Matthew Carriker loved his 15-month-old daughter, Calliope.
He sees her in the tiny fingerprints she scribbled in invisible ink in their Seymour home, he said, and in the outdoors.
An empty spot in his car reminds him of where her child safety seat once held his bright little girl.
“She loved her sister so much, she kissed her, stroked her hair, touched her gently,” Matthew Carriker said. “She knew, without being told, that she was delicate and needed to be nurtured and cared for. She stepped into her role instinctively and immediately.”
Her promising life ended May 7, when the child drowned in her family’s home in Seymour.
Hours earlier, deputies had visited the home after a caller reported an argument at the Seymour home Matthew and Calliope shared with his wife, Bethanie Carriker, and the couple’s newborn daughter.
There were few dry eyes in Judge David Duggan’s courtroom Monday as Bethanie Carriker nearly whispered her guilty plea to two counts of child abuse by neglect in exchange for two concurrent 25-year-sentences for Calliope’s death and the near-drowning of her second daughter.
Bethanie Carriker, 34, will be eligible for parole after serving 85% of her sentence, according to Blount County Assistant District Attorney General Ryan Desmond.
Bethanie Carriker had been under investigation for reportedly feeding one or both of her children Benadryl before they were left unattended in a bathtub for as long as 15 minutes.
Desmond said the final autopsy results ruled the cause of death as undetermined, while toxicological reports were probative of possible additional criminal conduct.
First responders raced to save the children.
Matthew Carriker recalled the last time he held Calliope, at Children’s Hospital of East Tennessee.
“I begged her to wake up,” Matthew Carriker said. “I sat on the floor and rocked her, and told her I was sorry for not being there when she needed me.”
He also recalled the days of agony watching his youngest child, Penelope, fight for life, as doctors warned him not to get his hopes up.
“I saw the sadness in the nurses’ faces and I felt the cold reality of the situation,” Matthew Carriker said.
Family members cried as he read his statement, but they’ve found a way to cope with their grief.
His youngest child will learn about his sister, he said, and he will be there to be her rock.
Matthew Carriker also has created a nonprofit agency, Calliope Cares Inc., to assist in child abuse prevention.
“Calliope will continue to live,” Matthew Carrier said. “Her story will continue to save lives, for she is the martyr we never should have had.”
For more information, visit https://mailchi.mp/calliopecares/landing.