inch woman appeared frail and disoriented. In both hearings, the judge and her public defender had to caution Milner against talking in court, warning her that any incriminating statements could be used against her.

“I’ve been sick,” Milner told Judge A.C. Cunningham at Night Bond Court. “I’m a psychiatric case.”

Cunningham ordered Milner held without bond in Cook County Jail pending trial, saying he feared she might again try to hurt herself if not kept under guard.

Four days later, on Saturday, Danielle was buried at Forest Home Cemetery in Forest Park.

Her father never saw the photo taken by the investigator from the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

He will cherish another picture, one he took several months ago with a Polaroid. In it, Danielle is beaming, her head tilted, her hands at her side, touching a pretty cream-colored dress that is tied with a pink sash.
Caption:
PHOTOS 3
Caption:
PHOTO (color): Four-year-old Danielle Azalia Daniels is all smiles in a snapshot taken by her father several months before her death.

PHOTO: “This type of tragedy does not have to happen,” says Danielle’s father, Charles Daniels. Daniels, who uses crutches because of a leg injury, learned of his daughter’s death on the TV news.

PHOTO: Danielle’s casket is carried from her funeral. She was drowned in a bathtub and then suffocated on a bed, according to police. Tribune photos by Ovie Carter.
Memo:  At age 4, Danielle Azalia Daniels knew how to make people love her. She had a big smile, a sparkling personality and liked music, Bible school and playing in the water. Yet on March 29, Danielle became the 12th child age 15 or younger to be killed this year. Her mother has been charged with her murder.
Edition:  NORTH SPORTS FINAL
Section:  NEWS
Page:  1
Index Terms: Killing our children. 12 Dead in 1993.; SERIES; CHILD; ABUSE; VICTIM; MURDER; STATISTIC; CHICAGO