RILEY ANN SAWYERS – BABY GRACE – BRUTALLY MURDERED
Riley Ann Sawyers was a beautiful little girl with a sweet smile and big blue eyes. From the day she entered this world, her kind and gentle spirit shone brightly. This little girl was destined for great things, to touch the lives of many, and Riley did touch the lives of many, but not in the way that we had hoped. On July 24, 2007, Riley Ann Sawyers was cruelly ripped from this world by her mother, Kimberly Dawn Trenor, and stepfather, Royce Clyde Zeiglar. This beautiful little angel was brutally beaten to death.
Riley’s story is one that is especially heart breaking and saddening. It is one which the world mourned before they even knew this angel’s name.
This baby girl’s body was placed in a plastic storage container, and dumped in Galveston Bay, her body would wash up on a deserted island, and when she was found, no one knew who she was. The girl in the plastic storage container was named “Baby Grace”, and authorities launched an extensive nationwide campaign to find Baby Grace’s true identity. Sheryl Sawyers, Riley’s paternal grandmother, saw the composite sketch which was released for Baby Grace, and her heart sank as she immediately knew that Baby Grace, was her baby Riley.
Shaken and devastated, Sheryl notified the police that Baby Grace was her granddaughter, and on November 30, 2007, Baby Grace’s remains were determined to be the remains of Riley Ann Sawyers. Following the identification of Riley’s remains, the story of her life began to unfold.
Riley’s mother, Trenor, was 15 years old and still in high school when she and Riley’s father, Robert Sawyers, found out they were pregnant with the baby girl. On March 11, 2005, Riley entered this world, a gift and miracle to be treasured. Trenor and Robert lived with Robert’s mother, Sheryl Sawyers, and Sheryl quickly became the primary care giver for Riley.
Not long after Riley’s birth, Robert began a relationship with Catherine Priester, who he later married and had two sons with, Braden and Robert Sawyers. Robert Sawyers describes his daughter as a “fun-loving girl with a big imagination.” He says that Riley was very active, and very well-behaved. He recalls how Riley would play “with a water hose, spraying the whole patio soaking wet until she was done with it.”
In 2006, Trenor, stating she suffered physical abuse at the hands of Robert, filed domestic violence charges and moved to Spring, Texas, to marry Royce Clyde Zeiglar, taking Riley with her. Trenor and Zeiglar had met while playing the online game World of Warcraft, and married on June 1, 2007.
Robert and Trenor had worked out a verbal agreement that Trenor would have primary care of Riley, and Robert would have regular visitation. When Trenor failed to deliver Riley for a scheduled visit, Robert took the matter to court and asked that Trenor be ordered to obey the custody agreement. At least two court summons were sent to Trenor, all which were returned unopened.
Trenor would later allege that Child Protective Services had taken Riley away to explain her sudden disappearance. Zeigler had asked Trenor to type up a fake letter from the Ohio Department of Children’s Services saying that Riley was taken away. It was quickly determined that CPS was not involved in any form, nor were any missing reports filed for little Riley.
After marrying Trenor, Zeiglar had some pretty horrific ideas about how parenting and disciplining should work, and strongly believed in corporal punishment. When Zeiglar felt that Trenor was not administering the appropriate ‘punishments’, he took over the task of disciplining Riley. A list was made of the things which Riley needed to do to “behave” better. The first six points were written by Zeigler, the following three, by Trenor.
Rules For Riley
- being polite
- Listen to mom & me
- sleep @ 8 pm
- nap @ 2 pm
- toys stay in her room
- puts toys back where she go em
- behaves in public
- never alone in our room
- chocolate/cake or treats only as a reward
I suppose they didn’t have enough time to get around to number ten before Riley was murdered.
Trenor stated that on July 24, 2007, she and Zeiglar beat Riley, for forgetting to say “please” and yes, sir”. Zeigler first shoved Riley’s face into a pillow in her room before the beating moved out to the living room. Zeigler began beating Riley with a thin black leather belt, while screaming at her, before switching to a thicker leather belt which caused more pain.
Trenor then went and filled the bathtub with cold water, as Zeigler dragged Riley into the bathroom by her hair and held her head under water every time she screamed. Zeigler then threw Riley by her hair onto a tile floor numerous times, one of which Trenor claims to have heard a loud cracking sound. When Riley would try to run away, Zeigler would wrap the belt around her tiny throat and drag her back, at one point he even bit Riley on her right hand. Throughout the beating, Riley, in an effort to stop the horrific abuse, would reach out to her mother, saying “I love you.” This made Zeigler angrier and he told Trenor that Riley was only trying to manipulate her.
Riley was beaten until she was black and blue, and could no longer stand, Trenor stating “She didn’t have control of her legs.”.
This next little tidbit makes me just livid, Trenor also stated that Zeigler tried to give Riley Children’s Tylenol after the brutal beating, but Riley had trouble chewing and swallowing the pills. Children’s Tylenol wasn’t even close to what Riley truly needed, and it didn’t take long for Riley’s little body to give out, unable to endure any more beatings.
Riley was granted her wings.
When Trenor and Zeigler realized that Riley had died, they callously hatched a plan to dispose of the baby girl’s body. A trip to WalMart was needed, and receipts showed the purchase of a shovel, Kilz cement, trash bags, rubber gloves, two respiratory masks, duct tape, anchor chain, small and large latex gloves, baby wash, two bottles of bleach and a large storage container. Not quite your average shopping list is it.
