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Vigil held for toddler who died after being burned; mom and boyfriend charged

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) - A call to action arose from a vigil for a 2-year-old girl who recently died after suffering for hours from major burns to her body. 

"It has to stop, it has to stop," Shannon Hawkins continued to say to a crowd of nearly 40 gathered at Ocean View Beach Park on Thursday night. 

"It is up to us to speak up for Harley the way she could not," Hawkins shouted about the death of Harley Rae Williams.

Hawkins helped organize the vigil along with Rachael LaFord. Both are from Norfolk's Ocean View neighborhood and say they've been shaken by Williams' death. 

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Williams was rushed to the hospital on April 24 following a call to 911 for an unresponsive child, according to Norfolk Police. She was pronounced dead at the hospital.

The child’s mother, 23-year-old Shelby R. Love, and her boyfriend, 33-year-old John Tucker Hardee, have been charged with felony child abuse and neglect. Hardee also faces a malicious assault charge.

In court, prosecutors told the judge that burns covered 30 to 50 percent of Harley's body. Bond was denied for both. 

Hardee is also facing charges for abuse of his own child, according to Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Jill Harris.

Harris presented in court that Hardee beat his then one-year-old son so severely that he had a skull fracture, three compression fractures, and had to wear a neck brace. He faces unlawful wounding and child abuse/neglect charges in that case. 

"We are going to start a petition to have convicted child abusers treated like sex offenders," LaFord said. "They will have to register, so that we will know that a specific person shouldn't be around a child."

LaFord knew Hardee and said she feels the "wool was pulled over her eyes."

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Williams' family, on her father's side.

"We are devastated," said Shelby Williams, the brother of Harley's father, Ivan Williams.

"My brother ... can’t eat, cannot sleep and is heartbroken. He loved his daughter very much. We all love Harley and to this day we are not going to stop fighting for her and we hope justice will be done."

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