FORT WORTH -- Driving to pick up his daughter's mother from her Arlington workplace Tuesday night, Charles Bellamy told Joy Howard over the phone that he had something to tell her.
"I said, 'OK, what's wrong,'" Howard recalled Thursday. "He said, 'I'll just talk to you when I get there.' He said, 'It's important, and I was trying to get ahold of you all day.'"
When he arrived, their 2-year-old daughter, Jaz'mine Howard, was not in her child seat.
Beginning to panic, Howard prodded Bellamy with questions about what had happened to her daughter.
"I don't know how to tell you," he responded.
As they headed back to Fort Worth, Howard said, Bellamy started to provide some answers.
Their daughter was dead, he told her, found lifeless in the bathtub earlier in the evening. Bellamy told her he had fallen asleep while the girl bathed. She said he recounted how he'd tried without success to resuscitate her, then loaded her into a car and drove her to Arlington Memorial Hospital, yet never took her in.
"He got scared because he had been drinking," Howard said Bellamy told her. "He said he left and he started looking for me. I said, 'Please tell me where my baby is! Tell me where she's at!'"
Not until the end of the half-hour car ride, Howard said, did she learn from Bellamy that her daughter had been close all the time. Her body was in the trunk of the car they were riding in.
"He had been driving around with my baby in the car until I got off work," Howard said, crying.
Police continued to search for Bellamy on Thursday afternoon. He is wanted on a warrant alleging injury to a child with serious bodily injury. While a cause and manner of death are still pending in Jaz'mine's case, police have said the girl had immersion burns on her lower extremities.
Howard said Bellamy fled in his mother's car, telling her and other relatives he had a weapon and was going to kill himself. She has not heard from him since, she said.
"I don't care about him," she said. "I care about my daughter." She was 2 years old. She didn't do anything. She was an innocent child. She always had a smile on her face. She didn't deserve this."
Howard said she and her daughter had moved from Lubbock to Fort Worth a few weeks ago because they had friends here and more job opportunities and so Jaz'mine could get to know the paternal side of her family better.
Though she and the girl's father are not a couple, Howard said, she and Jaz'mine were living with him, his uncle and grandmother in the 1800 block of South Edgewood Terrace until Howard could get her feet on the ground and find another place.
On Tuesday morning, Bellamy and Jaz'mine dropped Howard off at her job with DirecTV in Arlington.
"Everything was fine. She was in the car. She told me goodbye. I hugged her. I kissed her," Howard said. "I told her Mama would see her when I get home."
He called it an accident
Howard said she ended up working the day in Grapevine. Because her cellphone battery was dead, she could not talk to Bellamy until after returning to the Arlington office, where a co-worker let her borrow his phone charger.
She said that when Bellamy told her he needed to talk about something, she never imagined it involved her daughter.
"He didn't sound like he was overly upset or nothing," she said.
Howard said Bellamy waited until they'd gotten on Interstate 30 to finally tell her about what he described as Jaz'mine's accidental death. "He said, 'She had peed herself so I told her to go get in the bathtub.' He said, 'She went off in the bathtub; I went in the living room and I fell asleep,'" Howard said.
He said he found her body when he woke, Howard said.
"He told me it was an accident," she said. "Now the police are saying she had burns marks on her legs and her stomach to where it looked like the water had been too hot. I just don't understand."
"I want to believe what he said, but really it just don't make sense; it just don't add up. My baby was 2 years old and she knows how to get in and out of the bathtub by herself."
'I want to know ...'
Howard said Bellamy told her that the drowning happened about 5 or 6 p.m. while he was alone with Jaz'mine. It was around 11 p.m. when, blocks from home, he finally said Jaz'mine's body was in the trunk, explaining, "I didn't want you to see her."
Howard said, crying: "I pulled up to the house. I was beating on the door and I told them to call 911. I said, 'Jaz'mine is dead in the back of my car.'"
Howard said Bellamy's mother and brother removed the toddler from the trunk and tried to resuscitate her, as Bellamy went to a back room of the house, grabbed a weapon and his mother's car keys, and fled.
Howard said that though she had lived with Bellamy only a few weeks, she had never seen him be abusive or aggressive to Jaz'mine.
"I've been knowing him for like four or five years," she said. "He has other kids and I've never seen him be abusive to those kids. ... I want to know what happened."
Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655