Grandmother stands accused
Police allege woman beat to death boy she was raising
SCHENECTADY Contrasting pictures emerged Monday of 43-year-old grandmother Gloria Nelligan.
One was of a Gloria Nelligan who was deeply involved in her grandchild’s education and the education of her own children, a woman who worked to help them and others.
The other picture came from city police, who accuse Nelligan of beating her grandchild to death after some type of argument Friday. The beating lasted into the early hours of Saturday, police say.
The same people who remembered the deeply involved Nelligan on Monday said they never saw anything amiss, or anything that would suggest anything close to what she is now accused of.
Some of the picture of Nelligan came from her own lips. In a 6-year-old Gazette article about Nelligan, she spoke of having to raise her grandson and trying to do it right.
The 8-year-old boy she is accused of killing, Sha’hiim Nelligan, was a bright student, a child who loved to sing and joke around, and a boy who loved to show off, those who knew him said. Gloria Nelligan was his legal guardian.
Nelligan faces one count of first-degree manslaughter, a felony that could send her to prison for up to 25 years, if convicted.
She appeared in Schenectady City Court Monday morning still in civilian clothes. With an appointed attorney by her side, City Court Judge Guido Loyola ordered her held without bail. She is due to return to court Friday.
According to papers filed in City Court, Nelligan is accused of repeatedly beating Sha’hiim “over a prolonged period” from Friday into Saturday. She is accused of intending to cause physical injury to a child and causing his death.
Court papers indicate the charge is based on statements from Nelligan, as well as statements of witnesses and the police investigation.
Witnesses say Sha’hiim was conscious sometime in the morning hours Saturday, McCracken said, but was later that morning found unresponsive by family members inside the Mynderse Street home. The call to police came in shortly after 10 a.m.
The boy was treated on the scene by members of the Schenectady Fire Department and transported to Ellis Hospital, where he was pronounced dead a short time later. An autopsy on the boy pointed to homicide, police said.
The call Saturday was the only police call to the home going back at least a year, McCracken said.
Sha’hiim was remembered Monday as a child who loved to sing. “He loved to show off, he loved to play act,” said Judy Atchinson, who knew the family.
Atchinson knew Sha’hiim and his grandmother for years through Atchinson’s after-school arts program Quest.
Sha’hiim was brought to Quest for ballet lessons when he was younger, something that Atchinson recalled Nelligan believed helped with his behavior.
Also at Quest, Nelligan once led a support group for grandparents dealing with having to raise their children’s children. It was that group, dubbed the Bitch & Moan Club, that led to the January 2007 Gazette article on Nelligan.
Nelligan had five children of her own, Atchinson said. Three of those children, ages about 10 to 17, still lived with her. Sha’hiim was the son of Nelligan’s oldest child.
Atchinson recalled Gloria Nelligan as a woman who “had a hard road.” She also recalled Nelligan yelling, but she never saw her raise a hand to a child. The family would frequent the Quest program. She would resolve disputes there by talking to the children, Atchinson said.
The Nelligan that Atchinson knew was a woman who went to church, and took the children there, too. She was a woman who gathered day-old bread and distributed it to those in need, something that a neighbor of Nelligan also recalled.
Nelligan also dealt with health problems, including a heart ailment, breathing problems and a bad knee, Atchinson said. In court Monday, Nelligan mentioned taking some type of regular prescription medication.
“None of this makes any sense to me,” Atchinson said.
The Bitch & Moan Club eventually ended, but Atchinson said there was talk of reviving it come spring. Atchinson said she spoke with Nelligan at length just this past Wednesday where the topic came up.
Nelligan spoke of parenting problems she was having, but not related to Sha’hiim. As they spoke, Atchinson recalled, Sha’hiim slept nearby.
In the 207 Gazette article, Nelligan was quoted extensively about having to raise her grandson, and her hopes that he have a better future.
Daughter left baby
Then, when Sha’hiim was 2, Nelligan spoke of taking over the care of the boy without question. She did so, Nelligan described then, after her then-18-year-old daughter moved in with a drug-addicted friend and left baby Sha’hiim behind.
“I didn’t want to raise any more kids. I still don’t,” Nelligan, then 37, told The Daily Gazette. “But, I mean, when’s it going to stop? I’m trying to break the cycle of abuse, of violence, for all my children.”
Later in the article, Nelligan spoke of her hope for Sha’hiim, that she could help him avoid the pitfalls of others.
“They think life in Schenectady means selling drugs, selling themselves, drinking and drugging. They don’t realize they should go to school and make something of themselves,” Nelligan said in the 2007 article. “This is my grandson and I am willing to do whatever it takes to keep him from having to grow up this way.”
Nelligan also sent her children and her grandchild to charter schools in Albany, getting them up early enough to get there and being involved in their education, those who knew her said.
The family once attended the Albany’s New Covenant Charter School, which was shut down in 2010. Nelligan’s involvement stretched then to joining legal proceedings that were unsuccessful in keeping the school open.
More recently, the children attended Albany Community Charter School, Principal S. Neal Currie said Monday. Grief counselors were on hand there Monday working with staff and students, Currie said. They were to return today.
Sha’hiim, Currie recalled, was “very, very bright,” a student who had a strong vocabulary and was a strong writer.
“He had a lot of potential,” Currie said. “He was a big part of our community here. The entire family participated in our community. It’s just a horrible tragedy.”
Currie said Gloria Nelligan came to student events often to support the children. “Ms. Nelligan was a very supportive parent, a very nice woman,” he said.
He said the entire community was shocked to hear of Sha’hiim’s death and now the allegations against Nelligan.
Outside the family’s Mynderse Street home Monday, a small memorial to Sha’hiim sprang up. It included teddy bears and candles.