BROOKSVILLE — Kraig Broshears doesn't sleep much anymore. Just two or three hours sometimes. Night after night, the last time he saw his daughter alive replays in his mind. Now, he doesn't so much talk about those times as he just pushes the words out between tears.
"Last thing I said was, 'I love you,' " Broshears, sobbing, remembered telling Kaylynn "Bella" Mitchell. " 'I'll see you tomorrow,' " he recalled in an interview this week
At 4 p.m. that warm Sunday afternoon in late January, Broshears dropped his 2-year-old daughter off in Spring Hill with her mother, Tiffany Lynn Mitchell. The 26-year-old, said then-boyfriend Joe Albarella, had recently gotten an oxycodone dose from a family member. She didn't have a prescription for the pill. Far from being an addict or a hard partier, Albarella said, Mitchell didn't want to take the entire tablet. She tried to cut it in half, but couldn't. So, frustrated, she left the oxycodone on her nightstand and stepped into the shower.
Minutes later, authorities say, her daughter waddled into the bedroom, plucked the powerful narcotic off the nightstand and swallowed it. Kaylynn — a little girl with light brown hair and deep blue eyes — died in her sleep.
Mitchell, authorities say, confessed to leaving the pill out in the open and was charged this week with manslaughter by culpable negligence after a lengthy investigation.
"It's all bulls---. That's all I'm saying," she said Thursday from her Spring Hill home when asked about the charges against her.
Mitchell, who posted bail Wednesday, declined to answer further questions.
"We're just going through a lot right now," she said. "I'm sure you understand."
Albarella said Mitchell, who has no criminal history, was a loving mother who cared deeply about Kaylynn and her two sons, Dylan, 6, and Shawn, 8.
"She's a great mother," he said. "She'd do anything for her kids."
Still, Department of Children and Families spokeswoman Carrie Hoeppner said Mitchell "has a past history with the agency," though she wouldn't be specific or say which of Mitchell's children that history relates to. Mitchell, Hoeppner said, is still under investigation.
"Our role continues to be to ensure the safety and well-being of the surviving siblings," Hoeppner wrote in an e-mail. "Understandably, the new toxicology information just provided is quite concerning."
The weekend before Kaylynn died, Albarella said, Mitchell had received her tax return money. So, that Friday night the couple celebrated at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa.
There, Albarella said, they each drank about three beers and came back to Hernando that evening. The next day, he said, they went to Kohl's Department Store and bought new clothes for her children. It was a happy weekend.
Then, Sunday, they stayed at her house and played with her three kids. That afternoon, Broshears dropped off Kaylynn, and Albarella said he left to get his transmission fixed.
He came back at 11 p.m. and only Mitchell was still awake. At the time, Albarella said, he didn't know she had the oxycodone or that Kaylynn had taken it.
The next morning, they found the little girl pale and not breathing. Albarella tried to revive her, but she was gone.
When authorities questioned Mitchell in March about the toxicology report, she at first denied knowing what had happened to her daughter, authorities said.
The next day, she went back to the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. While taking a polygraph test, Albarella said, she confessed to leaving the pill on her nightstand. Since her daughter's death, he said, Mitchell has regularly gone to grief counseling and attended Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
Still, he insisted, Mitchell was not an addict. Until she was recently laid off with about a dozen other people, Mitchell had held a full-time clerical job at RF Micro Devices in Hernando. She was good at her work, he said, and popular with co-workers. "By no means was she addicted to anything," he said. "I don't know any drug addict who keeps a job for four years."
Under the weight of what had happened, their relationship eroded. Regularly seeing his son, who was close in age to Kaylynn, was too much for her, Albarella said. Around Easter, they broke up.
"I don't know where I would be," he said, "if I accidentally killed my kid."
Kaylynn's death has broken Broshears. His eyes are red with sleeplessness and his face has aged beyond his 29 years. He goes to grief counseling to deal with the pain.
Maybe his favorite day, which he remembered with his eyes closed, came from her second birthday in October — a trip to Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. She liked the monkeys and hippos and the giraffe that wrapped its tongue around her hand as she held out a cracker.
"She freaked out," he said.
As Broshears explained her love for butterflies, he motioned to the small pink and purple one that graces the tattoo on his arm memorializing his "Lil Bit," as he called Kaylynn. He remembers the way she asked for "chocky milk" and called the TV "momo" because Elmo was on it so often.
He misses the tricycle rides up the hill to collect pine cones and leaves; the mornings spent watching Yo Gabba Gabba and the Backyardigans.
"I think about her constantly," he said. "I just wish she was still here."
Photojournalist Will Vragovic contributed to this report. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or [email protected]