When Zeigler and Trenor arrived back at their home, they proceeded to wrap Riley’s tiny body in a purple towel and garbage bags, and stuffed her into the plastic storage container. They brought the storage container out to the shed, and left this baby girl’s body in there to rot for two months before dumping the body into Galveston Bay.
Local fisherman, Robert Wayne Spinn, discovered the plastic storage bin on October 29, 2007. The coroner confirmed three skull fractures, and the death of the little girl was ruled a homicide, her identity however, would remain unknown. The tiny, battered body was identified as Baby Grace, and was later determined to be Riley.
Shortly after Riley’s remains were identified, Zeigler, the disgusting excuse of a human being, attempted to take his own life by overdosing on prescription blood pressure medication and prescription antidepressants. Zeigler left a note reading:
To Whom It May Concern
I Royce Zeigler II leave my property to Kimberly Trenor Zeigler my wife. I take my own life because of guilt for past sins which I have confessed before I took my life. My wife Kimberly Zeigler is innocent and lived in fear … because of thought of what I would do to her. Also my family can go burn in hell for their stress that they’ve caused. So here I take my own life.
Royce Zeigler II
(Below Trenor wrote)
My heart is black dead. I can’t live with myself after Riley. I go to be.
The note, was written on the same piece of paper which Riley’s Rules were written on.
It’s a shame that the coward lived, and would later testify in court that he was not the one responsible for Riley’s death, pointing the finger at Trenor. His reasoning of why he was not guilty, well he had been in another room when Riley died. So by Zeigler’s account of things, he is stating that someone can beat a child within an inch of their life, walk in the living room to watch TV until the child has died, and is absolved of responsibility because they were not there to see their innocent victim take their final breath.
I thought I had heard it all, guess not.
When Trenor and Zeigler finally admitted they had murdered Riley, they once again provided quite the excuse. This time they called Riley’s death an accidental case of “discipline that went too far”. The two were initially charged with injury to a child and tampering with evidence.
On January 14, 2008, a judge ruled that samples taken during Riley’s autopsy were sufficient evidence for trial, and with that the baby girl’s remains were cremated and handed over to Riley’s family. “Knowing is better than not knowing, but it doesn’t make it right,” said Sheryl Sawyers.
At Riley’s funeral, a small casket lay holding an urn with her ashes. Pink roses were spread about as mourners gathered to grieve the loss of this amazing baby girl. Respects were paid, and the family was given a chance to lay Riley to rest in peace.
A poem, written by family friend Kathey Hernandez, for Riley, was read by her uncle, and it says it all.
Poem For Riley
Heaven has a brand new angel Her name is Riley Ann
We have to ask you favors We know you’ll understand
It’s hard for us to let her go So innocent and so small
She did not get to live her life So soon you came to call
We know that you were with her And she was not alone
You saw that she was hurting And chose to take her home
We ask that you take care of her And give her all our love
We know that she is safe within Your arms Dear God above
She likes to play with Elmo Her favorite movie “cars”
Just thought that you should know these things She even owns a star!
Teach her how to write her name We did not get the chance
And she loves to shop and sing And oh she loves to dance
She liked to put grams makeup On her pretty baby face
Her favorite was a lipstick Inside a fuzzy case
If she asks why she had to go Away and leave us here
Please tell her that we love her so And how much that we care
Ask her all her hopes and dreams And help her with her prayers
And if she ever cries to you Please wipe away her tears
We ask you that you tell her When we say how much she’s missed
We did not get to hug her tight Or give her one last kiss
When she looks down at her arms And sees that she has wings
Show her how to use them Please teach her all these things
Sweet baby till we meet again And get to hold you tight
The angels will take care of you And tuck you in at night
Her family cannot do these things For Riley anymore
But angels watching over her Will gladly do I’m sure
We will miss her so so much Our precious little girl
Please tell her that we send our love From all around the world
So fly high little Angel (RileyAnn) Fly high up above
And know that you will always and Forever have our love
Her grave remains a shrine to Riley regardless of the time that has passed. Flowers, angels and stuffed animals remain vigil by her side. Riley’s Uncle Mike placed lights to shine on Riley’s grave. This beautiful girl shines bright every single night, just as she should.
On February 2, 2009, it took a jury 90 minutes to convict Trenor of the capital murder of her daughter. She was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 38 years, November 24, 2047 is her first parole eligible day. On November 6, 2009, Zeigler was convicted of capital murder and received an automatic sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, as the state did not seek the death penalty.
The evil that these two brought into this world is overwhelming and unmeasured. They took the most beautiful thing on this Earth when they took the life of Riley Ann Sawyers. We will never fully achieve justice for Riley, because is there really ever anything that will amount to her immeasurable worth. I stand behind my opinion that these monsters should be forced to face the exact same cruelty the heaped on Riley, repeatedly. They have taken away the miracle of a child’s life, but we will not let them take away Riley’s memory, nor her spirit. Her memory and spirit will eternally remain very much alive.
The island on which Riley’s body was found, has been named Riley’s Island in honor of the baby girl’s memory. On the island stands a beautiful cross, adorned with tributes to Riley. The cross which stands on Riley’s Island was built by Tim Miller, the founder of Texas Equusearch, one of the world’s most renowned search and recovery organizations. Tim’s own daughter, Laura, was murdered, and he had placed a cross at the site where her body was found. Riley’s is a replica of Laura’s cross, and you can feel the love and dedication in which Tim built the cross for Riley, honoring her short, but beautiful life. Riley’s Island has become a memorial site dedicated solely to the baby girl, and with it comes the assurance that Riley Ann Sawyers will never be forgotten. She will remain in our hearts and we will forever celebrate her life with the beauty and joy it deserves.