December 12, 2017 -
The Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) mourns the death of Sanaa Cunningham, who passed away February 12, 2017.
She was seven-years old and known to the department. Our history with the family is as follows:
On March 4, 2016, a report was received by DCS alleging neglect to Sanaa by Germayne and Lisa Cunningham. The investigator interviewed the children in the home and verified parents were providing Sanaa treatment for her special needs, which among other issues included a severe eating disorder. When interviewed, Sanaa herself as well as other siblings in the home denied any abuse or neglect. During the course of the open investigation, parents scheduled an appointment with a psychiatrist and gastro-intestinal specialist as confirmed by the worker. The allegations were unsubstantiated and the case was closed. The family was provided information on community services available. The family was following-up on the needed medical and mental health services for Sanaa.
On October 27th, 2016, a report alleging possible sexual abuse was made solely on the basis of Sanaa’s sexualized behaviors (excessive masturbation). No person was ever named to have perpetrated an offense on Sanaa. The child denied sexual abuse. The DCS worker reviewed Medical/Psychiatric records and confirmed the parents’ efforts to provide appropriate behavioral health treatment for Sanaa. The allegations were unsubstantiated and the case remained open pending the completion of all documentation when another report was received. The Department offered Family Preservation services to the family, but the family declined.
On December 21, 2016, DCS received a report alleging neglect and physical abuse to Sanaa by Germayne Cunningham and neglect to Sanaa by Lisa Cunningham. An investigation was initiated and still in progress when the fatality report was received. The parents presented evidence that they were providing services for the child’s mental health needs. The allegations have been proposed for substantiation.
In each instance that DCS investigated, there was not sufficient evidence to legally justify removing Sanaa from her home or to mandate court ordered services. Sanaa had an extensive documented history of multiple psychiatric and behavioral health issues and was under the care of various medical professionals for treatment.
An autopsy completed by the Maricopa Office of the Medical Examiner on October 12, 2017 found the cause of death to be complications of sepsis in the setting of acute bronchitis with bronchiolitis and early bronchopneumonia, right foot abscess, multiple skin ulcerations, and unspecified schizophrenia spectrum disorder.
The manner of death was ruled as undetermined. It was also found to be unknown as to how the injury occurred.
On December 1, 2017, a Maricopa County Grand Jury indicted the child’s father, Germayne Cunningham, and stepmother, Lisa Cunningham, on charges of murder and child abuse.
Sanaa’s siblings in the home were removed and placed in foster care. One child was placed in the care of the child’s other parent.
We are grateful to the Goodyear Police Department and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office for their 10-month pursuit of justice for Sanaa. The facts surrounding this case were clearly complex and required thoughtful compilation. DCS will continue to assist in any way possible.