The baby in Room 27: A look at the last moments of murdered baby's life
The last home Iyonna Brown ever had was a small motel room on the outskirts of Canandaigua, on a hill near the lake.
Room 27 in the Woodridge Motel has worn brown carpeting and inexpensive wooden paneling on the walls. The sole window looks out onto a parking lot and a trailer park. The bathroom is no bigger than a closet. It has a yellow linoleum floor, and the black plastic trim is secured in places to the wall with duct tape.
At times at this motel, Iyonna could be seen being pushed around the grounds by her obviously pregnant mother, with her 4-year-old sister nearby. Sometimes, the Brown kids played with other young children who found themselves living in the motel.
At 11:50 p.m. on May 30, the routines of the place were disrupted. Heather Brown, Iyonna's 20-year-old mother, rushed out of Room 27 to the pay phone near the main office and made a call to 911.
A Canandaigua Ambulance crew showed up in minutes and Heather Brown emerged again from her room, this time holding a limp, barely breathing baby, 10-month-old Iyonna.
A half hour later, Iyonna was pronounced dead at Thompson Hospital. The police were called soon after. Her little body was covered in burns and bruises, and her skull was cracked in three places.
Now, Heather Brown and her boyfriend, Ahkeem Whitfield, are behind bars, charged with Iyonna's death, and Room 27 has new tenants.
"I ain't sleeping here no more," said Sabrina Milliman, sitting in a lawn chair outside the room Tuesday. Milliman has been staying with a friend and a few other people for a month now, to the chagrin of the motel manager, Beth Bristol, who said she's not supposed to be there.
But then, neither was Whitfield. In his case, Bristol said, a court order of protection was supposed to insulate Brown and her children from him.
Milliman, wearing a tank top and adorned with heavy makeup and a nose ring, said she lived in the trailer park next door on Lakeshore Drive but was in jail when Iyonna died.
"I couldn't believe it when I saw it on the news, it's like — oh my God, Canandaigua of all places," she said. "This world is coming to nothing. How could you burn a baby?"
She had no idea that Room 27, her temporary home, was where it all — allegedly — took place.
"Don't mind the mess, we party," said Milliman as she invited a reporter inside. The scene included soda cans, beer cans, cigarette boxes, ashtrays, a pizza box, a TV playing a talk show, piles of clothes, other belongings.
Milliman and those she has been staying with are acquainted with Brown and Whitfield, having crossed paths in Geneva. In fact, Milliman said Whitfield was introduced to her by Ashley Vincent, who was murdered in Geneva in late December 2003.
The Woodridge is the sort of place where the down-and-out find temporary shelter, often with the help of Social Services. It has been home to paroled sex offenders, disabled veterans and mentally ill people.
And it's sometimes a home to children.
Iyonna's mother had lived there on more than one occasion, said Bristol. The manager said she felt bad for Heather Brown to the point of being protective, shooing away Whitfield from the motel grounds more than once.
Last spring, after the police took down the yellow tape, some of the motel's residents were sitting outside their rooms on lawn chairs, next to coffee-can ashtrays, wondering what happened. All kinds of rumors were floating around. Some said they heard adults yelling in Room 27 before the ambulance arrived. Memories of Iyonna seem limited — vague mental pictures of an infant in a stroller wheeled by her mom. But her environment was no secret — it was noisy and chaotic.
"Room 26 and Room 28 tell me they were always fighting, every day," said Bristol.
She said she was alarmed after learning from the news that the death was considered suspicious but she said Brown later approached her and said, "Can I ask you a favor? I have no place to stay."
Bristol said Brown calmed her concern by telling her Iyonna had died after a fall. Brown was allowed to keep her room. She lived there with Whitfield until June 30.
When she found out Tuesday that Iyonna's death was considered a murder, Bristol sighed deeply and said, "That makes the hair on my arms stand up."
Iyonna is buried alongside other babies in the Glenwood Cemetery on Lochland Road in Geneva. Her grave is marked only by a temporary sign put up by the funeral home that handled her arrangements.
Jessica Pierce can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 250, or at