Man charged with abuse in death of 3-year-old Oakland County girl

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Trinity Chandler was a lively 3-year-old girl who loved stuffed pillows, her large extended family and characters in the "Frozen" films.

For Christmas, her grandmother, Christine Cunningham, planned to give gifts to help transform the child's bedroom in Groveland Township to reflect those tastes.

"I told her, 'We got you everything you wanted,' Cunningham said she told her last week. "She was like: 'I'm so excited.' "

While shopping Saturday for one last present to round out the list, Cunningham received unimaginable news: Trinity was dead.

Trinity Chandler

On Tuesday, Michigan State Police announced a Holly man dating the girl's mother has been charged in connection with her death.

Now, instead of holiday gatherings, the family is preparing for a funeral and struggling to understand the tragedy.

"Trinity loved everybody," said Cunningham, who lives in northern Michigan. "She was just innocent."

Investigators are releasing few details about the death or the suspect, Samual Smart, who had been living with girl and her mother.

The 29-year-old was arraigned Tuesday through 52-2 District Court in Clarkston on two felony counts: first-degree child abuse and torture, the agency said on Twitter.

He was denied bond and remains at the Oakland County Jail. His next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 4.

Samual Smart

"We realize that anytime that there is a death in the community, especially a child, rumors and gossip start working its way through both traditional and social media," MSP said Monday. "Please have patience as we continue our investigation."

Cunningham first learned Trinity was hospitalized early Saturday through a text from her daughter, who had returned to the trailer she shared with the girl and Smart after working the night shift at an adult foster care home.

Trinity's mother picked that schedule so the 3-year-old would not need daycare, Cunningham said.

Hours before the girl was rushed to a hospital, Smart forwarded videos to the mom showing Trinity playing with wooden blocks, "all happy," Cunningham said, nothing seemed awry.

Cunningham said she did not suspect abuse and said she would have intervened if learning otherwise.

"She’s been with him a year and a half. You should be able to trust the one you're with," Cunningham said. 

Reached Tuesday night, Lynn Sutfin, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said: "This is a terrible tragedy and MDHHS offers its condolences to the family and friends of this child. Our Children’s Services Agency is committed to its job of protecting children and families. By law, MDHHS cannot comment as this is an ongoing investigation involving law enforcement."

First Lt. Mike Shaw, a public information officer for the Michigan State Police, said no further information would be released on the case Tuesday night.

Detectives with the MSP Special Investigation Section continue to investigate.

As the case proceeds, Cunningham still plans to decorate Trinity's bedroom. 

She pushes back against criticism of her daughter, who often worked 12-hour shifts to provide for Trinity and save up. "They don’t know the pain unless they go through it. You can’t assume or predict what’s going to happen."

Her focus remains on the man her daughter trusted.

"Why would he take her away from us?" Cunningham said. "Why would he do something like that?"