This story was originally published Jan. 30, 2013
In May 2012, three-year-old Kilah Davenport was beaten so severely that she sustained a broken right clavicle, a fractured skull and severe brain damage.
Kilah's mother, Kirbi Davenport, had started a new job that day and was working a 10-hour shift.
Her stepfather, Joshua Houser, 22, is charged with felony child abuse and remains in the Union County Jail on a $1 million bond. He and Kilah's mother lived in Union County at the time.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
If convicted, Houser could get 4-8 years in prison with a possibility of parole, said Jeff Gerber. He's the Unionville resident who founded The Justice For All Coalition, a nonprofit that created and helped pass Jessica’s Law and The Unborn Victims Of Violence Bill.
The coalition and Kilah’s Concord family have been raising awareness about the proposed "Kilah’s Law." If enacted, anyone who causes permanent debilitating physical injury to a child would face 25 years to life in prison.
The coalition has traveled throughout the region: 27 municipalities and county governments - including eight in Cabarrus County - and it has gotten resolutions supporting the proposed bill.
That bill will be introduced to the N.C. General Assembly shortly after the it reconvenes Jan. 30.
State Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, is one of the prime sponsors in what is expected to be a bipartisan effort to adopt the bill, Gerber said.
"Offenders will no longer serve short prison sentences even though their victims have already received life sentences of rehabilitation and therapy, " Gerber said.
"The Davenport family is so strong. They know when Kilah’s Law is passed it will not pertain to their case. ... Their desire is to participate ... in the hope that this bill will save the life of other children and keep another family from going through what they have had to endure."
Beating the odds
Kilah’s family members said before the injuries, the little girl was bubbly, creative and intelligent - with golden, curly hair and a great smile. They also said she loved to dance.
Kilah's doctors said it was likely she would be in a coma-like state for the rest of her life, but she continues to overcome challenges, Kirbi said.
Kilah has learned to stand with some help, hold her head up for brief stints - and she's even let out a faint giggle.
Kilah spent months in the hospital. In September, she moved from Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte to the Davenports' home in rural Cabarrus County. In November, the family announced the Kilah Davenport Foundation, which helps prevent child abuse and supports families dealing with abuse. This January, an online petition to support the bill for Kilah's Law surpassed 10,000 signatures.
Kirbi, her daughter and her three-month-old son, Bladen, live with Kirbi's parents, Leslie and Brian, a captain for the Charlotte Fire Department.
Leslie, an instrument supply technician for Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte, had daily interactions with the neurosurgeon who operated on Kilah. When the doctor found out Kilah was Leslie's granddaughter, he told her it was probably the worst brain injury he'd ever seen, and he didn't think she'd live.
"They said she probably wouldn't do anything but lay in bed and be a warm body, " said Kirbi. "...But you can't tell her she can't do something, because she's going to think, 'Oh, yeah. Watch this.' I think she's already healed, but I don't think it's time for her to show it yet. ..."
Sharing Kilah's story
The family plans to share their story at the Millions March Against Child Abuse walk in April in Charlotte.
They also plan to start an annual walk in May that's more focused on Kilah. And they want to make Kilah's Law a federal law.
"We're trying to keep Kilah's Law in everybody's face, " Kirbi said. "Because there are a lot of families who are scared to talk about (child abuse) or don't want to talk about it. When Kilah was injured, I kept thinking, 'This can't be it.'
"We want to make it so this isn't silent any more. It's been like this for a long time. People just don't talk about it."
Houser's trial is scheduled for September.
Leslie said "... If we can send a clear message that Kilah is not going to stand for someone else getting off with just a slap on the wrist ... that's what we want to do."