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Evaluation ordered for Hamilton kidnapping suspect

Woman accused in case to have psychiatric test

Abigail Hanna, 21, of Topsfield, was arraigned Monday on multiple charges at Newburyport District Court.
Abigail Hanna, 21, of Topsfield, was arraigned Monday on multiple charges at Newburyport District Court.(Dina Rudick/Globe Staff)

NEWBURYPORT — When investigators arrived at Abigail Hanna’s house Friday morning, searching for clues in the disappearance of a 2-year-old girl, the former baby sitter’s hands and face were dirty, according to documents filed in court Monday. In a bag, police said, they found a dirty pink toddler-sized jacket. And when they tried to ask Hanna questions, according to the documents, Hanna was erratic and evasive.

Hanna was held without bail Monday, accused of kidnapping the girl in the middle of the night, stripping her, beating her, and leaving her alone on the side of a back road.

And while prosecutors did not say why she allegedly carried out the bizarre abduction and assault on the toddler, Hanna was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether she is competent to stand trial.

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“She is experiencing multiple psychotic symptoms,” a Newburyport District Court clinician, Tammy Howe, said at Hanna’s arraignment. As her family looked on, concern etched on their faces, Hanna appeared dazed. She kept her eyes to the floor, while court officers gripped her arms.

Hanna pleaded not guilty to kidnapping the 2-year-old, who was found on the side of a back road some 8 miles from the girl’s home in Hamilton Friday morning. Howe, who said Hanna had a history of suicide attempts and memory lapses, said she did not appear to understand the allegations against her or even where she was. Hanna was suffering from auditory and visual hallucinations, expressed thoughts of suicide, and “has no rational ability to participate in her defense,” Howe said.

Hanna’s lawyer, Susan McNeil, said her client was experiencing “serious and potentially life-threatening issues.”

“These issues have clearly impacted her overall mental health,” she said in a statement.

Abigail Hanna’s mother, Laurie, was among the family members who attended Hanna’s arraignment Monday.
Abigail Hanna’s mother, Laurie, was among the family members who attended Hanna’s arraignment Monday.(Dina Rudick/Globe Staff)

The toddler was found a few hours after she went missing by a couple who spotted her in the grass as they drove by. She was naked and bruised, had road rash, and had cigarette burns on her body. She was taken to the hospital and later released. The girl has been reunited with her parents.

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Prosecutors did not provide details about the allegations or provide potential motives. But in an affidavit filed in support of a search warrant for Hanna’s home, investigators provided new information about the abduction and how they came to arrest the young woman.

The toddler’s parents realized the girl was missing around 6:30 a.m. and called police a short time later after seeing the back door was partially open.

When police arrived, the couple mentioned that Hanna had once baby-sat for them before they fired her.

Police called Hanna, who said she was baby-sitting in Boxford. When the officer said he would meet her there, she said she was hesitant to give out the address. She later said her cellphone battery was running out and said she was actually baby-sitting in Topsfield or Ipswich.

When the call disconnected, police went to her home in Topsfield and arrived just as Hanna returned. Officers said her hands were “noticeably dirty.”

Hanna told police she thought they were there to “kick her out of the house” and initially denied knowing the toddler’s family. When pressed, she said she baby-sat for them once and knew they kept their doors unlocked.

In a later interview, Hanna was “acting erratic” and told investigators she had anxiety issues, police said.

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“She would cry and then immediately stop,” police wrote.

Tammy Howe, a forensic psychologist, testified Monday at Hanna’s arraignment.
Tammy Howe, a forensic psychologist, testified Monday at Hanna’s arraignment.(Dina Rudick/Globe Staff)

When asked why she was dirty, police said, Hanna answered that she had been trying to catch a stray cat in the woods earlier that morning. Police asked her to unlock her cellphone, but she said she didn’t remember the password.

Later that day, Hanna left the home with her mother and her boyfriend and attempted to take several bags with her, police said. One held a pink jacket that was dirty, even though it had been washed, police said. Hanna said it belonged to someone she baby-sat for, they said.

A tenant who lives with the Hanna family told police Hanna has a history of stealing things. Hanna had a miscarriage a month earlier, the woman said.

The toddler’s disappearance sparked an intensive search, and State Police sent out a picture of the blonde child, smiling as she played in mud near a sprinkler. The child was found just as police were about to issue an Amber Alert, and Hanna was arrested the next day.

Hanna was charged with kidnapping, assault and battery, and breaking and entering. Her relatives declined to comment, but in a statement said they were thankful the toddler was doing better.

“We are so thankful that [the child] is improving and wish her and her family complete healing in every way,” the Hanna family said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with them. We also will continue to care for Abi, whom we love very much.”

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The toddler’s parents, in a statement issued through Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett’s office, said they were grateful to have their daughter back.

“We are extremely thankful for the incredible efforts to rescue our daughter by the Police and all emergency responders,” they wrote. “We are extremely grateful to the kind couple who found our daughter.”

Hanna is due back in court Dec. 11 for a competency hearing. If she is deemed competent, a hearing will be held to determine whether she can be safely released before trial.

Statement from the Hanna family:

We are so thankful that [. . .] is improving and wish her and her family complete healing in every way. Our thoughts and prayers are with them. We also will continue to care for Abi, whom we love very much. We ask that everyone respect the privacy of both families in this very difficult time.


Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete. John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.