Kaylee Kipp had a bright smile, enormous blue eyes and made her father happy.
“She was amazing … she never cried. Always smiled,” said Aaron Kipp pulling out his smartphone, eager to share his favorite photo of his then-18-month-old daughter as he stood near the Christopher Columbus statue in downtown Kenosha.
Kipp, 33, and his brother John Kipp, 38, both of Kenosha, held a vigil and balloon fundraiser Wednesday to honor Kaylee and to raise money with all proceeds going toward Women and Children’s Horizons.
Eight years ago to the day on Wednesday, Kaylee was murdered, beaten to death by her mother’s boyfriend at their home in Gainesville, Ga. Stephen Clark West was convicted of her murder and for assaulting Kaylee’s older sisters.
West was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the girl’s murder. Kaylee’s mother, Deanna was also given a life sentence as party to the crime, according to multiple news sources.
According to the Georgia medical examiner’s report, the toddler had been struck at least a half dozen times in the face and head and pressed face down into her crib. Authorities said she had died as result of blunt force trauma to her head, the swelling in her brain was severe, and of asphyxiation.
About 20 to 25 people gathered with Kipp near the Kenosha lakefront to honor her memory, including members of the Bridges Community Center, friends and others who passed by wondering what the balloons were for. The balloons not only had Kaylee’s name on them, but those who wished to honor other children who had died also contributed donations writing their names on balloons, Kipp said.
“Every year I do something for her. In Georgia, I’d go to her grave three or four times a week and spend an hour or two out there,” he said.
But Kipp, who grew up in Kenosha, attending Bose Elementary, said he had to move back to Kenosha, a place where he had his happiest memories as a child.
“I dwelled on it for all these years and it really started taking a toll on me,” he said of her death. “I moved up here to start over.”
Kipp said after Kaylee’s death he’d “flipped out” and had ended up losing custody of his two older daughters. A friend of their family adopted them, however, and the girls will be moving to Kenosha next year, he said.
Kipp said he blamed himself for not being there to protect his youngest child. At the time, he had been serving prison time for sale of a controlled substance, burglary and forgery.
“Two weeks after I was sentenced, she was murdered,” he said.
“He moved up here for the better, trust me,” his brother John said.
Kipp said has had “awesome support” from people who stopped by despite the threatening weather.
He couldn’t say whether the sentences handed down to his ex-wife and her boyfriend were fair, however.
“There will never be any type of justice for that. I mean, I’m sorry, but there won’t be,” he said. “There’s only two people who know what really happened. And, they’re both in prison right now.”
As for Kaylee, he will continue to honor her memory having held fundraisers for children’s shelters in Georgia, as well.
“That was my little princess right there,” Kipp said. “That’s why I’ll do anything for her. Rain, sleet or snow. No matter what it was.”
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