GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — While 8-year-old Amari Hall's mother and the mother's partner are behind bars at the Gwinnett County jail, Amari's two younger siblings are being cared for by the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services.
Police said Amari, the little girl who was reported missing by her mother on Sunday, was found dead Tuesday around 10:45 a.m. in a wooded area by the Stone Mill Trace neighborhood in DeKalb County.
Gwinnett County Police Chief J.D. McClure said the child's mother, Brittany Hall, was arrested Tuesday morning. She was already in custody on other charges when they found the little girl.
The mother's partner, Celeste Owens, will face a murder charge in the girl's death, the chief said, clarifying the 29-year-old is also already behind bars.
The update in this devastating case has left relatives shocked and heartbroken, including Katie Fitch.
Fitch says her son is Brittany's stepdad, and Amari is his step granddaughter.
"When she was missing, he was crying. When he found out she had passed – she was dead – he was crying," Fitch told 11Alive hours after police made the announcement. "His heart broke.”
Fitch says she hadn't seen Brittany in about two years, and at first did not recognize her when seeing her on the news. It wasn't until her son called her that the big fear turned reality: the missing girl was, in fact, the Amari she knew and loves.
"When they told me, she was missing, I was praying that she would be found alive... that maybe she went to somebody’s house," Fitch said. "People see children walking and take them in then turn them into the police. That’s what I was praying for. Not that she was dead. I said no, no, no, no, no, she's not dead. But I was wrong. That was wishful thinking.”
Hall, 27, is facing several felony charges of child cruelty stemming from incidents in July, according to warrant documents. The mother is accused of physically abusing her three children in an incident caught on video, records show.
The warrants say the mother slapped one child several times on the back and face, going as far as punching and kicking a child. Arrest records show Hall is also facing a charge for falsely reporting a crime.
Jail records show Owens was arrested on six cruelty to children charges and is being held without bond.
Chief McClure said his department is now working to charge Hall for concealing her daughter's death, and Owens with murder, now that Amari's body has been found.
“I don't know what happened or why her life had to end like this," added Fitch. "She was just sweet."
Police say Hall, Owens, Amari and Amari's two younger siblings had been staying at the HomeTowne Studios hotel in the Peachtree Corners area of Gwinnett County for about three months.
They add that the other children appear to be okay and are now in the care of Georgia's Division of Family and Children Services.
The agency says its no stranger to the case. In a statement, it tells 11Alive:
“The Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) Division of Family & Children Services is aware of the tragic death of Nicole Amari Hall and is working closely with law enforcement to assist them in their investigation. DHS has previous history regarding this child, including unsubstantiated investigations in 2015 and 2017, and a report received in 2021 that contained no allegations of abuse or neglect. Concerning any of the mother’s other children, the Department is working closely with law enforcement to ensure their safety and well-being.”
Fitch says Amari's mom loved her and would never let this happen to her.
"If anything went down and Brittany’s mom had known about it, this would have never happened because she loved those children. She truly loved them.”
According to the Gwinnett Bonding Release Department, Celeste Owens had her 1st appearance Tuesday on the initial charges of false statement and cruelty to children. There is no bond for her and will be housed in the jail until the initial court date. However, she would have another appearance for the new upgraded charges.
As of Tuesday, Brittany Hall hadn't had her first appearance yet.