Dad of Toddler Found Dead in Swing Speaks Out
In a heartbreaking confession, James “Donnell” Lee says the mother of his late little boy, 3-year-old Ji-Aire Lee, “wasn’t fit to take care of our son.” (Photo: GoFundMe).
“It came out of nowhere,” James “Donnell” Lee says about the tragic death of his 3-year-old son Ji-Aire Lee, whom police discovered on Friday lifeless in a playground swing that the child’s mother had reportedly been pushing for hours at Wills Memorial Park in La Plata, Maryland.
But the father says Ji-Aire’s mother, Romechia Simms, had offered clues that all was not well in the days and weeks leading up to the preschooler’s passing. Lee began trying to get sole physical custody of the boy from Simms in March. “I’m not saying she is an unfit parent, but at this particular time, she wasn’t fit to take care of our son,” he told Fox 5 DC of the 24-year-old mother, who is currently hospitalized. “When I presented my case, I felt like [the judge] should have looked more in depth of what was being said rather than trying to ice it over so we could co-parent.” The judge “just didn’t pay attention to the signs,” Lee added to NBC Washington. (Lee didn’t immediately respond to Yahoo Parenting’s request for comment.)
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Simms and her family have “been struggling for several months with homelessness and mental health issues,” a relative admits on a GoFundMe page established to raise money for Ji-Aire’s funeral expenses. The mother had moved in with her mom, Vontasha Simms, at a motel where she was caring for Ji-Aire.
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Vontasha, 47, told WUSA-TV that Romechia had been depressed for about three months. “[She] would never harm my grandson in any type of way,” Vontasha nevertheless insisted. “You know, I just believe she had some type of mental illness, some type of mental break that came upon her where she wasn’t able to get herself out of that situation.”
Romechia even raised a red flag two days before Ji-Aire’s death in the park, about a mile from their motel. Lee says that she called him upset on Wednesday and said that she and her mother “had some issues and that I needed to come get them right away.” But when he was able to ring the mother back a few hours later, Lee says he got radio silence.
“I called her all Wednesday night and Thursday morning,” says the father, previously scheduled to pick up Ji-Aire on Saturday morning. “She didn’t answer the phone. She stopped answering my calls. Friday morning on the way to work, her mother calls me up and says my son is gone."
What happened between Romechia’s call to Lee and the call to police (from concerned residents near the park about a woman who’d been pushing a boy on the swings for an unusually long time) remains a mystery at this point.
An autopsy has been done but Diane Richardson, a spokesperson for the Charles County Sheriff’s Office, says toxicology reports are still due. “We don’t know the cause of death,” says Richardson. “There are no obvious signs of trauma… Our detectives are working around the clock trying to put information together to answer the question as to how this child died."
All that’s known for sure right now is how much little Ji-Aire will be missed. “He was adored by a huge family including a brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins,” Molly Sinclair Simms writes on the funeral service fundraising page she created for the boy she calls an “angel.” “[He] was the center of attention at social gatherings.” And he was the center of Lee’s whole world. “That’s my little man – he loved having fun just like me,” the father sobbed in his interview with NBC. “He’ll always be… That’s my little man.”
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