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Halo Branton’s mom faces upgraded murder charge after missing New York girl found down tunnel at GE plant

Persia Nelson is charged with murder in the death of her daughter Halo Branton, who was found down a tunnel on a General Electric campus.

The mother of an 11-month-old now faces a murder charge after her child was reported missing in upstate New York before being found down a tunnel at a General Electric campus.

Persia Nelson, 24, has been charged with second-degree murder, depraved indifference to human life, in connection to the death of her daughter, Halo Branton, Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney announced at a press conference Monday afternoon. The charge had been upgraded from second-degree manslaughter since Monday morning. 

Carney said an autopsy showed the 11-month-old girl died of exposure and hypothermia, but the child did not drown, the Daily Gazette reported. 

The district attorney detailed how the girl had been dropped into a utility tunnel on the General Electric campus in Schenectady, New York, which dropped about eight feet to the bottom. Branton was found in standing water that came up to her chest and around her head – but not her face, according to Carney. 


The girl was rushed by ambulance to Ellis Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. 

"The allegations are that she dropped that child down pipe-access – a hole in the ground, essentially – on the GE plant grounds," prosecutor Matthew Nobles said at Nelson's arraignment hearing on Monday, the Gazette reported. "That was approximately 10-feet deep and left the child there essentially to die, without seeking any help whatsoever."

Nobles asked the judge to order Nelson held without bail, arguing she is a flight risk and has only been connected to the Schenectady area since November. According to the prosecutor, Nelson previously stayed in a shelter in Albany County. She is originally from Columbia County, and has another child there of whom she does not have custody and has limited contact. 

Judge Carl Falotico ordered Nelson held on $500,000 cash bail, or a $1 million bond. Her next court appearance is Thursday. 

At the press conference Monday, Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford said the first call came just past 11 p.m. on Saturday from security at the General Electric campus.

Security reported finding a female trespasser, identified as Nelson, in a heated building on the electric company's campus. Nelson allegedly claimed to not know how she made it onto the property and said she lost her child. Police responded to the scene, began interviewing the mother and launched a multi-agency search for the girl. 


An Amber Alert was issued for Branton on Sunday morning when law enforcement said they could not yet rule out a possible abduction or kidnapping of the girl. 

Clifford declined to comment on whether Nelson was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, saying only, "She didn’t know where she was, I’ll leave it at that." 

The hours-long search involved K-9s, drones and personnel on foot. New York State Police and forest rangers were also called in to help. 

Law enforcement found the girl inside a utility tunnel structure on the GE campus at 12:30 p.m. Sunday. 

Medics performed life-saving measures while rushing her to the hospital, but Branton never regained her vitals and was pronounced dead at 1:34 p.m. Sunday, Clifford said. 

"On behalf of the men and women of the Schenectady Police Department and all agencies that participated in this search, I’d like to send our condolences, thoughts and prayers to Halo’s family on the loss of Halo," Clifford said. "I know I speak for every first responder on scene and at the Unified Communications Center when I say that yesterday was a difficult day."

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