The last year and a half were the worst of Donna Elliott’s life, but 2019 started off on the right foot.
In August 2017, her granddaughter, Maleigha Solonka, was murdered, her body found in a wooded area in Havre de Grace.
On Jan. 1 of this year, another granddaughter, Laniya Malia Hernandez, was born at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air.
The daughter of Taylor Brackins and Adam Hernandez, Laniya was the first baby born in Harford County this year. She was 7 pounds, 11 ounces and born at 1:32 a.m. on Jan. 1.
“It was such a blessing,” said Elliott of Edgewood, Brackins’ mother. “Having this blessing, the first baby of the new year, it’s a big deal, we’re proud of it. It takes some of the negativity away from being the family of a murdered child.”
Naeshawn Jaheim-Troy Perry, 17, of Havre de Grace, is scheduled to go to trial in the Solonka case on Feb. 25 in Harford County Circuit Court. He is charged with first- and second-degree murder.
Brackins and Hernandez chose Laniya’s middle name in memory of Maleigha, but spelled it differently.
“I was on the fence, I didn’t want to feel like I was taking it from her,” Brackins said. “But we decided it was a way to remember her by.”
Brackins, who is 25, was 10 years older than her niece and the two bumped heads at times, but otherwise had a good relationship.
“I was trying to take her down the right road, teach her right from wrong,” she said. “Being an aunt, you can be a friend and guide them in the right way as well. I’m not her mother or her grandmother, and she could always come to me if she needed to.”
Laniya was due on Dec. 31, and Brackins waited until her labor was pretty far along that night before she went to the hospital, she said. She would have been induced Jan. 7, her older daughter’s birthday.
“I’m glad it didn’t happen that way, I’m glad they have their own birthdays,” Brackins said, who remembers sharing a birthday with a cousin as a child.
She didn’t set out to have the first baby.
“My main concern was that she was healthy and nothing went wrong,” Brackins said.
Laniya was in the hospital the first week until her fever went away — she came home Tuesday.
“I’m so happy to be home with her now,” said Brackins, who was discharged earlier and spent the last week running between her home in Edgewood and the hospital in Bel Air to be with her older daughter, especially on her birthday.
“I didn’t want her to think because the baby came she mattered any less,” Brackins said. “It was a lot of running and a lot of coffee.”
Layanna, a third-grader at Magnolia Elementary School, has been a great big sister.
“She’s really excited. She wants to feed the baby, she wants to change diapers, she wants to do everything,” Brackins said. “She is beyond excited about being a big sister.”
Elliott thinks Maleigha had something to do with when Laniya was born.
“I wanted something good to start the new year. Some people make new year’s resolutions, I wanted a blessing, and I got it,” Elliott said. “I thank God and everybody for it. And I thank Maleigha a lot.”
Not a day goes by Elliott doesn’t think about her granddaughter.
“For [Maleigha’s sisters and brother to have a new baby come in the first of the year, it’s just a good thing to start the year off right,” she said. “New baby, justice — this is going to be our year.”