EXCLUSIVE: Mom of girl who died after drinking boiling water says: ‘She was full of life’

Marquisia Bonner doesn’t like to talk about that March day when her daring 8-year-old drank boiling water from a straw.

The 22-year-old mother had been at Wal-Mart buying formula for her newborn son. Her daughter, Ki’ari Pope, was with cousins.

No one forced her to drink the water, Bonner remembers her daughter telling doctors. Medical staff reportedly assured the family Ki’ari would recover.

But the little girl died July 31 from complications following that March injury that had made it difficult for her to speak and left her with chronic respiratory problems.

MORE: Dare that led to girl’s death started with YouTube, family member said

In late April she had a tracheotomy (an incision in the windpipe). By July, “I (could) literally change Ki’ari’s trach (tube) with my eyes closed,” Bonner said. It was scheduled to be removed just days after Ki’ari died.

“If it could have been me, I wish it would have been,” Bonner said through tears Tuesday outside a Boynton Beach home.

‘My best friend’

Bonner was just 13 when she had Ki’ari.

Ki’ari was there when Bonner dropped out of school and when she returned to earn a GED. The little girl was her cheerleader when Bonner took classes at Palm Beach State College and a caregiver for her three younger siblings.

The mother and daughter had grown up together. “She still is my best friend,” Bonner said.

Ki’ari loved to bounce around a basketball and promised her mother and grandmother, “when I get big, I’m gonna be a basketball player and take care of you.”

The straight-A student was eager to head back to school, her mother said. Ki’ari would have been starting third grade at Washington Elementary School.

“She was very spontaneous and liked to run and jump and say, ‘No, I’m not playing with a baby doll or painting my nails. No. Give me a basketball and let me go,’ ” said Diane Johnson, Bonner’s cousin.

“She was so full of life,” Bonner said. “I’m still in disbelief.”

DCF investigations 

Ki’ari was with cousins her age watching YouTube videos when the little girl saw a “boiling water challenge,” Johnson said.

According to Florida Department of Children and Families records, a cousin dared Ki’ari to drink boiling water. And Ki’ari wasn’t the type of kid to back down from a dare, Johnson said.

The little girl was able to speak March 26 when they rushed her to a hospital for the burns to her mouth and throat, Bonner said. There Ki’ari reportedly assured doctors the injuries resulted from a dare, not abuse or neglect.

State records indicate Ki’ari and her family had been the subject of at least ten child welfare investigations since 2008. Some involved alleged abuse between the mother and a former boyfriend. Others happened while Ki’ari was under the care of another relative.

Four of those investigations were conducted within the last seven months, records show, the most recent of which stemmed from a June incident in which a relative was watching the girl.

All of the cases had been closed by the time Ki’ari died.

MORE: Florida’s first responders to child abuse overwhelmed by workload

But at least one of those investigations — it is unclear which — yielded verified proof either of abuse or neglect within the last 12 months. As a result, DCF’s Critical Incident Rapid Response Team will review the department’s interactions with Ki’ari and her family.

DCF authorities didn’t say which adult was Ki’ari’s caregiver when they found proof of abuse or neglect, but Bonner stressed that all of the allegations she’d heard of were unfounded.

Court records indicate Bonner never faced criminal charges in Palm Beach County for any of those allegations, and family said Ki’ari and her siblings were never removed from the home, even after the boiling water incident.

Boynton Beach police are looking into Ki’ari’s death, though they didn’t elaborate on the nature of the investigation.

“The loss of this child is truly devastating and our condolences go out to all those who loved her,” department Secretary Mike Carroll said in a statement Wednesday. “We have opened a child death investigation to examine the circumstances surrounding her death and will deploy a Critical Incident Rapid Response Team to review all interactions this family has had with Florida’s child welfare system. We will also continue to work closely with law enforcement to support their continued efforts.”

“I know I never neglected my kids,” Bonner said. “I never harmed my kids, no type or shape or form.”

Ki’ari’s final hours 

The happy 8-year-old spent Sunday, July 30 at a birthday party skipping hand-in-hand with her little sister.

“She was just so happy,” Bonner said. She seemed fine.

Shortly before 11:30 that night Ki’ari woke up Bonner’s boyfriend, the girl’s figurative though not biological father. Bonner was at the store.

The little girl said she couldn’t breathe. The man ran to grab something and when he returned to Ki’ari’s room the little girl was unconscious, according to DCF records. He called 911.

“Can I have an ambulance?” the man can be heard asking a dispatcher on the tape released by Boynton Beach police. “My daughter, she has a trach in her and she just basically stopped breathing.”

His voice cracked with fear. He sounded like he was in shock.

Fire rescue crews arrived at the Boynton home within minutes and rushed Ki’ari to a hospital. Medical crews spent 40 minutes futilely trying to revive her, and she was pronounced dead at 12:15 Monday morning.

“I never in a million years thought that I would lose my child,” Bonner said. “It still feels like I’m dreaming.”

The family set up a GoFundMe page to help cover Ki’ari’s funeral expenses. As of Wednesday morning, the campaign was about halfway to its $10,000 goal. For the grieving mother, though, “no amount of money will ease my pain.

“I just ask that you keep me in your prayers,” Bonner said, wiping away tears, “because I have to live with this for the rest of my life.”

WANT TO HELP?The family of Ki’ari Pope has created an online account to help pay for her funeral. To donate, go online to www.GoFundMe.com/kiari-pope-funeral-arrangementsStaff reporter Hannah Winston contributed to this report.

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