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Mom of girl who died looking for candy seeks to keep husband away

TAMPA — Eight days after her 4-year-old daughter died in the care of paternal grandparents, pregnant Lizette Hernandez sat in a Hillsborough County courthouse Friday, attempting to seek full-time custody of her 19-month-old son.

Her little girl, known as "Nelly," was at the grandparents' house Sept. 14 when, according to her father, she went digging for candy in her grandmother's purse and accidentally pulled the trigger of a gun, shooting herself in the chest.

Yanelly Zoller's death has caused greater tension in a year-old marriage that was already in turmoil. Hernandez, 22, lives apart from her husband, Shane Zoller, also 22.

"I don't trust him with my child," Hernandez said Friday. "I already lost one child. I don't need to lose another."

Police are still investigating and expect to confer with the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office to determine whether any criminal charge is applicable, police spokesman Stephen Hegarty said. Investigators have found no reason to doubt the Zoller family story, he said.

But Hernandez told the Tampa Bay Times that her husband has offered multiple descriptions of what happened to their daughter that day.

"First he told me that she was shot during a drive-by," Hernandez said. "Then he told me the gun was on the table. . . . He's told me too many versions of the story. I honestly don't know what happened to my child."

Shane Zoller, who spoke with the Times earlier in the week, did not respond to messages Friday.

Zoller was not present during the incident, but after talking to his family, he said Wednesday that Yanelly had fired the gun while it was still inside the grandmother's purse.

Hernandez, who said she is 28 weeks pregnant, went to the courthouse Friday to seek custody of their son and to ask for protection from domestic violence by her husband. She is asking that he remain 500 feet away from her and their son.

In a sworn statement, she described a tug of war for her son at her daughter's funeral, which was held Thursday. He typically takes care of the two children Thursday through Saturday and alternate Sundays.

"Shane Zoller was pushing and pulling me to try to get my son out of my hands," she wrote. "I finally let go because he struck me in the face, he pushed me. I fell on my back, hit a tombstone and I was rushed to the hospital. I'm 7 months pregnant. The hospital stopped my contractions.

"I'm in fear for my life, my son's life and my unborn child's life."

Hernandez filled out the more than 30 pages of paperwork with her cousin, Stephanie Lopez, 20, at her side. Hernandez stopped writing to look at the television that hung in waiting area of the courthouse. Shrek Forever After was playing.

"That was her favorite movie," Hernandez said.

"She loved so many movies," said Lopez, who had driven Hernandez to the courthouse.

After filing the papers and swearing to the facts in them, Hernandez took the elevator to the sixth floor to fill out paperwork to seek full-time custody of her son. She was told that she would need to file for divorce to start that process.

She said she would come back Monday.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Jonathan Capriel at [email protected] Follow @jonathancapriel.

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