RIVERVIEW — For nearly a year since her arrest, LaTamara Stackhouse Flythe has quietly battled allegations of murder and child abuse after a 17-month-old foster boy died in her care.
Hillsborough prosecutors closed their inquiry Wednesday without bringing charges, saying the state cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Flythe killed young Aedyn Agminalis days before Christmas in 2016.
The 44-year-old mother of two must now rebuild her life.
Her lawyers say it could be a year before the Feb. 20, 2017 arrest by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is expunged from her otherwise clean criminal record.
"It's hard, with social media and online searches, this will follow me forever, but I'm hoping there is a chance I can move on from this and start healing," she told the Tampa Bay Times in her first interview since the arrest.
The investigation cost her temporary custody of her 17-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son, who live in Virginia with her ex-husband. Both parents are working with Hillsborough courts to restore Flythe's parental rights, but progress is slow.
She lost her marketing job with the Children's Home Network, she lost her state license to work as a foster mother and she lost her Riverview home when her landlord learned TV reporters were broadcasting live from the front lawn. She struggles from nightmares and claustrophobia after spending 23 hours of 12 days alone in jail, she said. There were no clocks or windows in her cell, only a buzzing, fluorescent light bulb that never went dark.
Asked what she would do if she could go back in time — if she would still welcome Aedyn into her home or even become a foster mother at all — Flythe didn't have to think about her answer.
"I would," she said, nodding her head when her words became choked in tears. "I would. I know it sounds crazy, but I know he was loved and he knew it and that was something he needed."
Flanked by her two attorneys in a downtown office building, Flythe recounted the four months Aedyn spent in her care; the three emergency hospitalizations, the 24 nights she and her children spent on the floor of his hospital room and the six different doctors' offices Aedyn visited every week because of complex medical problems.
At her children's urging, Flythe became a licensed foster mother through A Door of Hope in February 2016 and fostered seven infants, one just seven days old, before Aedyn arrived that September, newly removed from his biological parents' home.
He came with no medical history, no clothes or toys, no information about his birth parents or even what food he could eat. Doctors diagnosed failure to thrive and flat head syndrome, from lying too long on one side, DCF reported.
He was 14 months old but barely filled out clothes for infants less than 3 months old, Flythe said. He couldn't sit up on his own and didn't recognize his reflection in the mirror. It took several months in Flythe's care before Aedyn even responded to his own name, she said.
Aedyn vomited after nearly every meal until the day he died, she said. Still, under Flythe's care he began to gain weight and show signs of mental development.
Flythe has photos on her cellphone of the night he ate a piece of pizza crust for the first time, but she quickly discovered that Aedyn managed to keep strawberry-flavored Boost down the longest. Staff with A Door of Hope asked her to think about possibly adopting the child, but Flythe said she was more concerned about finding the root of Aedyn's vomiting. Eventually, after a 14-week hospitalization, Aedyn was placed on a feeding tube.
Flythe said the night he died, Dec. 11, 2016, wasn't the first time she saw Aedyn suddenly become rigid and frozen in place, his eyes opened wide but unfocused before rolling back as he fell limp, barely gasping for air despite turning greenish-blue.
The same thing happened just days earlier, as Aedyn clung to the couch and took small, shuffled steps toward the cage where Flythe kept a soft, black rabbit named Hip Hop. When he neared the cage, the boy suddenly froze, then fell face-first onto the hardwood floor, hitting his head on the rabbit cage, she said.
Aedyn was hospitalized for three days after the fall, and had been home only a few hours before paramedics arrived to rush the unconscious child back to St. Joseph's Children's Hospital.
Investigators with child protective services said severe bruising and hemorrhaging in his body proved he had been beaten.
Flythe and her lawyers say they believe Aedyn died of cardiac arrest after choking on food.
Flythe prefers to think about the boy she knew briefly.
She said she gave away most of the clothes and toys she bought for Aedyn but kept a toy turtle he grabbed off a shelf at Target.
It was the first toy to make him laugh, she said.
Contact Anastasia Dawson at email@example.com or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.