Vontasha Simms can't express how devastated she is by her 3-year-old grandson's death. Ji'Aire Lee was found dead in a swing at Wills Memorial Park last Friday morning in La Plata.
Ji'Aire's mother, Romechia, was there pushing him in his swing for hours and possibly overnight.
"That was my heart and my soul," Simms told us tearfully. "I would have never, ever left them out there all that time like that by themselves."
Simms is heartbroken not only about her grandson's death, but also the negative comments she has heard about her daughter. She said her daughter suffers from mental illness and wants to shine a spotlight on the problem.
Simms said there is no way her daughter would ever intentionally harm Ji'Aire. She said the toddler was sick before they even went to the park.
"I'm thinking it's a combination of the cough that he had and the fact that they were out there for an extended period of time," Simms said. "And also, it was unusually cold and rainy that Thursday."
Simms said her daughter is distraught, but can't remember much. Simms believes it is due in part to the mental illness. Romechia was diagnosed at the beginning of March.
"I don't know how much she remembers," said Simms. "I don't know if she will ever remember the whole situation. I think she was at a point in time where she was -- it was like a blackout situation for her."
Simms wants people to understand how serious mental illness can be, but also how difficult it is to pinpoint it. Romechia had been on various medications as doctors tried to find the right combination to treat her illness.
"There were times when I felt like she was back to her normal self," Simms told us. "She was talking, she was communicating, she was responding. There were moments when she wasn't very talkative. She might get depressed or she might cry sometimes to herself."
Now, this grandmother fights back tears wishing things could have been different. She thought her daughter and grandson were with the boy's father the whole time.
"I never thought they were at the park all that time," said Simms. "I would have never left them out there for all that time like that. I would have went looking for them."
Simms said Charles County ruled that Romechia needed a mental health case worker back in March. She said Ji'Aire's mother still didn't have one last week and she had called several agencies trying to get some help.
Romechia is still in the hospital recovering.