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Family mourns Utah 3-year-old believed smothered; stepmother charged in her death

(Ashley Valley Funeral Home)


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VERNAL — Arianna Stout had no sense of "stranger danger."

According to her grandmother, Christina Cook, the 3-year-old would give hugs to anyone, from elderly women at church to people she saw in the store.

When cautioned not to approach strangers, Arianna would say, "But Grandma, they were so sad, they needed a hug," Cook recalled Friday, the same day the girl's stepmother was charged with murder in her death.

Along with the first-degree felony, Mckenley J. Yadon, 24, was also charged in 8th District Court in Vernal with child abuse, a second-degree felony.

"I'm just glad we're getting this closure as soon as we are, because I know there are some cases that have dragged on," Cook said.

Learning that Arianna was allegedly murdered by her stepmother has left family members dumbfounded.

"She was adorable. Just to think that her stepmom did this to her, it's just, it's heart-wrenching. And I told them anytime, anytime you feel like you can't handle them or whatever, just let me know and I'll come get 'em. I'll come get her, I'll take her," Cook explained.

"And just, you know, just wondering what went through my granddaughter's mind when this was happening to her, you know, and probably the reason why I keep having nightmares … and not knowing," she said.

On March 14, officers were called to a home at 1536 W. 300 South in Vernal on reports of an unresponsive child. The caller reported the incident as a choking, according to court documents.

But the officer who responded to the home reported the 3-year-old "had been down for a period of time," police wrote. The officer saw dark purple and black bruising around the girl's left ear, the affidavit states, and "it was immediately apparent that these injuries were not consistent with the details initially provided for the medical response."

Arianna, who was approaching her fourth birthday, was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at a hospital, the affidavit states, and an autopsy found she died from asphyxia caused by smothering.

Yadon and Arianna's infant brother were the only other people in the home at the time of the incident, according to police.

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When police arrested Yadon on May 23, they reported that during an interview she "admitted to smothering A.S. using a blanket on A.S.'s bed," court documents state. Yadon allegedly demonstrated her actions to police using a child-size CPR mannequin.

Arianna's biological mother died in 2017, Cook said. The family donated her organs and later got to meet her heart recipient.

"And (Arianna) was so happy when she got to listen to her momma's heartbeat in somebody else's chest. And she was like, 'That's my mommy,'" Cook said.

Along with being her grandparents' "pride and joy," Arianna was also the "protector" for her older sister, who is autistic, according to Cook.

"She did everything for her older sister. She made sure Naomi was taken care of. She made sure she washed her sister's hair all the time in the tub, and she was just taking care of her big sister. And she was just that way," Cook recalled.

The older sister knows Arianna is gone but doesn't understand why her sister can't come and play with her anymore, Cook said.

"And then when I do take her to her sister's grave, she knows, 'That's my sister,' and then she'll just lay there and kind of pat her grave, and say 'I miss you, sis, I miss you, sis,'" Cook said. "She does the same thing with her mama."

Cook said the family will cherish the "little moments" with her the most. "She's our little angel. She was just our little red-headed angel. There's no other words to describe her, really."

The family's faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is helping pull them through, and they believe Arianna is now looking down on them as their guardian angel, according to Cook.

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