INDIAN TRAIL – Kilah Davenport, the 4-year-old girl who was the inspiration behind North Carolina child abuse legislation Kilah’s Law, died last week.
Leslie Davenport, Kilah’s grandmother, said Kilah stopped breathing on the afternoon of Thursday, March 13. Her mother, Kirbi Davenport, administered CPR but was unable to revive her. Kilah was transported to Northwest Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead shortly after 6 p.m.
“Kirbi worked so hard to save Kilah’s life that day,” Leslie Davenport said. “… Kilah was like my own child – we cared for her like her mom cared for her. It’s like I’m losing a child, too.”
Kilah’s death occurred just two weeks after her stepfather, Joshua Houser, was sentenced to 92 to 123 months in prison – the maximum penalty for felony child abuse in North Carolina at the time of his arrest. Prosecutors alleged Houser beat then-3-year-old Kilah in May 2012, causing a fractured skull, broken collarbone and damage to 93 percent of her brain. The family was in Indian Trail at the time of the incident.
Kilah originally was not expected to survive more than 48 hours after the incident, but began making slow but steady progress following multiple surgeries. Her health deteriorated in recent months, however, and she recently spent time in the hospital due to some slight seizure activity and other health issues, her grandmother said.
Davenport said she’s been told there may be a chance Houser could be charged with murder, but results from an autopsy would have to show Kilah’s death was directly related to injuries sustained from the beating. Doctors aren’t sure what caused Kilah’s death, and autopsy results were not available by Union County Weekly’s press deadline.
“It’s going to be a very tedious process,” Davenport said of the autopsy and potential subsequent murder charges. “If it’s God’s will, it will happen.”
Kilah’s family has been vocal since she was injured in supporting changes to child abuse laws in North Carolina and across the United States. The Davenports, along with Justice For All Coalition founder Jeff Gerber and legislators across North Carolina, successfully campaigned for Kilah’s Law – a state legislation requiring felony child abusers to receive a prison sentence of 25 years to life. The maximum sentence previously was four to eight years.
N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory officially signed the bill into law April 24, 2013. The law, however, could not apply to Houser because Kilah’s injuries occurred before the legislation was adopted.
Kilah’s case also has been a driving force behind the Kilah Davenport Child Protection Act – a federal bill designed to put pressure on states to implement stricter child abuse punishments. If passed, the law would require states to disclose their sentencing guidelines for felony child abuse to the U.S. attorney general within a six-month period.
“The nickname is the ‘shame bill,’” Gerber said. “It will shame the states that have lenient guidelines (for felony child abuse). The findings will be published and exposed to the U.S. Congress as far as which states do not take felony child abuse seriously.”
The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the bill late last year. The bill currently is waiting in a Senate committee, but Gerber, North Carolina’s U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Kay Hagan and other government officials are working to expedite the
“Sweet Kilah will not die in vain,” Pittenger said last week in a news release. “She suffered too much, and her family worked too hard for this common sense legislation to get buried in Washington politics … My hope is the Senate will take quick action in honor and memory of Kilah.”
Kilah’s family plans to continue fighting in the name of their lost loved one and child abuse victims across the country so felony child abusers receive justice, they said.
“We want people to realize that this can happen to anybody at any minute,” Leslie Davenport said. “If (Kilah’s) mom or her (grandfather) or me had known that this man (Houser) was going to do this to her, she never would have been there.”
Davenport also wants her granddaughter to be remembered not just for what happened to her, but also for “her smile and her laughter.”
“Kilah was just a beautiful little soul, inside and out,” Davenport said. “… We want Kilah to be the face of stopping abuse, and to remember her for that beautiful smile.”
Kilah’s family will celebrate her life Saturday, March 22, at 2:30 p.m. at The Oaks Events, 628 N.C. 24 in Midland. The family requests people donate in Kilah’s name to the Kilah Davenport Foundation, a nonprofit that provides assistance to child abuse victims and their families, while also spreading awareness of child abuse.
Find more information at www.kilah