The estranged husband of an NBC vice president has been arrested for suffocating their seven-year-old daughter at the family home he had just surrendered to his ex-wife.
Neil White, 47, was charged with second-degree murder in the death of his daughter Gabrielle.
The child’s mother, NBCUniversal talent acquisition vice president Michelle Hord-White, had filed for divorce from White in April and was not at the home in New Rochelle at the time of the horrific incident.
Police say the girl’s babysitter, Tonette Mahon, rushed to the home inside the Arbor Glen complex on Tuesday around 3pm after White had reportedly sent her several alarming text messages.
When she entered the home she didn’t see anyone and noticed that the shades were drawn upstairs.
‘I went upstairs, and I kept calling, “Neil? Gabrielle?”‘ Mahon told news outlets.
The babysitter said White emerged bleeding and told her that Gabrielle was ‘in her room resting.’
‘She saw Mr. White had cuts to his wrist, saw some blood and then she checked on the girl and saw she wasn’t moving and called us,’ New Rochelle Police Captain Robert Gazzola told WCBS.
An autopsy will be performed, but police said they believe the girl, who was a second-grader at William B. Ward Elementary School, was asphyxiated.
The child’s mother was said to be in ‘hysterics’ when she arrived at the horrific scene.
One day before the girl’s shocking death, White had approved a deal to surrender the house to his estranged wife as part of an agreement.
The couple were living in separate residences and shared custody of their daughter.
Mahon said she never saw this tragedy happening and said Gabrielle ‘was beautiful’.
‘I know the family, just — she was the light, she was the light of their lives,’ Mahon told WCBS.
The girl’s mother and her family issued the following statement: ‘No words could sum up all that Gabrielle meant to us but she was our light.
‘We are broken and devastated that our sweet little girl is gone but we’re thankful that we had seven wonderful years with her.
‘While we begin to mourn privately, we thank those friends, colleagues, neighbors and strangers for the tremendous support that we’ve already received.
‘In lieu of flowers, the family kindly request donations be made online at the hordfoundation.org, P.O. Box 4671 Danbury, CT 06813.’
White-Hord’s pastor, the Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson, spent Tuesday night with the grieving family after the tragic discovery.
‘She is a woman of great faith. I expect her to get through this. It will not be easy, and will never be over,’ he told WCBS.
He added that there’s ‘no logic or reason’ for this horrible crime.
‘He lost himself and in that deep dark place he acted out. And there’s no logic or reason,’ Richardson said of White, who is a writer and political consultant.
‘It pushes the boundaries of reason that a father could kill his daughter.’
The family’s neighbors were also shocked and heartbroken over Gabrielle’s murder.
‘Completely shocked. Disgusted,’ one neighbor who did not want to be identified publicly told the television station.
‘Everyone is so loving here, it’s a quiet neighborhood. The kids just come out and play.’
‘I’m devastated,’ neighbor Derek Lewis stated. ‘I have a son, like I said about her age, so, of course.’
‘Nothing you can say but pray,’ neighbor Evoni Legette said. ‘Pray for the family, pray for the little girl. That’s all you can do.’
Her funeral is being planned and will be held at Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon.
Mayor Noam Bramson said Wednesday was ‘an exceptionally painful day.’
‘Our entire community mourns this tragic event,’ the mayor said.
White appeared in court on Wednesday wearing a blue hospital gown and bandages on both forearms. He was arraigned on a charge of second-degree murder.
New Rochelle City Judge Anthony Carbone ordered him held and issued two orders of protection – for Hord-White and for another person. He’s due back in court June 15.
Authorities say the couple’s divorce comes after officers responded to the home in January over a domestic dispute, the New York Daily News reported.