NATCHEZ, Miss. (WLBT) - According to the father of two little Natchez girls, he had no idea where his children were or that they were being abused.
Deonte Hill is now in Mississippi trying to see the body of four-year-old Armani and to visit three-year-old Lailah in the hospital.
“I hadn’t seen them for about a year,” said Hill.
He traveled to Natchez from his Detroit home after his family learned on social media that Armani died Thursday and his daughter Lailah was in the hospital after being severely beaten by their mother’s boyfriend.
“It’s a lot to take in. It’s a terrible, terrible, terrible loss and I’m just trying to be strong because I’ve got to think about my daughter’s recovery,” said a heartbroken Hill. “My main focus is just getting them two to come back home with me."
The 29-year-old construction worker said the children’s mother, LaKeisha Jones, took them from his Michigan home and never returned, later cutting off all communication with him.
He said he was not aware the girls were being abused.
“We had broken up and she told me that she was going to take the kids to a birthday party,” said Hill. “I asked her to make sure they made it back to the house at a decent time, and she never came back. A few weeks after that she gave me a call and said she was out in Louisiana."
Natchez Police Chief Walter Armstrong held a news conference Friday reporting that on Wednesday the girls’ mother left them with her boyfriend, James Christopher Anderson, at a home on Lafayette Street in Natchez.
Investigators say he severely beat them, then walked with them to his mother’s apartment about a fourth of a mile away.
The children were then taken to Merit Hospital in Natchez.
Armani was pronounced dead Thursday afternoon and little Lailah was transported to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.
Adams County Coroner James Lee said Armani died of blunt force trauma to her head, neck and abdomen.
“DHS had opened a case up on these kids due to previous injuries twice,” said Chief Armstrong. “DHS had recently closed the cases."
Monday, Hill said he had not been allowed to see Armani’s body or Lailah, who he was told has undergone surgeries but remains in critical condition.
He also said he has reached out to Jones’ mother and family and has gotten no response.
The grieving father and his fiance Monaye Irving have set up a GoFundMe page “Justice for Lailah and Armani Hill” to help with funeral and medical expenses.
25-year-old Jones and her 24-year-old boyfriend, Anderson, remain in the Adams County Jail charged in connection with the death and beating.
The girls’ mother is charged with two counts of child deprivation. Anderson is charged with two counts of felonious abuse.
Chief Armstrong said Jones began cooperating with the investigation Friday.