BRADENTON - Born with Autism, Kesia Kearse, 5, never really talked. Still, her parents knew she loved water, because she'd jump in it every chance she got.
"This particular day, she did something she'd never done before," remembered her grandmother, Bea Lovely.
While visiting Lovely's house in Bradenton along with her father and brothers Monday afternoon, Kesia unlocked a sliding glass door.
Minutes later, neighbors saw her disappear, submerged in a backyard retention pond. They dove in to try to find her.
Kesia's family didn't even know she was missing.
"I'm looking at all these people trying to save somebody, and little did I know, they were out there to save my granddaughter," Lovely said. "My hair's standing up right now. I'll tell you, that was a devastating feeling."
Norman Kearse, Kesia's father, remembers a sick feeling in his stomach during the search for her body, as dive teams were called in after neighbors tried unsuccessfully to bring her body to the surface.
"Once they got her body out and opened the body bag, I saw my little baby, it was like wow," Kearse said. "I can't even explain it."
He called Kesia's mom, Sylvia Jackson, who was in Clearwater that afternoon.
"It was terrible," Jackson said. "He told me our daughter was in the lake."
Kesia's parents call it a horrible accident. They'd tried for years to teach her the dangers of water, but it never seemed to work. They say they'd set up safe-guards at their homes, but there were no such safety nets at Kesia's grandmother's house.
As they struggle to find thousands of dollars to pay for Kesia's funeral, they're at least now able to smile every once in a while, remembering how the little girl loved to give high-fives.
"That was her thing to do," Jackson laughed. "If she was here right now, she'd give you the high-five. She was a joy. I'm just going to miss her."
Lovely, the last one to see her alive, calls her heart "empty". She remembers the moment they locked eyes while she was cooking dinner, when Kesia walked up and smiled, seconds before walking out.
"It's like she came to say goodbye," Lovely cried. "She came to say goodbye."
The Kearse family estimates the funeral will cost about $5,700. They've set up the Kesia Rose Kearse Memorial Fund for anyone who would like to donate. To do so, visit any Hancock Bank, or call the bank's branch in Bradenton at (941) 746-1000.
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