Mom's death in missing baby case ruled homicide

Posted at 9:18 AM, Feb 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-10 23:47:59-05

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio -- A missing 6-month-old girl was reunited with her father after she was found unharmed near her mother's dead body Wednesday.

The Montgomery County Coroner's Office ruled Brittany Russell's death a homicide. She died from a gunshot wound.

According to Middletown police, the strange case began at about noon Tuesday, when the 30-year-old Russell took daughter, Haven, from a babysitter and didn't tell the child's father, Chris Edwards.

Russell did not have custody of Haven, who was staying at Edwards' home in Middletown, police said.

When Edwards found out, he said he called Russell, and she told him she'd return the child at about 7 p.m. Tuesday. Edwards called Russell again when she didn't show, he said, and she told him she would return Haven later that night.

She never did, according to authorities.

"She didn't take her kidnapping-wise -- she took her to spend time with her daughter," Edwards said. "It's a messed up situation because she's not going to be able to anymore."

Edwards told police Russell was a recovering drug user, that the situation was out of the ordinary for her, and that she may be headed to Dayton, Ohio. Edwards said he searched for her there until about 4 a.m.

Haven and Chris Edwards reunited

Middletown authorities said they learned at about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday that police found Russell dead and Haven unharmed in a car outside an apartment building on the 4100 block of Free Pike in Dayton.

Dayton police said Russell was shot to death, but they did not provide any other details.

"I can't wrap my mind around this," said Tracy Short-Pence, Haven's babysitter and a family friend. "What kind of person does that?"

Russell always lit up when she saw her daughters, Short-Pence said. And she said her friend was making progress against her drug addiction.

"To be honest, I know it's sad, but yesterday was one of my fondest memories. When she come to get her baby, she was just -- she was in a good place," Pence said.

Just after noon Wednesday, Middletown police returned Haven to her father. Edwards, holding his daughter dressed in a sleeper, said he was “overwhelmed with joy” when Middletown police placed his baby in his arms.

"I was happy, excited that my kid was OK, under the circumstances," Edwards said. "I mean, I'm still torn up about everything going on, but I'm happy to have my kid."

The scene where Russell was found dead. Photo by Bob Garlock | Journal News

Russell's father, Billy Russell, said they were waiting until after school to tell her other daughter the news.

The elder Russell said Brittany she had been a good mother until about a year ago.

"She was on heroin," he said. "I don't know how long she'd been using, but all I can say is it's some bad crap in this town."

Billy Russell said Brittany would have never harmed her children.

"I'm sure going to miss my daughter," he said.