TAMPA — Nayashia Williams knew what the birthday party would be like when her daughter turned 2 today. Lots of family, friends and kids. A cake. Everyone singing happy birthday to the bubbly girl her mom called Giggles.
The celebration won’t happen. Williams’ daughter, Myla Presley, died in May. Tampa police said she was beaten to death by her mother’s boyfriend, Deandre Gillmore. He has been charged with first-degree felony murder and aggravated child abuse; he has pleaded not guilty and remains in a Hillsborough County jail with no bond.
For Williams, the joy of planning a celebration has been replaced by a new reality: Her baby girl is gone and the man she left him alone with in her apartment is accused of killing her.
That’s a hard reality to live with, Williams said.
“Sometimes life just stands still,” said Williams, 25. “Life just stays stuck in that last moment. And right now that’s where my life is at. My life is stuck in that last moment with my child.”
She remembers everything that happened on May 7. She had just finished a work shift at a local call center and was heading home to the Sulphur Springs apartment she shared with Gilmore, Myla and her 5-year-old son, Christopher, when she received a phone call from Myla’s godmother that something was wrong.
Myla had been carried out of the complex. There was yellow crime tape surrounding her home.
When Williams arrived home, Tampa police took her to their headquarters and told her what had happened. She went to St. Joseph’s Hospital to see her daughter, who had no sign of brain activity, Williams said.
“I could look at her and tell there was nothing accidental about her condition,” Williams said. “It looked as if a monster attacked my daughter.”
Williams had worked an 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. shift that day. Normally, a babysitter would take care of Myla, but plans shifted throughout the week and the babysitter wasn’t available. She turned to Gilmore, whom she had lived with Gilmore since January; he is not the father of any of her children.
She said she has trouble shaking the guilt for bringing him into her life and her family’s lives.
“I never saw any signs of abuse or any signs of neglect on his part even with his own kids,” Williams said. “I never saw anything. As a mother, it’s your job to protect your children and to see these things coming. And I didn’t see it. It makes you wonder and it makes you question your judgment as a mom.”
According to a report released by the Department of Children and Families, Gilmore told investigators he had left Myla in the bathtub to get a towel and she slipped and fell.
Authorities said the 21-month-old girl’s injuries were more severe than could be caused by a slip in the bathtub.
At St. Joseph’s Hospital, doctors said Myla had bleeding on the brain “and the brain was shifted from the original position,” according to the DCF report. She was also found to have bruising on her stomach, head and ears and vaginal bleeding, which was determined to have been caused by “abdominal trauma,” according to the report.
The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s Office found Myla died from a blunt impact to the head. The manner of death was ruled a homicide by being beaten.
“I didn’t write the facts,” Williams said. “I didn’t put those facts there. At the end of the day, it’s Myla’s body that is speaking. I didn’t have to say anything. I didn’t have to do anything. Myla has done everything in this case.... Her body is the facts. Her body is the evidence.’’
The Department of Children and Families didn’t have any prior complaints or contact with Williams and Gilmore while they lived together with her children. Gilmore has three children from another relationship, Williams said.
Gilmore, 31, had never been arrested for child abuse, though DCF records show that between 2006 and 2011 he was investigated several times about the care he provided for his children. The findings included failure to thrive, medical neglect and substance misuse. He was referred to a drug treatment program and given information on day care and other family-related material, according to DCF records.
Williams also was investigated four times between 2010 and 2013 on allegations of physical abuse and environmental hazards on her children, according to DCF records. None of the allegations were substantiated, according to DCF records.
Today, Williams is left with the memories of Myla. Williams said her daughter was her best friend. She misses her laugh and dressing in matching outfits. She misses her voice calling out for her.
Williams, whose 5-year-old son was placed with an aunt, now stays with a cousin in a Riverview apartment. The cousin has a toddler; the child’s voice still brings back memories of Myla, she said.
“That’s a horrible feeling to wake up to the voice of somebody else’s child when you lost your own,” Williams said.
Williams has applied to start a nonprofit to help prevent violence against children, she said.
“I didn’t see the signs,” Williams said. “Maybe some of these other single mothers can see it and stop it before it happens.”
Nanci Newton, director of the University of South Florida Center for Victim Advocacy and Violence Prevention, said it is common for people to get involved with an organization or start their own group after losing a child in a tragedy. Some have taken their activism to the national stage, such as John Walsh, said Newton.
The process helps to heal and gives the parent purpose and hope, Newton said.
“As human beings, we try to attach meaning to tragedy,” Newton said. “Otherwise, the world just seems so horrendous to us.”
Williams said she’s coping as she struggles with her loss.
“I want my daughter’s life to mean something,” Williams said. “For it not to have been in vain.”