CHARLOTTE, NC (FOX 46) - For the first time, the father of a 4-year-old girl killed on Christmas Eve is speaking out.
Anthony Owens is fighting back tears after his little girl, Mariya Owens, was killed. Police believe the murderer is DeMarus Heath, the boyfriend of the child's mother.
"How can you do this to a child?" Owens said.
Owens said warnings signs were there, showing FOX 46 Charlotte a photo of the 4-year-old where it appears her face is bruised. He believes it points to a pattern of abuse.
Owens told FOX 46 Charlotte the photo and a number of other complaints were filed to DSS. He said this was not the only time Mariyah, or her twin sister, showed signs of abuse.
"One of them would always, suddenly, accidentally fall and there's bruises all over their face, their nose," he said.
The group Mothers of Murdered Offspring held a vigil Tuesday night for the 4-year-old. It was a vigil with a message.
"When you get that call that that child is gone, it leaves a hole in your soul," one member said.
Owens attended the vigil, lighting candles in memory of Mariya. He wants people to remember her smile, but also her scars, as a message for people to speak up if they see any signs of potential abuse.
"He needs to experience the same pain that she did," Owens said. "She was a baby, she didn't even get to live her life."
Owen's sister actually had custody of Mariyah and her twin sister for most of their lives. It was in 2016 when the child's biological mother was awarded custody. FOX 46 Charlotte reached out to her side of the family, who started a GoFundMe account, but have not heard back.
FOX 46 Charlotte also reached out to Mecklenburg County DSS and is waiting on a response.
A GoFundMe account has been set up for the family.