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Grandfather wants to know why 5-year-old's death wasn't prevented

Loved ones gather at vigil to remember Zykerria Robinson

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Friends and relatives came together Friday night to remember a 5-year-old girl who died after police said she was found unresponsive from multiple injuries while in the care of her mother and her mother's boyfriend.

The vigil for Zykerria Robinson was held outside a Westside apartment, where flowers, teddy bears and messages decorated the front porch. During the service, candles were lit in the darkness, and family and friends held onto Zafir Robinson, the girl's father, who survived after being shot in the face last year.

Henry Doyle, Zykerria's grandfather, was also at the vigil. He said he wants to know why his granddaughter's death wasn't prevented. 

“If one person could have stepped up and went in that apartment and checked on our grandkids, she’d probably still be alive today," Doyle said. 

Jonte Harris and Michelle Cannimore, both 26, were arrested and charged with aggravated child abuse in the Oct. 19 death of Zykerria, Cannimore's daughter. Cannimore is also charged with child neglect.

An arrest report said Zykerria's mother admitted Harris had abused the girl since August and that he hit her over and over in the face and head Oct. 17 until she became unconscious. When Harris was questioned, police said he admitted he got enraged because the girl was “being disrespectful.”

The police report indicates the only witness to this abuse was the victim's 6-year-old sister.

Cannimore said Zykerria was unconscious on the couch when she left for work around 10 p.m. Oct. 17. When her daughter was not breathing when Cannimore returned home at 3 a.m. Oct. 18, she called 911. Zykerria was taken to a hospital, where she died the next day. 

Doctors said Zykerria had severe head trauma from severe physical abuse. According to the report, doctors found old injuries in various stages of healing, indicating “long-term abuse.”

Cannimore initially told officers the girl fell and hit her head in the bathtub around 6:30 p.m. Oct. 17. She said knew her daughter was hurt badly, but she was afraid to call 911 in fear of losing custody of her children.

READ MORE: Mom, boyfriend charged with abuse after 5-year-old's death

Doyle said his son had been trying to get custody of Zykerria and her 6-year-old sister since May.

“We tried to get help. We tried to get people to come over and check on the grandkids," Doyle said. "We weren’t getting anywhere."

He said he hadn't seen his grandchildren since July.

"Thinking back now, she didn't want us to see the bruises on the child," Doyle said. 

According to Safe Haven of Northeast Florida, the Department of Children and Families was investigating Cannimore and Harris last month. 

Instead of letting Zykerria's 6-year-old sister live with her father, Safe Haven officials said, DCF put her in foster care. 

"The father has done nothing wrong, but DCF will not turn this child over to him," said Kathy Swafford, CEO and director of Safe Haven. 

Zykerria’s family is now working with Safe Haven to make sure the girl's life mattered and will make a difference for other children.

The family has decided to donate Zykerria’s organs, and she will now be able to save up to five lives.  

Safe Haven will be accepting donations to help with the funeral expenses. Anyone who wishes to donate can do so by going to a GoFundMe account that has been set up.

The circumstances surrounding Zykerria's death are ones child welfare advocates warn about. According to DCF, when it comes to watching over children, parents should not take chances with caregivers:

  • Parents should pay attention to any change in their child's behavior. Doing this alone can save lives. 
  • Also, don't be afraid to ask your child if something seems wrong
  • Always prioritize your child's well-being over anything else

Parents can help protect their children by doing a background check on potential caregivers through DCF’s website. The site allows parents to search through Department of Corrections inmates, the sex offender registry and a list of people wanted by law enforcement.

About the Authors:

Reports weekdays and anchors The Morning Show on Saturdays and Sundays

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013 and reports every weekday for The Morning Show.