Investigators taking closer look at death of 8-year-old girl who drank boiling water

Ki’ari Pope died Monday, July 31, 2017, months after drinking boiling water out of a staw on a dare. The Florida Department of Children and Families is investigating the 8-year-old Boynton Beach resident’s death.

RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. — Police are now investigating a March dare that started with a YouTube video and ended with the death of an 8-year-old Florida girl, authorities said Friday.

In fact, police were not called to the Riviera Beach home where Ki’ari Pope reportedly drank boiling water from a straw on a dare, authorities said.

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The dare happened in March, but Ki’ari died early Monday after saying she couldn’t breathe. Her exact cause of death has not been released.

On Thursday evening, a relative of the girl told reporters what happened that March day.

Ki'ari was with cousins, all of whom were her age, watching YouTube videos when the little girl saw a "boiling water challenge," Diane Johnson, Ki'ari's mother's cousin, said from the girl's Boynton Beach home. According to state records obtained by The Palm Beach Post, Ki'ari burned her mouth and throat after her cousin dared her to drink the water.

Johnson said Ki’ari was the kind of kid who, if you dared her, wouldn’t back down.

Riviera police learned about the dare after the girl was taken to a hospital for her injuries. But authorities who contacted Riviera police referred not to the dare but of suspicions “of another matter,” according to authorities. Police would not specify the nature of that matter beyond saying the allegations were unfounded.

According to a GoFundMe page set up for Ki'ari's funeral expenses, she received a tracheotomy (an incision in the windpipe) that reportedly left her unable to talk and with chronic respiratory problems. Doctors had told the family they expected the girl to recover from surgery.

Ki’ari’s mother, Marquisia Bonner, chronicled her little girl’s time in and out of hospitals on her public Facebook page. A picture posted in March at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami shows someone holding Ki’ari’s hand, which is hooked up to monitors in a hospital bed.

"Lords know I haven't felt this (kind of) pain since my daddy died," the post reads. "It hurts so much. Y'all pray from my baby Ki'ari and (please) don't ask what happened!"

In May, the mother posted a picture of a smiling Ki'ari captioned: "This last month my baby been thru so much. I didn't realize how strong she was until that was her only option."

Johnson said Ki’ari did have trouble breathing some days, but she was still a happy and fun soon-to-be third-grader who loved basketball.

“She was very spontaneous and liked to run and jump and say, ‘No, I’m not playing with a baby doll or painting my nails. No. Give me a basketball and let me go,’” Johnson said, giggling at the thought of the little girl.

Late Sunday, Ki'ari told her mother's boyfriend she was having breathing problems. Minutes later, she was unresponsive. The boyfriend called 911, and rescue crews rushed her from her Boynton Beach home to a hospital, where she died at 12:15 a.m. Monday, according to records from the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Johnson said they were shocked by her death. Ki’ari’s mother declined to speak with the media Thursday evening.

“Our family is very close-knit. We’ve never experienced anything at this magnitude in my family,” Johnson said. “We’ve never buried a child.”

The Department of Children and Families is investigating Ki’ari’s death, which is at least the 11th investigation into Ki’ari and her family since 2008, according to DCF records.

Four of those investigations were within the past seven months, records show, the most recent of which stemmed from a June incident in which a relative was watching the girl.

Five other reports looked into alleged violence between the mother and her "paramour," a term used by DCF to classify the boyfriends or girlfriends of custodial parents. It is unclear whether that paramour is the same as the one who called 911 before Ki'ari died.

At least one of those investigations — it is unclear which — yielded verified proof either of abuse or neglect.

Family said Ki’ari and her siblings were never removed from the home, even after the boiling water incident.

However, after Ki’ari’s death, the three other young children in the home were placed in relatives’ care, DCF authorities said.

“The loss of this child is truly devastating, and our condolences go out to all those who loved her,” department Secretary Mike Carroll said in a statement Wednesday. “We have opened a child death investigation to examine the circumstances surrounding her death and will deploy a Critical Incident Rapid Response Team to review all interactions this family has had with Florida’s child welfare system.

“We will also continue to work closely with law enforcement to support their continued efforts.”

Records indicate Boynton Beach police were notified about the girl’s death. The Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s Office is conducting an investigation into Ki’ari’s death.