"She was the legal guardian of the child," Mobile County Assistant District Attorney Louis Walker said, per WALA.
"During the course of the investigation, Mobile police found evidence of abuse for this child, and then he was found deceased."
But mystery surrounded several aspects of the case, including the victim's cause of death, why he was in his aunt's custody, and why no murder charges were filed. Court documents later revealed a possible reason: a second person had been charged in connection with the death — the boy's 9-year-old sister.
According to the docs, Coale told investigators she was woken on Wednesday to the sound of screams, to find the 9-year-old beating her little brother with a broomstick.
The complaint states the girl "did willfully torture, willfully abuse and cruelly beat" the four year-old, who later died.
The 9-year-old, who has not been named because of her age, is facing a first-degree assault charge.
Coale was held on $150,000 bail on Friday, and ordered to have no contact with any children should she make bail. While she currently only faces a charge of aggravated abuse, prosecutors say there could be more.
According to the outlet, the only thing in Coale's rap sheet is a 2005 arrest on a charge of furnishing a minor with alcohol.
Coale's neighbors, colleagues and friends meanwhile have been left in disbelief.
"I don't think she did the crime she's been accused of," one friend told Fox10. "I've never seen her be aggressive to anyone — to me, her children, her grandchildren... that's why I say I can't fathom that she did anything to hurt anybody. She would never do anything to hurt anyone, let alone a 4-year-old."
A neighbor told NBC15: "They seemed like a really nice family and there's always a lot of kids over there playing all the time, so it was really devastating to hear what happened."
"I've been over there before. It's really a nice house, it's clean on the inside and the kids have nice toys. The kids always dress nice, so I really don’t understand what happened."