Family and friends of both 8-year-old Sha’hiim Nelligan and the grandmother who allegedly killed him, Gloria Nelligan, gathered and hugged outside Schenectady City Court on Friday morning.
They had just attended the latest court appearance for Gloria Nelligan, accused of beating Sha’hiim to death over a pack of stolen gum.
The court appearance — for a preliminary hearing that was eventually postponed — came the day before Sha’hiim is to be laid to rest. Services for Sha’hiim are scheduled for noon today at Schenectady Pilgrim Holiness Church, 2105 Curry Road in Rotterdam. Visitation will be at 11.
Outside court Friday morning, several of those family and friends also spoke briefly with Nelligan’s attorney, Schenectady County Public Defender Mark Caruso. He left without commenting to The Daily Gazette.
One woman, identifying herself as Patricia Ann Dohl, Gloria Nelligan’s sister, mentioned what the entire family is going through. But she also said she is standing by her sister.
For Friday morning’s appearance before City Court Judge Matthew Sypniewski, Nelligan wore an orange jail outfit and used a cane to walk. Caruso agreed to postpone the preliminary hearing, however, in exchange for some pre-indictment information from prosecutors. The next court appearance is set for March 28.
Caruso also reserved the right to make a bail application in the future. When Nelligan appeared in court Monday, the judge ordered her held without bail.
Nelligan has been incarcerated since being formally charged Sunday. She remains under close watch at the jail, with an officer assigned to keep a constant eye on her to ensure she doesn’t harm herself, Sheriff Dominic Dagostino said. She is evaluated daily by jail medical staff, who then decide whether to continue the monitoring.
Nelligan, 43, of 23 Mynderse St., faces one count of first-degree manslaughter, a felony that could send her to prison for as much as 25 years if convicted. She is accused of beating her grandson to death “over a prolonged period” the evening of Feb. 22 into the morning of Feb. 23. Nelligan was Sha’hiim’s legal guardian.
Court papers indicate the charge is based on statements from Nelligan, as well as the statements of witnesses and results of the police investigation.
Police believe Nelligan learned earlier in the week that Sha’hiim stole a pack of gum from a nearby store, a source has said. She then took him to the store to apologize, but she didn’t let it go at that, and her anger culminated with the beating that proved fatal, the source said.
Family and friends of Nelligan, though, have said that is not the woman they know. That woman was involved in her children’s education and the education of Sha’hiim, took them to church regularly and helped others.
Sha’hiim has been recalled as a bright student with a strong vocabulary and much potential. He also loved to sing and dance, as well as play basketball and show off. He was a student at Albany Community Charter School.
Nelligan initially filed for custody of Sha’hiim in May 2005, when he was just more than a year old. She suggested she could provide for the best interests of her grandchild, and that his mother, Keila Nelligan, was making “irrational decisions” relating to him, according to the filing, which was released to The Daily Gazette on Friday.
It was in September 2005, with the consent of Sha’hiim’s mother and law guardian, that Nelligan was awarded sole custody of Sha’hiim, according to the paperwork. The judge also ordered Keila Nelligan to have parenting time, as the parties had agreed to.
Among the friends who attended Friday’s court appearance was Gaston Hooks, who lives across Mynderse Street from Gloria Nelligan’s home. Hooks is among those who said they know the other Nelligan — the good mother and grandmother.
He said she would yell and scream, but never touch the kids. Nelligan lived in the home with her grandson and three of her own children, ages 10 to 17, friends have said.
“One minute, life is beautiful; another minute, it’s a tragedy,” Hooks said. “I don’t know, I wasn’t there. But that is not Gloria. That is not Gloria.”
After Friday’s court appearance, Nelligan was returned to the Schenectady County jail.
Outside the jail, over the noon hour Friday, a half-dozen members of a Glens Falls group calling itself Hands Across New York held signs and passed out fliers remembering Sha’hiim and demanding a halt to violence against children.
According to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, 36 children up to age 17 were killed statewide in 2011 by either a parent, a parent’s romantic partner or another family member. Of those, 15 were from New York City, the other 21 from elsewhere in the state.
Laurie Russell, 52, of Glens Falls, founded the group last summer and was at the jail Friday holding signs with the others. Russell, a mother and grandmother herself, said she felt compelled to use her voice against child abuse, referencing other, similarly tragic cases.
Russell beamed when describing her own family, two grown children and a “brand new baby grandson.”
That a grandmother could be accused of doing this to her 8-year-old grandson, Russell said, “it breaks my heart. I can’t even imagine it.”
“From my point of view, I don’t see anything a child could do that ever warrants this. I just don’t see it,” Russell said. “Just walk away. Go to a stranger on the street … anything.”