JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Family and friends crowded into a Northwest Jacksonville yard Thursday night for a vigil remembering a 2-year-old girl who died last week.
Jamarius Devonti Graham, 20, was arrested Friday on charges of aggravated child abuse in the death of Aaliyah Lewis an incident that took place at a home on Woodland Street.
Detectives said Aaliyah and Graham knew each other. The girl's family told News4Jax that Graham is the boyfriend of Aaliyah's mother.
Aaliyah turned 2 years old April 11. Investigators have not said how she died.
Those in attendance Thursday said the vigil held on Trenton Drive North wasn't about asking for justice, it wasn't about the anger over what happened. They said it was about support for Aaliyah's mother Donisha Barlow.
An 11-year-old sang at the vigil and shared some words of comfort with Aaliyah's mom. News4Jax was told Donisha Barlow did not plan to speak, then asked to address the crowd and asked for prayers.
"It's hard. And I'm trying my best to stay strong for my family. And I just want to ask that everybody keep us in prayers," Donisha Barlow said.
Almost immediately answering that request by Barlow, prayers were abundant during the vigil. Family said they remember Aaliyah as beautiful and a blessing with her smile and personality.
"We're just here to support her. She's a young mother, but a very good mother. And Aaliyah was just a beautiful little girl. We're just out here to show support, let her know we love her, and be here for her," said Brad Graham, an extended family member.
Aaliyah's grandfather Kenneth Barlow told News4Jax that he's worried about his daughter and he misses his granddaughter. He said he's trying to keep the focus off what he can't control.
"I'm angry, but I'm trying to get over it. But it's kind of hard, you know what I'm saying? But until we go to court and get this resolved, and justice (can) be made, it'll probably be better then," Kenneth Barlow said. "People need to know she was loved and a beautiful little girl. But she was loved by many people. And I think it's important to know, just how important she was to a lot of people."
A GoFundMe account has been set up for girl to help the family with funeral expenses.
Police investigate 2-year-old's death
News4Jax was told Aaliyah was brought to Fire Station No. 2 on North Main Street in Springfield in cardiac arrest and was taken to UF Health Jacksonville, where she died Thursday. JSO homicide detectives responded to UF Health that evening.
"It has truly devastated our family," Aaliyah's other grandfather, Andre Lewis, said last week. "Why her? She is a 2-year-old. A precious 2-year-old little girl. She just celebrated her second birthday."
Lewis said he's not sure what happened, but Graham, who had been babysitting Aaliyah, dropped the girl and her mother off at the fire station in Springfield, and Aaliyah wasn't breathing. Rescuers did everything they could, but they couldn't save her, he said.
“She meant a lot to us,” Lewis said. “She was my heart and soul, and I'm deeply hurt right now, and I know my son is hurt. That was his only child.”
Lewis' son told News4Jax that he wants answers about how his daughter died. He said neither he nor Aaliyah's mother were there when she was injured.
Lewis told News4Jax that hearing Aaliyah was dead was "like getting hit in the stomach from Mike Tyson."
He said he never imagined this would happen, and it's a nightmare.
“It's very rough right now for us to deal with the circumstances,” Lewis said. “She had a whole lot ahead of her. She was a bright, beautiful little girl. Her eyes would light up. She would talk, runaround, just a playful, joyful little 2-year-old girl.”
Lewis said his family wants justice for Aaliyah.
“I would just be thankful for some prayers, and the touch and the outreach,” Lewis said.
News4Jax learned that Graham was arrested last year for possession of cocaine and marijuana, but the charges were dropped.
Last November, a woman, not Aaliyah's mother, obtained a domestic violence injunction against Graham. The injunction noted Graham had a problem with drugs and alcohol and had “threatened to conceal kidnap or harm the petitioner’s child or children.” The injunction was dismissed a month later when the woman did not show up for a court hearing.
Graham is being held without bond at the Duval County Jail and his next court appearance is scheduled for May 16, jail records show.
Toddler's mother says she wants justice
Donisha Barlow said her daughter Aaliyah thought of Graham as a father.
She told News4Jax Friday night that she's heartbroken and still trying to come to terms with what happened.
"I feel heart-broken. I feel lost. I feel empty. I lost my only child just because I trusted somebody," Donisha Barlow said.
Donisha Barlow said she left her daughter with Graham, her boyfriend, while she went to work.
"It was very hard for me to sit there and hold my child and ask him, 'Why? Why would you beat her like that?'" Donisha Barlow said.
Investigators have not released an official cause of death. But Donisha Barlow said Graham beat her daughter so badly that she eventually died and he told her it was because Aaliyah soiled his bed.
"I don't have a child no more. I can't watch her grow up. That's the only thing that I had that would keep me going, keep me moving. And that's taken away from me," Donisha Barlow said, "I want justice. You might not like what's going to happen, but I want justice because I didn't deserve to lose my child like this."
Donisha Barlow said she hopes other parents learn from what happened to her.
"I just want people to know -- do not put your trust in anybody with your kids -- that's family, that's friends, that's day care, that's anybody. Be careful who you let your kids be around and who you let your kids stay with," Donisha Barlow said.
The Department of Children and Families sent the following statement to News4Jax:
"DCF has opened a death investigation to examine the circumstances surrounding the tragic loss of this young child. The Department does not have prior investigations involving this child."