Kilah Davenport succumbs

Mar. 15, 2014 @ 03:45 PM

Leslie Davenport was still reeling Friday from her granddaughter’s sudden death.

“I just thought she’d be there with me as I helped her walk and talk again,” Davenport said.

In May 2012, Kilah Davenport suffered 90 percent brain damage after investigators said her stepfather, Josh Houser, rammed her head into a Sheetrock wall. She was 2 years old at the time.

Doctors detailed the extent of Kilah’s injuries during Houser’s trial last month. Her brain swelled so much, an emergency surgery to remove part of her skull was the only thing that saved her life. She was left unable to speak, walk, feed herself or even hold her head up.

Thursday afternoon, after her mother, Kirbi Davenport, gave her breathing treatments, Kilah stopped breathing.

“When we get done with treatments, she usually sighs real deep because she’s tired of us messing with her,” Leslie said. “She did that, only she didn’t exhale.”

She went into cardiac arrest. Kirbi performed CPR while another family member called 911. Kilah was rushed to Carolinas Medical Center-NorthEast in Concord but was pronounced dead shortly after 6 p.m.

The family is in shock.

“She is in a better place,” Leslie said. “She’s whole again. She’s laughing and dancing. She’s healed where she is now, but that doesn’t make me feel much better because I can’t be with her anymore.”

Jeff Gerber, founder of the Justice for All Coalition, was with the family at the hospital Thursday night.

“The family is just in shock,” he said. “Initially, doctors gave Kilah 24 to 48 hours to live right after the assault. She lived two years. She was a fighter, a very strong little girl.”

Gerber led the charge to pass state legislation for tougher child abuse penalties for those convicted of crimes that left children disabled for life. He traveled around the state, speaking with local officials about the need for stricter laws. Last year, Rep. Craig Horn (R-68) introduced legislation that would impose 25 years to life for a conviction of child abuse resulting in permanent injury.

Kilah’s injuries made her quite unlike most girls nearing their fifth birthday. Unable to walk, she could not play with other kids her age. She responded to yes or no answers but did not sing along to her favorite songs or laugh while playing. During Houser’s sentencing hearing, Leslie spoke to the court, saying that Houser robbed Kilah of all the simple childhood joys like going to kindergarten or making new friends.

New charges possible for Houser

Houser was convicted of child abuse Feb. 27. Because the assault happened before Kilah’s Law was passed in the N.C. General Assembly, he was sentenced under the old child abuse laws. Superior Court Judge Tanya Wallace sent Houser to prison for seven to 10 years.

But after Kilah’s death, there is a possibility Houser can be charged with murder.

“We’re treating her death like a homicide,” Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey said.

Investigators from Union and Cabarrus counties began a criminal investigation immediately after her death. An autopsy was ordered to determine her cause of death. If it is related to her injuries sustained from the assault, Houser could be retried for the same crime but a more serious charge.

“Right now, we’re communication with the (Union County District Attorney) and looking at the options available to us in this case,” Cathey said.

It will be several days before investigators receive all information from the medical examiner and begin to reevaluate the case.

Celebration of life

Instead of a funeral, Leslie said the family plans a public celebration of Kilah’s life at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, March 22, at The Oaks in Midland. All are welcome.

“Right now, we don’t really know what to do with ourselves,” Leslie said. “Kirbi and I were a tag-team taking care of Kilah. She was our world, and now she’s gone.”

But it is undeniable that a tiny child made a big impact for the short time she was here. North Carolina already has a law on its books because of her tragic life. A federal version of Kilah’s Law is being considered by the U.S. Senate.

“I think her legacy will be to bring smiles and joy to other children,” Leslie said. “And to stop child abuse completely.”