Parents of toddler who suffocated to death at unlicensed daycare in Lebanon speak out

Published: Nov. 8, 2021 at 10:43 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - A Laclede County family says they want justice more than a year after their toddler died at an unlicensed daycare.

Naomi Johnson has been charged with Kimber McDowell’s death. But the toddler’s parents are still looking for answers.

“She was joyous. She was fun. She was spunky said Alexander McDowell, the child’s father. “She just brought us all together. It was all about her, which, I’m sure is exactly what she wanted,” he said.

The child’s mother, Janelle Higbee says she received a call she hopes no parent ever gets.

“What happened? What happened? She said I don’t know. I swaddled her. She took a nap. She’s not breathing,” she said.

On June 3, 2020, her 1 year- old daughter, Kimber McDowell was rushed to a hospital where she later died.

Authorities began investigating the child’s caretaker, Naomi Johnson.

“She never even made contact after that day, said McDowell.

Higbee said, “We haven’t heard from her since.”

“Since that day. Naomi had given us our children at that point and walked out of our lives,” said McDowell.

The toddler’s parents say state investigators informed them of Johnson’s initial statement.

“She needed to subdue her so she swaddled her to take a nap with an adult-sized comforter in her adult-sized bed and walked away,” said McDowell.

According to investigators, Johnson told authorities she put the child to bed for a nap. She goes on to say that she focused her attention on the several other children she was watching before discovering Kimber wasn’t breathing.

The child’s parents say they knew Johnson wasn’t a licensed child care provider.

But say they never had any problems with Johnson watching their other children over the years.

“This is a factory town. Finding good daycare that’s going to be licensed is few and far between and when you think about the cost of going to a licensed daycare, if you’re not already on a waiting list for years, it’s very unaffordable,” said McDowell.

Higbee said, “Regardless of what’s happening with the case, regardless if she goes to jail or not. I just want her to be sorry. I just want her to say I’m sorry.”

More than a year after the toddler’s death Johnson was officially charged with second-degree involuntary manslaughter though never arrested according to authorities.

McDowell said, “The light that you have provided for everyone is more than enough to fight until the end of our days.”

“Something needs to happen. Something has to happen because Kimber’s life meant something,” said Higbee.

A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday morning that could determine how the case against Johnson will proceed.

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