UNION COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - It has been nearly two years since Kilah Davenport died of injuries she sustained years earlier after being brutally beaten by her stepfather in Union County.
Kilah was just three years old when she was beaten by Joshua Houser in May 2012. She survived the attack for nearly two years but was left ninety percent brain-damaged after Houser rammed her head into a bedroom wall.
On March 13, 2014, Kilah's body finally broke down.
Kilah's grandmother, Leslie Davenport, told WBTV in 2014 that Kilah was at home with her mother, Kirbi Eremity, when she took "two funny breaths." Eremity began performing CPR and called 911.
"My daughter died in my arms. I'm the one who provided CPR until medical personnel arrived and they still trusted me enough," Eremity said during a sit down interview with Maureen O'Boyle. "They never took my baby from me. I bagged my baby until that hospital called it, and said 'we can't do any more'."
The autopsy, which was started the day after she died, concluded the 2012 attack contributed to her death.
"Based on the history and autopsy findings, it is my opinion that the cause of death in this case is pneumonia due to complications of remote blunt force head injuries due to an assault," the Medical Examiner wrote.
Houser had initially been charged with abusing Kilah, but those charges were upgraded to second degree murder after her death. He is currently serving a 17 year prison sentence for Kilah's death.
Since the violent attack grabbed the hearts of our community, Kilah's mother, Kirbi Eremity, has never spoken at length about what happened inside the home she shared with her then-husband and baby girl.
MOBILE USERS: Click here to see Never Before Seen photos of Kilah
Kirbi wanted to finally share her story.
"Why are you willing to talk now?" O'Boyle asked Eremity. "It's my turn to have a voice it's my turn to speak for Kilah," she replied.
She wanted to answer tough questions, many have wondered, maybe even you. She says she could never have imagined Houser was capable of such violence.
"Never in a million years. And it makes me sick. It's not like I was in an abusive situation. It makes me sick," she told O'Boyle.
She says the anger and sadness are still very raw.
"I wake up every morning and I wish it was just a nightmare that I could just wake up from and that she would be there," she said.
On May 16, 2012 Houser was watching Kilah at their home in Union County. Eremity says it was the first time he'd watched Kilah for an entire day. Around 6:30 p.m. Kirbi says Houser called her at work, and said something was wrong with Kilah.
She raced to the hospital.
"I remember the doctor looking at me 'this was not an accident. You're daughter needs emergency brain surgery'," Eremity recalls.
"I remember falling to my knees, next to her bed, and just begging her please to just come back. Still having no idea what's going on, I still had no clue," she said. "I kissed her and told her I loved her and then I had to wait [while] she went through brain surgery. I felt like if I could just touch her, I could make her better. If only she could hear my voice, she'd be ok."
According to Eremity, Houser told her Kilah came into the kitchen and said she needed to "go potty" and urinated on herself so he "popped her and he sent her to our bathroom."
That's when he said he heard a thud and called Kilah's name a couple of times, but she didnt answer. He found her trying to get off the floor, scooped her up and she fell backwards, getting injured.
Doctors told Eremity that Kilah's injury was consistent with a person doing 45-50 miles an hour, coming to a complete stop and being thrown out of a car.
"That night I got a telephone call. The detectives said to me 'I have something to ask you. Don't ask any other questions."
Police wanted to know if there had been damage to her bedroom wall. Confused Kirbi said no. She would find out there was a hole in the wall from Houser smashing Kilah's head into it.
Hours later Houser was behind bars.
"It was that moment that he lost control for whatever reason. And for some reason my child had to be the butt of his anger," Eremity said. "I don't understand that, I'll never understand that unless he decides one day 'maybe I should tell her'."
In the years since her little girl was beaten, Kirbi has examined and re-examined Houser's behavior.
"It's not like he was abusive to Kilah in front of me. I had a way out if I ever saw that kind of a red flag," she said.
Eremity still has a child's digital camera that belonged to Kilah. There are more than 100 photos on the camera, but she says they can't bare to delete a single photo. Not even one of the man who serves time for Kilah's murder, Joshua Houser.
She says Kilah never showed any kind of fear of Houser.
"Why would she take a picture of him if she was afraid of him?" Eremity asked.
After nearly four years sitting with her grief and shock, Kirbi looks back on the man she was with for a year and ten months, her ex-husband she now calls 'a monster.'
"I never saw the signs," she says.
Eremity says Houser was never violent, but it was his lack of emotion that should have been a clue.
"He didn't react to when his grandma died, of course that's a sign. But at the time, you look at someone and think 'he's been through a lot of heartache, that's why he doesn't show it'. Or is it because he grew up thinking men don't who their weakness?" she recalled. "You don't think 'he's a sociopath, he's going to hurt my kid.' You don't think that. I sure as heck would never have been with him. That's one that bothers me."
"I have survivor's guilt. I blame myself 90 percent of the time. But I only blame myself because I feel maybe I should have seen that as a red flag" Eremity admitted.
"When I lost Kilah, I didn't know how to function, you know? I still had to be a parent, but I had to figure out how to live without Kilah - live being a mother of two children, not three," she said. "I wasn't done grieving and I'm still not done, but I'm at a point where it's my turn."
She has some peace knowing her family's loss is making a difference and Kilah's name will never be forgotten through the passing of Kilah's Law. In 2013, N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory signed a North Carolina law named after Kilah that increased sentencing punishments for five child abuse-related felonies.
"Kilah used to always say 'Mommy, I'm going to be a star one day.' Of course, you're thinking she's going to be a singer, an actress. Our reality is Kilah's going to be the face of child abuse," Eremity said. "But Kilah's a star and I love that my little girl will forever be remembered because we took her tragedy and turned it into a triumph."
Eremity and her family continue to work to get other states to increase their sentencing for child abuse cases.
"I try to get people to understand that I mourn the healthy, the happy Kilah and I mourn the hurt Kilah. I know it was the same person, but I had to be her full care when she was hurt" Eremity said. "When she wasn't hurt, she was the independent, sassy little girl. The hurt Kilah was present, smiled occasionally and needed me all the time."
She says God answered their prayers for Kilah, but not in the way they imagined.
"God made his decision for me. We always prayed that Kilah would be whole again and that Kilah could walk again and that Kilah talk again," she said. "God answered our prayers, but he answered our prayers in his way, not our way. I can't be mad at him for that."
"Does it hurt? It hurts like hell every day," she continued. "But God also blessed me with two of the most amazing little people in the world and those little people and Kilah are what keep me going every single day."
"But I know that God has a plan," she finished. "I might not agree with his plan every single morning when I wake up, but he did what was best for Kilah."