How did Ginny die?

Twitter photo Ginny Rose Hughes, 2, of North Charleston, suffered a genetic defect that included poorly developed feet. She died in early July after her babysitter found her unresponsive.

Since the day she was born, Ginny Rose Hughes appeared in dozens of photos snapped by her mother.

In most of the pictures — posted on Facebook, Twitter and her mother's personal website — the girl seemed happy and loved.

She played with a giant puzzle and a teddy bear at her North Charleston home. She hid out in a diaper box. She dipped a finger into the frosting of a two-tiered cake on her first birthday, and later opened Disney-princess-themed gifts.

But the images also captured the struggles that the curly blonde endured after being born with a genetic disorder that stunted the growth of her feet. She fought the defect until she died at 2 years old.

A photo showed Ginny sucking on a pacifier but immobilized by the casts around her legs. In another, she fidgeted with the hospital ID band around her wrist. And in an image her mother posted on Twitter in

May, she lay in a hospital bed with tubes and wires running to her body.

She had suffered a stroke.

“Prayers please for my angel!” her mother wrote in asking her Twitter followers to start a prayer chain. “She's so strong and a fighter!”

Ginny pulled through the ordeal, and was later photographed smiling and playing. But on July 2, when her mother was working, the girl's live-in babysitter found her unresponsive in her bed. She died two days later of an “anoxic brain injury,” in which the oxygen flow to the brain is cut off.

Whether anyone should be held responsible for Ginny's death is a question Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten wants answered during an inquest Friday. A manner of death hasn't been determined.

Wooten said Ginny's birth defect wouldn't have caused her death, and that the inquest will explore any other medical issues she suffered.

“I represent Ginny,” Wooten said. “I'm going to try to get her story out.”

Authorities have raised suspicions of abuse in the past, particularly after the May episode when Ginny was hospitalized with seizures and brain and retinal hemorrhaging. The S.C. Department of Social Services briefly took custody of the girl and her siblings.

DSS spokeswoman Marilyn Matheus said the children “were returned to the home by court order” in early June.

Attempts to contact Ginny's mother, 25-year-old Amanda Montagu, on Tuesday were not successful. Neither she nor the babysitter has an arrest history in South Carolina, and no one faces charges in connection with Ginny's death.

In one of the photos Montagu posted on Facebook, which also shows her infant brother and older sister, a large bruise is apparent on the girl's right arm.

Officers from the North Charleston Police Department noted the bruising on her arms and torso when they arrived at her Brossy Circle home July 2.

Ginny's babysitter, 17-year-old Alicia Stepp, told police that the bruises were from the many times Ginny tried to walk but couldn't “because she has no feet,” the report stated.

The babysitter, who was caring for the children while Montagu worked at a Waffle House restaurant, had called 911 after attempts to reach Montagu failed around 12:30 p.m. on July 2.

Stepp told officers that Ginny complained of being sleepy, so Stepp took her into a bedroom to nap. When Stepp checked on the toddler 20 minutes later, Ginny wouldn't respond and didn't appear to be breathing, the report stated.

When police arrived, Stepp was calm and told officers that Ginny commonly suffered seizures, infections and dehydration.

Ginny died July 4 at Medical University Hospital.

The coroner said Tuesday that experts pinpointed the cause of her death to the brain injury, but still unknown is what led to it.

Friday's inquest will ask a six-member jury to consider evidence and listen to witnesses in order to help determine that.

The proceeding, in which Wooten will act as a judge, is relatively rare but will be the second this year. In early August, a jury found that the dog-mauling death of Mount Pleasant toddler Ja'Marr Tiller was accidental.

Outside Ginny's former home Tuesday, a pink plastic chair featuring three Disney princesses stood out among old furniture and weight-lifting equipment on the front porch. The home seemed vacant.

Montagu has lamented the death of her daughter, whose short life she documents on her website with 58 photos.

On the site, Montagu described herself as a proud single mother, diligent student of forensic sciences at Trident Technical College and a graphic designer.

“I'm not perfect,” she wrote. “Nobody is.

“But I try to live my life based on experiences both from my past and what I've learned over the years from others.”

Her three children seemed to play a starring role in that life.

Online photo albums dedicated to each show the children playing with pets, donning dresses, downing food, visiting the dentist and frolicking on the beach.

Ginny often was photographed on the floor, crawling over the carpet or sitting down to play. Her pants were sometimes tied to protect the ends of her legs.

But she managed to get around, to grasp the rails of her crib and mug for the camera, to reach the presents under a Christmas tree. And less than a month before her death, experts were working to give her even more freedom to move, according to her mother.

“My Ginny got her new prosthetics today,” Montagu wrote on Twitter. “She'll be walking soon!”

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.