NEW YORK — A 9-year-old girl was found dead in her Brooklyn home Sunday afternoon with cuts and bruises to her head and bite marks on her back, police said.
The girl was identified by police as Shalom Guifarro, who lived on Lincoln Place in the Crown Heights neighborhood.
Her mother, who was being questioned by police, is Shamaine Cato, 48. A police official said Cato had a history of domestic complaints, though none appeared to involve Shalom.
Neighbors described Cato as an overprotective mother who seemed troubled. They said she was known throughout the neighborhood for verbally abusing her daughter and two dogs, a pit bull and a smaller dog.
“She was crazy” said Rey Santiago, 28, a neighbor who had seen the mother scream at and shove her daughter in a laundromat.
The New York Police Department said that Cato had called 911 to report that her daughter was in distress.
Bart Hubbuch, who owns the restaurant Memphis Seoul, which is on the ground floor of the low-rise brick building where Cato lives, said that when he arrived early Sunday afternoon his employees reported a stench that they had assumed was a broken toilet upstairs.
Minutes after the building superintendent responded to their call, they watched him emerge from the building, ashen-faced.
Numerous emergency personnel arrived moments later, just after 1 p.m., and Shalom was pronounced dead at the scene. Also home at the time with Shalom and her mother was Cato’s other daughter, who is 13.
“They said it was a horrific crime scene,” Hubbuch said, adding that he watched police officers who appeared to be wiping away tears.
“This is so sad — that was a beautiful little girl,” said Flora Wilson, 51, a neighborhood crossing guard who was friendly with Cato and her family.
One neighbor, Barry Todman, 51, said she worked on Atlantic Avenue helping city residents sign up for welfare benefits. She often wore sweatshirts with the green, yellow and black Jamaican flag.
“I don’t know what the hell happened,” said Todman, who added that when he went to Cato for assistance in the summer of 2020, she had seemed kind and professional.
But Hubbuch and others said Cato was notorious around her block for yelling at her daughters. He added that he would not see the girls playing outside or with friends.
“She was always screaming at her kids so loud it would startle you,” he said, adding that he never saw her be physically abusive. “It was like, Why are you screaming at your kids like that?”
The woman’s boyfriend worked during the pandemic as a delivery driver, Hubbuch said, but had not been around for several months. He added that police officers talked to the boyfriend when he arrived at the scene Sunday afternoon and that he walked away in distress.
A man who runs a neighborhood pantry said that Cato regularly came for food assistance. He described her as brusque and as a stern disciplinarian with her children and animals. “But I never expected anything like this,” said the man, who gave only his given name, Rob.
Three detectives could be seen entering and exiting Cato’s building late Sunday night. A police cruiser remained parked out front.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.