Katelynn Sampson inquest hears guardian's 911 call: 'I think she died'

A coroner's inquest into the death of Katelynn Sampson opened today with the playing of a 911 call from the woman convicted in the seven-year-old's death.

Paramedic shares heartbreaking details at inquest into death of 7-year-old girl

A coroner's inquest into the death of Katelynn Sampson began today. Katelynn, 7, had suffered multiple injuries, including bruises and broken bones, while in the care of Donna Irving and Warren Johnson, who received life sentences for her murder.

A coroner's inquest into the death of Katelynn Sampson opened Monday with the playing of a 911 call from the woman convicted in the seven-year-old's death. 

Katelynn Sampson's guardian, Donna Irving, could be heard sobbing on the call as she told the operator she believed the girl was already dead.

"It's really an emergency. My daughter choked and I think she died," Irving said on the recording. "I was so scared, I didn't know what to do."

​Bernice Sampson, Katelynn's biological mother, shook as she listened to the call in the courtroom.

"Today is not a good day," she told CBC News. "And every day won't be a good day. But at least when this is all done … Katelynn will rest and she'll be at peace. And hopefully, I will have some peace."

Sampson's lawyer said outside court it was the first time her client had heard it.

"I think that we're extremely skeptical of any emotion ... by Ms. Irving," Suzan Fraser said. "She knew that Katelynn was dead, it was pretty clear from the call. We question whether the tears were real and right now we consider it more of a performance."

Fraser said Katelynn's mother has been through "a tremendous ordeal, first a death in the most horrific of circumstances, the most brutal thing that shocked our community.

"I don't think I fully appreciated...the scope of Katelynn's suffering and as we come to return to this death, and we look at the injuries that she sustained on every part of her body, we just are shocked all over again."

Paramedic found Katelynn lying on floor

The inquest also heard from Wendy Walker, a Toronto paramedic who responded to the 911 call. Walker and her partner found Katelynn lying on her back on the living room floor, her arms stretched above her head, the paramedic testified.

  "There was swelling to the side of her face, her hands appeared swollen and bruised ... one eye was swollen shut ... there was a puncture on her thigh and bruising," Walker told court. 

She said her partner bent over the girl to assess her condition, then shook his head, indicating they would not attempt resuscitation. That alone suggested Katelynn "had passed away quite some time ago," Walker added.

Katelynn had been living with Irving and Warren Johnson for about a year when she was found in their Parkdale apartment on Aug. 3, 2008, after they called 911 to say she had started to choke and stopped breathing. 

In fact, the pair inflicted more than 70 injuries on the little girl over a period of months, according to her autopsy. She had broken bones, lacerations and internal injuries. 

Irving and Johnson received life sentences with no chance of parole for 15 years for Katelynn's murder in 2012. Irving is expected to testify at the inquest. 

As the inquest got underway on Monday, the coroner's counsel told the five-person jury they will hear how two children's aid societies were involved in Irving's guardianship of Katelynn and how she was absent from school for many days.

'Alarm bells' rung 'time after time,' lawyer says

Fraser said the jury will hear how "alarm bells" about Katelynn's well-being were rung "time after time and no one responded."

The office for the provincial Advocate for Children and Youth called for the inquest.

There were other agencies involved near the end of Katelynn's life, including the Children's Aid Society of Toronto, Native Child and Family Services and the Toronto District School Board — and their lack of intervention drew heavy criticism from the trial judge in 2012.

Fraser said she's most interested to hear from staff at the Children's Aid Society. Irving and Johnson had called them while Katelynn was in their care to say they no longer wanted her. 

The Canadian Press reported that the society transferred that call to Native Child and Family Services, but it took a caseworker more than two weeks to contact Irving.

Katelynn also missed the last two months of elementary school in 2008. It's unclear what steps, if any, board staff took to see why that was.

The little girl first began living with Irving and Johnson in 2007.  Her mother, Bernice Sampson, made the arrangement so that she could get treatment after relapsing into crack addiction.

Court documents obtained by CBC News show the custody arrangement became formalized by the court in June 2008, despite the fact that Irving had several criminal convictions.

The court's apparent lack of scrutiny of the couple later prompted the province to require mandatory criminal background checks for anyone applying for child custody.

Five weeks have been set aside for the hearing and it is expected to involve about 30 witnesses, including police officers and Katelynn's teachers.

The jury may make recommendations about how to prevent similar deaths.

With files from Michelle Cheung and The Canadian Press