Slain tot's baby sitter says Bella was loved, but neglected
Andrew Day wasn't Isabel Rose Godfrey's father, although he said he would have liked that.
“There were people who loved her enough to give her a good life,” Day told The York Dispatch. He said he baby-sat 3-year-old "Bella" for more than a year as one of the toddler's two regular baby sitters.
Bella even called him "daddy" once or twice, he said, forcing him to explain to the little girl that he wasn't her father, although he wished he could have been.
Day lives in Chesapeake Estates — the same Jackson Township neighborhood where Bella lived — with his fiancee and their three children. He said his home is not particularly close to that of Bella's mother, Regina Lester, who is accused of killing her daughter.
Still, it was Day's home that Lester's 6-year-old son rode to on his bicycle Wednesday evening to summon help.
“He said, ‘My mommy’s killing Bella — you need to come quick,’” Day recalled.
He said he wasn't panicked as he walked to Lester’s home because it wasn’t the first time the boy had made similar claims. On those prior occasions Bella would be fine, Day said, although sometimes Lester was what he described as incoherent.
As Day arrived, he saw Lester acting oddly.
“She ran out of the house naked and said, ‘I killed Bella. Please don’t hate me,’” Day said, prompting him to run inside.
“The house was all torn apart,” he said, and Bella was lying on the floor. “She didn’t have a pulse. I performed CPR.”
Day said he stopped CPR when it was clear Bella was gone. He said he then turned his attention to Lester and went outside, where he and a neighbor had to restrain the naked woman.
“She started to run off,” he said. “We both grabbed her by the hair and threw her to the ground.”
Synthetic pot: Lester appeared to be under the influence, according to Day, who said he first met the woman about six years ago through mutual friends.
“She wasn’t looking at me — she was looking through me,” he said, adding it was common for her to smoke synthetic marijuana, also called spice and K2.
"She called synth her DOC," Day said, explaining that's slang for "drug of choice."
Charging documents filed by Northern York County Regional Police allege Lester told a neighbor she had to kill her daughter to get the "darkness" out of her.
Those documents also state officers found open packages of synthetic marijuana and a smoking pipe inside the single mother's home. York County spokesman Carl Lindquist has said Lester was a client of the York County Office of Children, Youth and Families, and was subject to drug testing by the agency.
The cause and manner of Bella's death have not yet been officially determined, but police said she had bruises on her body and several deep bite marks on her torso. York County Coroner Pam Gay has said she's waiting for results of toxicology tests on the child to make her ruling.
Lester, 30, of 265 Chesapeake Estates, remains in York Hospital, where she was admitted after being arrested Wednesday night. She is charged with homicide, child endangerment and making terroristic threats. Once released from York Hospital, she will be taken to York County Prison without bail.
'Days at a time': Like others who know Lester, Day said the woman always talked about how much she loved her three children — Bella, the 6-year-old and an older boy she has on the weekends. Despite that, Lester didn't seem to want to spend time with them, he said.
"In the last six months, Regina barely had Bella at home," Day said, adding he would watch the tot "for days at a time," and once for nearly a month before Lester picked her up.
"Bella was like my own," Day said, adding he and his fiancee asked Lester if they could "take Bella off her hands." Lester declined, he said.
"She was like the half-sister to my kids," he said. "She even has a dresser drawer here for her clothes."
Bella often came over dirty, wearing dirty clothes, according to Day.
“I’d see Bella in the same outfit I put her in three days before,” he said.
Noticed bruises: Day said he regularly noticed fresh bruises and scratches on Bella.
“I’d always go to Regina and ask her what was going on,” Day said.
“One time Regina was so messed up on synth that Bella fell off a table,” he said. “Maybe I should have paid a little more attention. Maybe opened my eyes a little wider, spoken a little louder.”
Day said he believed Bella’s injuries were the result of neglect — not from deliberate physical child abuse.
“Her hair was always greasy, her mouth was dirty,” he said.
Speaking in his home on Friday, Day retrieved a plastic bag with clothing in it. He said Lester sent it with Bella to Day’s home when Lester, her boyfriend and her oldest son went to Myrtle Beach the weekend before Bella was killed.
'Nothing matches': He dumped the bag’s contents on his kitchen table and shook his head angrily.
“Nothing matches. There are no outfits. There’s no underwear,” he said, and pointed out that some of the clothing was heavy winter garb, such as corduroy overalls, while other items were too small for Bella to still be wearing, including a tank top sized for a 12-month-old.
“There’s not enough here for a week,” he said. “Who would pack a bag like this? Who does that? She was more worried about going on vacation than (she was about) her kids.”
Day said he charged Lester only $20 a day to watch Bella because "it wasn't about the money."
“When I first started baby sitting her, she had a sad look on her face all the time,” he said, and would often stare out a window.
“She loved being here, but she always missed her mom,” Day said. Still, Bella seemed happy being part of his family life.
“She was a ball of sunshine,” he said. “When she was here, she was always smiling. She loved her blocks, and she loved building things.”
Didn't make the call: Day acknowledged he didn't call authorities to report Lester, even though he suspected her of neglect.
“You need to have your ducks in a row,” he said. “I had no proof.”
Also, he said, he knew the Office of Children, Youth and Families was already involved with Lester and her children, so he assumed authorities were monitoring the situation.
Day said he understands drug issues because he himself struggles with addiction.
Got clean: He said he's been clean for nearly two years, pointing to his treatment graduation certificate displayed prominently on his kitchen wall.
Prior to that, police twice charged him with child endangerment, once for allegedly driving intoxicated with one of his children in the car, and another time for leaving two of his kids in his car when he ran inside a store to buy beer, according to court documents. Those incidents happened in 2013 and 2014.
Since getting clean, Day has not been charged with a crime, court records show.
Day said he wants people to know what he knows because maybe it could help another child.
“I wasn’t able to save Bella in life, but I may be able to make a difference in her death,” he said.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.