Macclenny, Fla. – The parents of a 10-month-old girl who died in July after being left in a hot car in Baker County for five hours said their baby was “a daddy’s girl.”
Ariya Paige died in July after investigators say her babysitter, Rhonda Jewell, left her in a hot SUV in Macclenny. Jewell is charged with negligent manslaughter and is expected to be arraigned Tuesday.
Her family and dozens of friends held a rally for Ariya on Saturday at the intersection of Macclenny Avenue and Sixth Street. They said they are determined to seek justice for the baby’s death, even as they mourn her.
“She would pull on my chin with the little hair that I have,” said Justis Paige, Ariya’s father. “She would pull on it. She would always come up to me. If I was asleep, she would slap me and wake me up. She was a dad’s girl.”
Brooke Paige, Ariya’s mother, said the last video she has on her cellphone of Ariya shows her pulling herself up as she is learning how to walk.
“She pulled up on my shirt, grabbed my shirt, and pulled up on me,” Brooke said. “I said, ‘Oh my gosh, Ariya. I think we are almost to your first steps.’”
Ariya was their only child.
According to an arrest report, investigators say her Jewell left Ariya strapped in her car seat and went inside a house where she was also set to watch other kids. The report says Jewell forgot about Ariya being inside the car.
Brooke said her daughter was alone in the hot car from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“I just don’t want any other babies or any other children to ever experience what Ariya did,” Brooke said. “It hurts. I hate that Ariya had to go through it, and there was nothing I could do.”
During Saturday’s rally, the Paiges, other family members, and friends held big posters with Ariya’s pictures on them with phrases like “Justice for Ariya” and “Ariya was Innocent.”
“I will do everything that I can to get justice for her,” Justis said.
“What keeps me going is I wake up every day and tell myself I have to do this for Ariya,” Brooke said. “I love that we have an army behind us that is making us move every day. It keeps going every day. If it wasn’t for this army behind us, I do not know where Justis and I would be today.”
Ariya’s parents say they plan to hold a similar rally on Tuesday at 8 a.m. outside the Baker County courthouse -- one hour before Jewell’s arraignment.
News4JAX learned a judge granted Jewell an appearance waiver, so she will not physically be at the Baker County courthouse for the arraignment. Her attorney will appear on her behalf.