Amanda Davila, a 27-year-old school bus monitor, sat at the front of her bus Monday morning, focused on her cell phone and wearing her headphones. Several rows back was one of the children she was supposed to be watching: a disabled 6-year-old girl in a wheelchair who was unable to speak, on her way to a summer education program in New Jersey.
The driver of the bus hit a bumpy patch of road, and the girl, Fajr Williams, slid down in her seat. And, unknown to Ms. Davila, the strap that was supposed to secure the child in her seat ended up tight against her throat, ultimately suffocating her, authorities said.
Ms Davila was arrested on Wednesday. On Thursday, the prosecutor of Somerset County, John P. McDonald, announced that she was charged with second degree manslaughter and second degree endangering the welfare of a child. Prosecutors said Ms. Davila “was using a cell phone while wearing earbuds in both ears.”
Days later, the little girl’s mother was still trying to come to terms with her death.
“I still feel like it’s unreal,” Najmah Nash, 38, said. “Sometimes I feel like I’m fine and functioning, and then other times I feel like I can barely hold on.”
Fajr, Ms. Nash’s daughter, was on her way to school in Franklin Township, about 45 minutes from New York, officials said. Mrs. Davila secured her wheelchair to the back of the bus and then sat near the front. On a rough part of the road, the girl began to struggle.
Shortly after 9 a.m., Ms. Nash said, she received a call “stating my baby was unresponsive” and that emergency responders were performing CPR on Fajr at Claremont Elementary School, about 15 minutes away from the family’s home.
The girl was then rushed to the hospital’s intensive care unit, where she was pronounced dead.
Mrs. Nash said that Fajr had Emanuel syndrome, chromosomal disorder that interrupts development. She was non-verbal and could not walk. Babies with the disease fail to gain weight or grow at the expected rate, and many who have the syndrome have “severe to profound” intellectual disabilities, according to the National Library of Medicine.
Although Fajr could not speak, she could “make baby cakes and happy sounds,” Ms Nash said. She was full of life and joy.
“Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the family and friends of this student,” Dr. John Ravally, the superintendent of the Franklin Township Public Schools, said in a letter sent Thursday to the school community notifying them of the death, and the charges.
“Obviously the community is saddened by this recent tragedy,” Vanessa Miranda, spokeswoman for the Franklin Township Board of Education, said in an email.
Officials said Ms. Davila violated “policies and procedures” by using her phone with her headphones in both ears. She is in custody at Somerset County Jail pending a detention hearing.
Montauk Transit, which has a transportation contract with the Franklin Township Board of Education, referred inquiries to Orange County Transit, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ms Nash, who works in the quality department of Motivcare, a company that brokers non-emergency medical transport, said she was “devastated” to find out the bus monitor was on her phone and had her headphones inside.
“It was very painful, Mrs. Nash said. “It was very unpleasant.”
She wants to know the ratio of aides to children, and the protocol for making sure a wheelchair is safe before the bus leaves.
Ms. Nash urged the Board of Education to thoroughly vet the transportation companies they contract with “to make sure they’re going to take care of our kids.”
“There’s only so much parents can do,” she said.
Kirsten Noyes contributed research.