VANCOUVER, WA (KPTV) – A man accused of causing the death of his girlfriend’s 5-year-old daughter last week has been held on $5 million bail for a charge of second-degree murder.
Ryan Burge, 37, appeared before a judge in Clark County Court as family and friends of Hartley Anderson packed the courtroom.
There were several vocal outbursts from the audience during the court appearance. “Murderer!” shouted one woman. “Burn!” a man shouted a few moments later.
According to prosecutors, Burge was caring for Hartley on Friday when she suffered “severe head trauma”. Police said medics later found the girl unconscious inside a unit at Madison Park Apartments and rushed her to the hospital, where she later died.
Family members told FOX 12 Burge shared the unit with Hartley’s mother and took care of the 5-year-old when she went to work.
Prosecutors described the trauma inflicted by Burge as “violent”, citing “impacts on the drywall” later found by investigators.
The disturbing details triggered Hartley’s father, identified as Peter, to jump up and try to rush Burge in the courtroom. He was detained by deputies and placed into handcuffs in the hallway.
After the Judge paused to ask family and friends to respect the court process, he granted a prosecutor’s request to set bail at $5 million.
“He killed my baby!” shouted a distraught Nataasha Luchau, Hartley’s mother, as she was carried out of the courthouse by family members.
Outside, wearing “Justice for Hartley” t-shirts that included a photo of the preschooler, family members broke down and offered each other an embrace.
"You go through anger, rage, confusion – you just don’t know what to think,” said TJ Luchau, Hartley’s uncle.
According to court documents, Burge had been with Hartley’s mother for just 3 months. An investigator wrote that Burge babysat the little girl while her mother was at work and her other children were at school.
Court documents state Hartley’s mother was the one who called 911 Friday when the girl “reportedly threw herself into a wall.” Hartley’s mother told police the girl was bleeding badly before she was transported for medical care.
At Randall Children’s Hospital, where Hartley was pronounced dead, a detective spoke with a neurosurgeon who said Hartley’s head injuries could not have been self-inflicted, according to court documents.
Burge was interviewed by police, court documents state, and he told them Hartley hit her head against a wall several times – even causing dents – while having a tantrum in his care. He said he tried to get her to stop and denied harming Hartley.
FOX 12 has learned Burge has previously been arrested for domestic violence, harassment and arson. But, according to Hartley’s family members, he never displayed any signs of violence with the young girl.
“She’s just so little, and I don’t understand how you could put your hands on a little girl like that,” said Hartley’s aunt Whitney Luchau.
Others expressed sadness for milestones Hartley will now never able to reach.
“I’ll never get to see her graduate from high school or be married or anything,” said Tim Luchau, Hartley’s grandfather. “He took that from us.”
Videos and pictures provided by Hartley’s family show better times. Most of them show her with a bright smile, the symbol of joy her family says she brought to all.
“She was a ball of fire,” Tim Luchau said. “Never a dull moment with her. She was happy, she loved everything.”
Memorial services have not yet been finalized, the family said.
“It’s going to be hard Christmas and Thanksgiving,” said Whitney Luchau.
Burge is due back in court later this week for a formal arraignment. Hartley’s family says they will be at every court appearance to come.
“It will never be right without her,” Tim Luchau said. “She was all of our lives - and that’s gone.”
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