Local News

Slain girl's grandparents: We miss her

Posted August 1, 2010 5:04 p.m. EDT
Updated August 2, 2010 5:29 a.m. EDT

— The paternal grandparents of a 4-year-old slain girl say they "cannot stop thinking of all the great memories she has given to us."

Teghan Skiba died July 19 at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, three days after she had been taken to a Smithfield hospital. She had cuts, lacerations, bite marks, head trauma and sexual assault injuries, authorities said.

Authorities charged Jonathan Douglas Richardson, 21, of 750 Old Sanders Road in Smithfield, with first-degree murder and child abuse in connection with her death.

Gerald and Sarah Skiba, of Youngsville, said Sunday they had not seen their granddaughter in recent months. Teghan's father, Jerry, was facing drug charges and the girl's mother, Helen Reyes, had cut off communication, the Skibas said.

The Skibas said they repeatedly tried telephoning Teghan but could never get through. They said they considered hiring an attorney in an attempt to get temporary custody of the girl but decided against it.

In North Carolina, grandparents do not have visitation or custody rights, a stance recently upheld by the Supreme Court. Under the law, they cannot seek custody of a grandchild unless there is solid evidence a parent is unfit.

"It’s so hard, they want you to prove so much," Sarah Skiba said.

Child welfare officials have said that they received no reports of abuse regarding Teghan before her death. But Reyes, 26, of 5255 Passenger Place in Raleigh, was charged last week with negligent child abuse in connection with Teghan's death.

Teghan had been living with her mother and Richardson in a barn on his grandparents' property for four weeks before Reyes left her in his care on July 6 to go to New Mexico for military training.

Skibas said they had offered to watch Teghan while Reyes underwent military training. The grandparents said they tried to reach Reyes about her trip but were only able to talk with her sister, who claimed the training had been canceled, the Skibas said.

Investigators determined that the physical abuse of Teghan, which included forcing her to consume alcohol, started before Reyes left town, Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell said. So, she was aware of the situation in which she was leaving her daughter, he said.

"She neglected to carry out her motherly duties," Bizzell said last week, calling the case the worst child abuse he and his investigators have ever seen. "We have a so-called mother that just walked away."

In a Wake County Human Services investigative report released Wednesday, social workers determined Reyes had failed "to protect her child and to entrust her child to an appropriate caretaker."

Richardson initially told hospital workers that Teghan had fallen off the bed. He later told Johnston County investigators that he "lost it" and whipped the girl with a cord after she went to the bathroom in the bed they were sharing, according to search warrants. He explained that he is "bipolar and little things set him off."

The Skibas said they wished Teghan's care had been left up to them and that they miss her.

"She made us feel so good just being around her," Gerald Skiba said of Teghan.

Reyes' is out of jail on bond and her next court hearing is scheduled for Aug.12. Richardson remains in jail under a $1 million bond.