In a case as rare as it is nightmarish, police arrested a North Sacramento woman Tuesday who they said killed her 6-week-old daughter in March by burning her to death in a microwave oven.
Ka Yang, 29, was booked into the Sacramento County Main Jail on suspicion of murder and assault that resulted in the death of a child. She is being held without bail.
"It's unthinkable," said Norm Leong, Sacramento Police Department spokesman. "Everyone was stunned at the cause of death. Even the detectives were shocked."
Mirabelle Thao-Lo was found dead March 17 by firefighters called to the home in the 800 block of Rood Avenue, in the city's Robla neighborhood.
People at the scene said an adult holding the baby had suffered a seizure and dropped her, Fire Department Battalion Chief Niko King said at the time.
Fire officials summoned police because of the child's traumatic injuries, King said.
Investigators spent three months trying to determine what caused the infant's severe and unusual burns, authorities said.
"She had some really deep tissue burns, fourth-degree burns. It was probably the worst case I've seen," said Sacramento County Coroner's Office spokesman Ed Smith.
Early on, detectives speculated that a household appliance, perhaps the microwave, caused the burns, Leong said. But the rarity of such cases made the investigation more difficult and time-consuming, he said.
Investigators found only two other cases of infants killed in microwaves and a third case of a baby who was burned but survived, he said.
According to coverage in the Dayton Daily News, China Arnold was convicted last month in Dayton, Ohio, of killing her 4-week-old daughter, Paris Talley, in a microwave oven in 2005. Forensic pathologists testified the baby was probably in the microwave for more than two minutes and died when her temperature reached 107 or 108 degrees.
In New Kent County, Va., a young mother in 2000 pleaded to involuntary manslaughter after her 5-week-old son, Joseph Lewis Martinez, died in a microwave, the Washington Post reported. Elizabeth Renee Otte told authorities she had suffered an epileptic seizure in September 1999 and put her baby in the oven instead of his milk bottle.
In Galveston, Texas, in 2008, Joshua Mauldin was found guilty of injuring a child, according to the Galveston Daily News. Jurors determined that in May 2007 he had put his 2-month-old daughter Ana Mauldin in a motel microwave for about 10 seconds. She was burned on her arm and ear but survived.
Comparing the evidence in those cases with Mirabelle's death, and consulting with forensic experts and government agencies, took time, Leong said.
"We had to find medical experts and make a finding," Leong said.
By Tuesday morning, police were ready to make an arrest.
"We have reason to believe that the mother did it," Leong said. But her motivation remains a mystery. "We really don't know what led up to it. We don't have a motivation," he said.
Leong said he could not discuss any statements that Yang or others may have made to police. Yang declined to be interviewed at the jail Tuesday night.
Yang's three other children, boys ages 7 and younger, were removed from the home at the time of Mirabelle's death, authorities said.
On Rood Avenue, residents said they had little knowledge of what went on inside their neighbor's home.
A Nissan sedan sat in the driveway of Yang's single-story house Tuesday afternoon, but no one answered the door.
Relatives could not be reached by telephone.
Yang and her family kept to themselves, said Gilbert and Margarita Layva, who live a few houses down the block.
"She never opened the door," Margarita Layva said. "She never came out."
The couple said they had offered Yang a bag of rice as a housewarming gift and invited her for coffee, but she had rebuffed them.
Gilbert Layva said he mowed his neighbor's lawn Sunday because it was becoming an eyesore. Yang came out, apologized for rejecting their earlier invitation and hugged Margarita Layva, he said.
The couple said they were surprised by Tuesday morning's arrest.
Yang is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday in Sacramento Superior Court at 1:30 p.m. in Dept. 61.