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VALPARAISO — Samir Billingslea mourned the loss of his 3-year-old daughter, Tamira, Friday as he planned her funeral and picked out a burial plot.

Tamira's story also has touched a Valparaiso resident. Marie Garcia, who didn't know the family, has started a GoFundMe account to help raise money for the child's funeral.

"She was one of a kind. She loved TV. She loved McDonald's. She was a chicken nuggets-and-fries girl," Billingslea, of Salk Village, Illinois, said of Tamira, who drowned Monday night in a pond outside of her apartment in Valparaiso. 

"She was a daddy's girl. I'm the only one she would give kisses to," Billingslea said.

Tamira's mother, Tasia Perkins, 32, of Valparaiso, has been charged with felony neglect of a dependent in the toddler's death. She has pleaded not guilty.

Billingslea said he and Perkins have another child together, Samir, 9. The boy was with his father the night Tamira drowned. He said that he had been in a custody disagreement with Perkins and recently got Samir to live with him and had visitation with Tamira every other weekend.

"I asked for both of them," he said, adding Tamira also had a half-brother, who was at his grandmother's house the night of the drowning.

"I just want people to know that I tried to prevent this. I fought for her. I'm going to miss my daughter. I wish her mother would have done something. She was going through some things, but she should have called 911. I wish she would have done more," said Billingslea, adding that he's spent the past days wondering how his daughter's death could have been prevented, had he had custody or had one of her brothers been at the Valparaiso home.

Perkins told investigators she had taken Tamira to a local gas station to buy a cigar. When they returned to their home, she took the girl from the car, locked the doors and when she turned around, the girl was gone. Investigators said Perkins looked for the girl for an hour or more before contacting police. Tamira was found unresponsive in the pond and pronounced dead at the local hospital.

Billingslea said Tamira's brother is "trying to keep it all together for all the adults. He's strong, but I'm not sure if he grasps it yet."

Garcia, the mother of two, said she read about Tamira and felt compelled to help the family.

"I live in Valpo and she lived in Valpo. I wanted to help the family. I just thought if I could help the family, I would," Garcia said.

Billingslea said he was touched by Garcia's efforts to help his family.

"I just think it is beautiful, just reaching out to someone she doesn't know," he said.

Tamira's funeral will be at 1 p.m. July 18 at Leak and Sons Funeral Home, 18400 Pulaski Road, Country Club Hills, Illinois, 60478.

Garcia said donations can be made to the Go Fund Me page at gofundme.com/funeral-expenses-for-tamira-b or by sending them in her name directly to the funeral home.

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Porter County reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for more than 38 years, including 23 years with The Times. She covers municipal and school government in Valparaiso and Portage.