Invisible Children

Sanaa Cunningham

Content note: Case narratives include descriptions of severe violence inflicted on children, including abuse and neglect, sexual violence, torture, and murder, as well as mentions of suicide and domestic violence. They also include photos of victims and perpetrators of violence.

Sanaa Cunningham (pictured right with her siblings), age 7, died as a result of abuse and neglect by her father, Germayne Cunningham, and her stepmother Lisa Cunningham. Sanaa was homeschooled.

Sanaa’s biological parents, Germayne Cunningham and Sylvia Norwood, married in 2007. Cunningham was a police detective. Their first daughter X. was born in 2007 and Sanaa was born in December 2009. The couple broke up shortly after Sanaa’s birth and exchanged restraining orders; Cunningham was awarded sole custody of the two girls. In August 2015 Cunningham married Lisa Anderson, whose two children from a previous marriage (Cierra Anderson, b. 1997, and G., b. 2002) also joined the family. The Cunninghams later had two children, E. and J., together.

At the time the Cunninghams married, Sanaa attended preschool, where several people told authorities “they had never seen symptoms of abuse, trauma, or behavioral disorders.” However, according to authorities, in August 2015 immediately after the Cunninghams married, Lisa Cunningham began to claim that Sanaa had behavioral issues. On March 4, 2016, child protective services visited the home in response to an anonymous tip. While Sanaa and her siblings denied any abuse, authorities noted Sanaa had a “severe eating disorder” involving incontinence and pica. In April 2016 the Cunninghams pulled Sanaa out of school to homeschool her. In October 2016 child services investigated again, reportedly as a result of an allegation of sexual abuse by Germayne Cunningham’s mother, Valerie Cunningham, but found the complaint unsubstantiated. By December 2016, Lisa Cunningham was disciplining Sanaa by locking her outside wearing only a diaper. That month, Sanaa was diagnosed with schizophrenia and her biological mother, Sylvia Norwood, attempted to visit her but was prevented from doing so by Germayne Cunningham. As a result of this incident, police visited the home and found Sanaa “partially clothed, sitting in a lawn chair in the closed laundry room. Her knees were badly skinned and bandaged. A camera was mounted in the small room.” Sanaa claimed she had injured herself. A child services case was opened on Sanaa’s behalf but she remained in the home.

In January 2017, Sanaa was prescribed an anti-psychotic, and her condition worsened within weeks. When Lisa Cunningham found Sanaa unresponsive in early February, she waited more than 12 hours to get her medical attention. Sanaa died a few hours after being admitted to the hospital. At the time of her death, Sanaa weighed only 45 pounds and she was covered in over 100 cuts and bruises, including an open septic wound on her foot. The Cunninghams confessed to regularly keeping Sanaa immobilized with zip-ties, a straitjacket, and handcuffs, reporting that these measures were necessary for her protection and that of their other children. However, “many of Sanaa’s symptoms were not witnessed by doctors, only reported by her parents.” Pathologists ruled that Sanaa had died of sepsis “because the restraints prevented her from expelling infected fluid from her lungs.” The Cunninghams were charged with child abuse and murder.

Date: February 12, 2017
Goodyear, Arizona


Documents: Date:
New Details in Death of Ex-Phoenix Cop’s Daughter: Severe Neglect, Abuse Alleged 06-25-2018
UPDATE: Hearing Continued to Determine if Ex-Phoenix Cop to Face Death Penalty 08-24-2018
Judge Rules Ex-Phoenix Cop, Wife Eligible for Death Penalty; Locks Them Up 08-28-2018
Australian mother’s text messages key to stepdaughter murder trial 09-10-2018
Aussie death penalty mum’s texts could be critical 09-11-2018
‘They’re excellent parents’: Australian woman facing death penalty in US over death of stepdaughter 09-30-2018
The Death of Sanaa Cunningham: Murder or Medical Tragedy? 11-25-2018