Brianna Lopez, who is widely recognized as “Baby Brianna”. She was born on Valentine’s Day, 2002, at a New Mexico hospital to Stephanie Lopez and Andy Walters. She would have celebrated her eleventh birthday on February 14, 2013 but tragically, she did not survive.
Baby Brianna relocated with her parents and Uncle Steven Lopez to a residence in Las Cruces, N.M. Regrettably, the mistreatment began almost immediately. Instead of receiving affection, Brianna got slaps and pinches. She endured slapping, kicking, punching, pinching, throwing, and even rape. This behaviour both verbally and physically persistent on a daily basis. The extent of the abuse inflicted upon the innocent child was unimaginable.
Whenever Brianna cried out in pain, her abusers callously laughed. They attempted to silence her screams by stuffing her mouth with clothing. While her real mother Stephanie bit and pinched her in moments of frustration. It was primarily her father and uncle who tormented her. While Stephanie callously disregarded her daughter’s cries.
Medical examiners later discovered marks on Brianna’s body, indicating both recent and past abuse. She suffered from bleeding in her brain, as well as broken ribs, legs and arms. Furthermore, her fingers, vagina, and anus bore the scars of lacerations. Every single day of her short life was marred by abuse.
The resilience of baby Brianna was extraordinary. Despite entering this cruel world weighing only a few pounds, she managed to survive for 153 days.
Andy went out to purchase beer on the evening of July 18, 2002. Afterand returning home, they all engaged in a bout of heavy drinking. Stephanie claimed to have consumed only a few beers before retiring to the same room where the others remained. During this time, both Andy and Steven embarked on their sick, twisted game. They tossed Brianna into the air, allowing her to hit the ceiling, and watching her fall to the ground. They later admitted to authorities that Brianna was screaming and crying during these horrifying acts. Astonishingly, the baby’s mother failed to hear her daughter’s agonizing screams.
On July 19, 2002, at approximately 7:15 AM, Stephanie woke up to the sound of Brianna’s cries. She noticed fresh bruises on her body. She inquired about what happened to her. The other two exclaimed they might have been “a little too rough with her” the previous night. Accepting their feeble explanation, Stephanie callously ignored her child’s injuries.
The very same morning, Stephanie realised that Brianna needed a diaper change. Andy volunteered to do it. During the process, he used a baby wipe wrapped around his finger to violate Brianna’s anus, subjecting her to unspeakable acts of sodomy. When Stephanie eventually realised that Brianna was near death, she callously chose to delay calling an ambulance for several hours. When she finally contacted emergency services, she fabricating a story that her daughter fell from her high chair. Apparently, Stephanie deluded herself into believing that the authorities would accept her deceitful account.
Brianna was hurried to the hospital, where she dead at 11:10 AM. She was just five months and five days old.
The sadistic pleasure derived from torturing this infant was utterly horrifying. Not a single family member showed any concern for her well-being or attempted to protect her. There is no evidence to suggest that she experienced any love during her brief existence. She was nothing more than an object of sadistic amusement for those who should have cared for her.
During a search of their home, the police were unable to find a single toy or photograph of Brianna displaying joy or happiness.
Numerous relatives, including Brianna’s grandparents, were aware of the ongoing abuse but chose to ignore. They knew that their granddaughter was being raped by both her father and uncle. They were aware of the extensive pinch marks and injuries that covered her body. Yet, they shamefully ignored the situation. They allowed the abusers to continue for another five months until baby Brianna’s delicate body could no longer endure the torment.
Officer Wright witnessed countless horrific cases throughout his career, but Brianna’s story would haunt him forever.
“I shed tears uncontrollably. It will remain with me for the rest of my life. This tests your ability to speak”, he said. “You fear that your emotions will overpower you”.
At the time of Brianna’s murder, the maximum sentence for intentionally causing fatal harm to a child through abuse was 18 years in prison.
State Senator Mary Jane Garcia of Doña Ana expressed her disbelief. “Eighteen years for the life of a child? I find it absurd”.
After three years of persistent efforts, Senate Bill 166, also known as the “Baby Brianna Bill,” was signed by Governor Bill Richardson in 2005. This Bill made child abuse resulting in death a first-degree felony in New Mexico, carrying a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison.
Three relatives, including Brianna’s grandparents, sentenced to only 30 days in jail for their failure to report the abuse.
Stephanie Lopez convicted for her failure to take any action to protect her child. The New Mexico Corrections Department stated that she released as early as September 28, 2016. She served less than 15 years for her daughter’s death.
The potential release of Stephanie caused public outrage. Numerous petitions were filed with quickly accumulating signatures. Many individuals contacted the Governor to express their concerns.
Thousands of people mourned Brianna’s horrific death. Strangers who never meet Brianna in life, united to support the baby girl’s death. They funded her casket and burial of her body when her own family refused to do so. Her gravesite became a memorial adorn with dozens of toys and flowers.
Brianna’s family and relatives made no contribution toward her funeral. They did not even claim her body. Instead, it was the community who stepped forward. Her family determined to deny love even after her demise. They intentionally purchased a cage to place over her gravestone, attempted to shield her from affection. Neglected and filled with debris, the cage represents their disregard.
However, the community refused to let Brianna and her story fade away. They continuously place flowers around the cage. Another memorial site has been established to honour and remember the little girl.
When questioned about the cage over Brianna’s gravesite, her family had little to say.
“They requested to be left alone and expressed a desire for Brianna to be left alone,” stated Martinez.
Detectives, social workers and prosecutors involved in Brianna’s case will forever carry her memory with them.
“I remember before the autopsy, her little face lying on a white sheet. She appeared to be sleeping”, shared Officer Wright. “So, I took the photograph”.
She carefully edited the picture to remove all the marks, bruises, and scars that marred Brianna’s body. The community chooses to remember Brianna. It is a poignant reminder of why they are committed to their work.
“It serves as a constant reminder of why we do what we do”, said Martinez. “Forgetting would either harden or render us powerless. To excel in this profession, one must remain in the middle. This tragic case reinforces our purpose”.
Brianna’s memory continues to inspire Officer Wright to work tirelessly in preventing child abuse. The baby girl becomes a voice for every abused child. “That’s what drives me”, he affirmed.