North Fairmount mother indicted for death of baby was homeless, sought help in past from food bank

Janishcia Cottingham faces possible life in prison

CINCINNATI -- A North Fairmount woman indicted Thursday on charges of smothering her 16-month-old girl was taken off the streets and helped by one of Ohio’s largest food banks two years ago.

A video titled, "Neighbors We Serve: Janishcia" posted on the Freestore Foodbank's YouTube page on Nov. 28, 2011, shows 23-year-old Janishcia Cottingham, two years before police say she killed her daughter Robin.

The video was removed from the YouTube page late Thursday evening.

The Hamilton County Coroner's Office ruled Thursday Robin's death on Aug. 15 was caused by asphyxiation due to smothering. Officers found the girl dead and alone in their North Fairmount apartment on Bowling Green Court.

Before Robin's birth, Cottingham sought help for food and shelter, according to the food bank's video.

The video begins with Cottingham's introduction.

"Hi, I'm Janishcia Cottingham and I'm a Freestore Foodbank client," Cottingham said. "I got laid off and had to leave my apartment and now I'm homeless."

The Freestore Foodbank is a provider of emergency food and client services and is the largest Tri-State food bank, serving 20 counties across Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.

The organization has three locations in Cincinnati: One at 112 E Liberty Street in Over-the-Rhine, another at 1250 Tennessee Avenue and a third at 1142 Central Parkway.

The video from the food bank states Cottingham had no family in town when she sought help, and her boyfriend was also facing financial struggles.

"Then I found out I was six weeks pregnant," Cottingham said in the video. "It was just more pressure and more stress."

Cottingham discussed what her life was like being homeless and said in the video that she would often not sleep for days.

"It's scary, cold. Sometimes I'd just be hungry," she said.

The Freestore Foodbank provided her with temporary housing, 25 pounds of food and a winter coat.

"It's a weight off my shoulders," she said in the video, which shows Cottingham putting canned foods and supplies in a basket at one of the food bank's locations.

Freestore Foodbank CEO & President Kurt Reiber, who examined the video, confirmed Cottingham's identity to WCPO.

Reiber sat down with 9 On Your Side to discuss the video and what he remembered about the organization's interaction with Cottingham.

“The young woman who was indicted for this crime, we saw two years ago. She came to a coat drive. Like any client who comes into our offices, we provided a coat, we provided some food, and we helped her get some housing assistance," Reiber said. "What happened after that I can’t tell you because we can’t keep track of the folks who come in on an irregular basis."

Reiber said his organization serves 300,000 food-insecure people, including 100,000 children, on a yearly basis.

“I can’t speculate as to why anyone would do some horrific act. But what I can tell you is the people we see each and every day at the Freestore Foodbank are really at a point of crisis in their lives," Reiber said. "Sometimes even the best things we can do aren’t enough.”

Cottingham is currently charged with one count of aggravated murder, one count of murder and one count of felonious assault for the death of her child last week.

If convicted of all charges, Cottingham faces the possibility of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

She is currently being held on $1 million bond.

“To have such a young life extinguished in this manner borders on being incomprehensible,” said Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters in a release.

Three weeks before Robin died, her mother and father went to Hamilton County Job and Family Services to seek help in raising Robin.

Her father Robert Midell said he took custody of Robin for a time while Cottingham underwent a psychological evaluation.

After Cottingham passed her exam, Midell said he gave Robin back to her because he had too much going on in his life.

Cottingham's mother said her daughter had acute anxiety and depression and she "mentally snapped."

She said Job and Family Services "failed" her daughter.

Job and Family Services Director Moira Weir said her agency never took custody of Robin and never saw any indication that the child was abused or neglected.

Weir said Job and Family Services was still in the assessment stage of Robin's case when she died.

Robin’s funeral was held Friday.

There, pink and white balloons floated overhead as family members and friends paid their respects.

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