David Fister holds a photo taken on his daughter Koralynn's first birthday.
By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CENTRALIA – In the weeks before 2-year-old Koralynn Fister died, her father wasn’t able to see her except for once, when he said he practically “kidnapped” his child from her mother.
David Fister and Becky Heupel lived together for about three years in Centralia, but separated around the time their little girl turned two, in early March, Fister said.
“I lost my job about nine months ago,” the 29-year-old said. “Before that, we were as happy as can be.”
The Iowa native who moved west to be with the woman he met online worked as the night closer at Subway in Centralia. Heupel stayed home and took care of Koralynn and her older sister, he said.
“She was always a loving mom, would jump through hoops to do anything for the girls,” he said. “She never laid a finger on them.”
After the breakup up, the parents had a verbal agreement that Fister would take Koralynn every Wednesday and Thursday.
And then Heupel stopped answering his texts, he said. She had been saying Koralynn was sick, he said.
In mid-April, Fister said, he went to the home they had shared off West Oakview Street and demanded to have his daughter, he said.
At first, her mother said no, and “Kora wailed like I’d never heard,” he said. “She’d never done that before.”
Then she gave in and Fister took the toddler to his aunt and uncle’s Centralia home where he now lives to stay the night, he said.
“She was so happy to see me that day,” he said. “I just hung out and watched cartoons with her.”
He cooked her Spaghetti-O’s for dinner.
Fister never saw his only child alive again, he said.
James M. Reeder
Last week, police were called to the West Oakview Street neighborhood, where Heupel’s new boyfriend said he found Koralynn face down in the bathtub when he stepped out to grab a towel. He said her mother and older sister had left a couple hours earlier.
He had carried the unclothed child to a front porch across the street and asked neighbors for help. Koralynn was pronounced dead at the hospital a short time later.
That was a week ago Thursday.
The boyfriend, 25-year-old James M. Reeder, was arrested that night after the Centralia Police Department interviewed him and Heupel. Police said she was not a suspect, although they asked Child Protective Services to take her 4-year-old into temporary custody.
Reeder was charged on Tuesday. Authorities say they found numerous injuries on the little girl, including signs of torture and rape. The coroner said she died from drowning and blunt head trauma.
As a storm of fury in the community has unleashed over the death, calling for the harshest punishment for the alleged perpetrator and even for the child’s mother to burn in hell for not protecting her young, Fister isn’t badmouthing the woman he loved.
“I will say, Becky is one of the best moms I’ve ever known,” he said.
It doesn’t add up, that she would have allowed a new boyfriend to stick around if she knew he was hurting her child, according to Fister.
“I don’t feel Becky had anything to do with anything,” he said. “I have to believe that.”
Fister called the mother of his child both naive and sharp, and a strong person. He’s only seen her a couple of times since it happened, he said.
“She came by my uncle’s house to give me a hug and tell me she’s sorry,” he said. “She said she was sorry about 10 times.”
Sorry for keeping Koralynn away from him, sorry for everything that happened, he said.
Fister said he didn’t know Heupel had a new boyfriend, except that Reeder was at the house the day he picked his daughter up.
Reeder is a friend of the father of Heupel’s 4-year-old daughter, from “back in the day,” he said.
Earlier this week, Reeder was charged not with murder, as prosecutors had initially indicated they were pursuing, but homicide by abuse.
Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer described the crime as repeated assaults or torture that ends in the death of a child.
It has the same maximum penalty - life in prison – and the same standard sentencing range as first-degree murder, according to Meyer.
Reeder was also charged with two counts of first-degree assault, two counts of first-degree child rape and possession of methamphetamine.
When police searched the house they found methamphetamine in the suspect’s dresser drawer, according to charging documents.
According to his defense attorney David Arcuri, Reeder is a lifetime Lewis County resident, who attended W.F. West High School through the 11th grade and has been unemployed for the past year.
He is being held on $5 million bail. His arraignment is set for this coming Thursday in Lewis County Superior Court.
Fister was joined this week by his mother, aunt, sister and cousin who flew out from Iowa.
While the first few days he said he drank rum like water, hoping for an ounce of sleep, by the end of this week, he “just broke,” he said; throwing up from exhaustion and nerves.
Still, he took some time to share about his daughter, who he said he named in part as a play on words from a movie called Coraline.
Fister is unconventional, he likes darker things, being “Goth” and stuff, he said.
The 2009 film by the directors of “The nightmare before Christmas” is about a little girl who gets trapped in a nightmare world, he said.
The “Lynn” part of his daughter’s name is for his sister. The middle name Marie is his mother’s middle name, he said.
Koralynn was a child who was cranky when tired and loved dinosaur chicken nuggets, he said.
His daughter was a climber who get up or down from anything, he said.
“She was not afraid of heights. We called her ‘Monkey’,” he said.
A candlelight vigil held for his daughter in Washington Park last week was amazing, he said. A gathering today where a group that came together on Facebook planned to lay flowers in Heupel’s front yard wasn’t something he wanted to attend.
“I have my own grieving,” he said.
“Sometimes I can’t even find peace in my day to mourn,” he said. “It’s so overwhelming, the responsibility of it all.”
He said Heupel is having an emotional breakdown, but they have a funeral to plan, together.
For Reeder, he says: “I want him to have life. I want him to never see the light of day and hurt anybody else.”
As for the mother of his child: “I have a lot of anger towards her, but I don’t say anything bad about her.”
Fister said he has no money in his wallet right now. He opened an account at West Coast Bank, if anyone want to donate to help pay for funeral expenses, he said.
For background, read “Breaking news: Mother’s boyfriend held for investigation of rape, murder of Centralia child” from Friday May 25, 2012 at 5 p.m., here