(FAYETTEVILLE, N.C.) — A North Carolina mother charged in the death of her 2-year-old daughter commissioned “after life” photos to be made weeks after the toddler’s death, according to the photographer who created the images.
Spring Lake resident Jeanie Ditty, 23, and her live-in boyfriend, Zachary Keefer, 32, were arrested and charged last week with first-degree murder and negligent child abuse inflicting serious bodily injury in the December death of Ditty’s daughter, Macy Grace, the Fayetteville Police Department said.
On Jan. 4, exactly one month after Macy Grace’s death, Ditty contacted Pennsylvania-based photographer Sunny Jo and requested “after life” photos to be composed of herself and the toddler. Jo had originally offered his condolences to Ditty on her Facebook page three days after the toddler’s death, he said.
Jo offered his “One More Time” package, in which a transparent image of a deceased loved one is superimposed onto a photo to make them look like an angel, to Ditty for free. The package usually runs between $300 and $500, he said.
“She offered to pay, and honestly, I couldn’t do it,” Jo told ABC News. “It was a gift for what I thought was a grieving mother at the time.” It wouldn’t be until March that Jo would learn of the charges.
In one photo, it appears as if Ditty is walking hand-in-hand with her daughter in a graveyard. Another photo shows Ditty reading to Macy Grace while sitting on a picnic blanket, and a third image shows Ditty staring longingly at a makeshift memorial with Macy Grace placing her small hand upon her shoulder.
Keefer took the photos of Ditty and sent them along with images of Macy Grace to the photographer, who then spent two to three weeks creating the “after life” images, Jo said. At the time, Jo said he was not aware of the investigation into the toddler’s death, and in hindsight, calls working with Ditty the “biggest mistake” of his career.
“The only good part about this is that baby has a voice now,” he said. “We gave Macy Grace a voice.”
On Dec. 2, officers were called to the Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in Fayetteville, North Carolina, when emergency room medical staff discovered bruises all over Macy Grace’s body and determined she had suffered from “life threatening injuries consistent with child abuse,” police said. When she was transferred to UNC Hospital at Chapel Hill, it was determined that the injuries had been inflicted within a 24-hour period.
The toddler died two days later.
Macy Grace’s father, Kevin Ditty, had been called back from overseas to make the decision on whether to take her off life support, according to the Fayetteville Observer.
The North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled the toddler’s death to be a homicide on March 23.
The following day, authorities issued arrest warrants for Jeanie Ditty and Keefer.
Ditty was arrested on March 24, and Keefer turned himself into police on Saturday, according to the Fayetteville Police Department. Both remain at the Cumberland County Detention Center without bond.
Court records show that both have been arraigned, but it is unclear if either has entered a plea or obtained a lawyer.
Jeanie Ditty is a soldier in the 525th Military Intelligence Brigade at Fort Bragg and Keefer previously served in the military for 12 years, the Fayetteville Observer reported, citing court documents.
It is unclear why there is a four-month gap between Macy Grace’s death and the Medical Examiner’s ruling the death a homicide.
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