Derrick McMillin was tormented as he watched his little girl fight for her life. Her sandy hair was shaved off. Her eyelids were purple. A piece of gauze on her forehead covered the spot where a bullet had exited her skull.
Kassidie Rae McMillin's vital signs were spiking. Her breathing was rapid.
"I wish she would let go," McMillin told his mother, who was beside him at All Children's Hospital early Saturday.
Within seconds, her breathing eased. Within hours, she was gone.
"It was kind of like she was waiting for me to say it was okay," McMillin recalled Monday.
Soon, he would make a decision to let his 10-year-old daughter live on in other children by donating her organs.
And he would learn what was going on in his ex-wife's mind Thursday night in Dunedin when she decided to put her daughter to bed, shoot her in the back of the head and then kill herself.
It didn't make sense to him.
"She loved that child dearly and often called her her miracle child," said McMillin, 36.
On Monday, he got a copy of the suicide note that Tina Marie Foster left for her husband, William.
Tina Foster told her husband she couldn't live with him or without him. She felt like a failure.
"I couldn't even take care of my daughter. I had to take her with me. I had no choice. I would not want her going through her life without me in it," she wrote.
The couple was breaking up.
"Well now you can move on with your life now that me and Kassidie are out of it," she wrote.
- - -
McMillin pieced together his daughter's last night at home after talking to William Foster and one of Tina Foster's friends.
The Fosters had been having marital problems. On the eve of her 40th birthday, Tina Foster told William that she wouldn't be there when he returned to their Dunedin home from a religious class that night. Everyone was expecting Tina to move into a Kenneth City condo next door to her brother, McMillin said.
But when William Foster got home late Thursday, he found Tina and Kassidie clinging to life in Kassidie's room. Kassidie was in her bed, a bullet through her brain. Tina was lying on her back, a gun still in her hand, McMillin said.
Tina was pronounced dead, and Kassidie was whisked off to the hospital. A .45-caliber handgun was found at the scene.
William Foster told McMillin that he was concerned about a family member and was keeping the gun so the relative wouldn't harm himself. The gun, which had a trigger lock, was kept in a case inside a closet. The key was tucked away in a bag, and William Foster didn't think Tina knew where it was.
Early Friday, a sheriff's deputy paid McMillin a visit and broke the news. McMillin, who was arrested for oxycodone possession in 2009, is staying at a residential drug-treatment program.
McMillin was taken to All Children's, where he was by his daughter's side for most of the weekend.
Doctors removed part of Kassidie's skull to relieve pressure on her brain and later operated again to help drain the fluid. But late Friday afternoon, a doctor told McMillin that his daughter was not improving. The doctor said he could perform surgery to remove the damaged part of her brain, but he doubted it would improve her prognosis.
"He was basically telling me she was already gone," McMillin said.
He decided it was time to let her go. The doctors stopped medicating her and let nature take its course. By Saturday morning, she was gone.
McMillin decided to donate her organs. Sunday night, doctors harvested her liver, both of her kidneys and her heart valves.
"It was the least I could do," McMillin said. "If I couldn't save my daughter, at least I could change other children's lives."
McMillin has been in treatment since November. Over the past several months, he visited with his daughter every other weekend. He treasured time with his little girl, who loved hugging him, eating chicken fried rice and curling up with her grandma's cocker spaniel.
He says he's been clean for eight months, and he's determined not to lose his sobriety.
"I'm going to be even more motivated," he said. "Not for myself, but for my daughter."
Lorri Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155.
* * *
Tina Marie Foster's suicide note
I am so sorry that it had to end like this but I could not live with you and I could not live without you. I have never loved anyone the way I love you but you would never let me show it. I feel like such a failure all the time, can't get a job, etc. I couldn't even take care of my daughter. I had to take her with me. I had no choice. I would not want her going through her life without me in it. I am truly sorry for hurting you and I know you are gonna have a rough road ahead with Sim (a family member). Well now you can move on with your life now that me and Kassidie are out of it. I hope you will eventually find peace. I Love You! Tina.