The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 04/06/06
VIDALIA — The three children spotted the crack cocaine on Saturday in a plastic M & M’s container on a dresser in their mother’s apartment.

Thinking it was candy, the children put the small rocks in their mouths, then ran to the toilet to spit them out. But the youngest girl, 2-year-old Diamond Johnson, returned and put some more in her mouth and swallowed.

She fell ill, getting sleepy, and when she lay down, she shook, said the girl’s paternal grandmother, Esther Dixon Jinks, who said she learned the details from Diamond’s siblings.

Diamond died from drug poisoning. Her mother, Latoya Dixon, 25, is in jail charged with felony murder, drug possession and child cruelty.

For the family of the curly haired girl, who loved to dress up for church and play school, Diamond’s death has meant heartbreak, remorse and some self-recrimination that they didn’t do more to remove the children from their mother.

Jinks is relieved only that drugs did not take more lives. “It could have been all three” children, she said.

Police have not accused Latoya Dixon of using drugs. They say she was home when the accident occurred. But they won’t elaborate on how the drugs came to be found in the apartment. Some family members say they suspect the drugs belonged to a visitor. Police have said more arrests might follow.

Harry Dixon, the 31-year-old father, said he was devastated to learn his daughter died after eating crack. “It’s a hard feeling,” he said.

He believed his former spouse associated with people who did drugs, and he suspected she used them herself. He said he wanted to obtain custody of the children.

“I want my kids,” Dixon, a store worker who lives in Covington, said of Diamond’s siblings, 7-year-old Zoey and 5-year-old Harry Jr. The children have been placed by the state in the custody of their maternal grandmother, Annie Burton. She said she wants to hold on to them, at least for the time being.

“I’d rather have them in my custody until further notice from DFCS,” she said, referring to the state Division of Family and Children Services, which handles children who’ve been removed or separated from their parents. The agency said the family had no history with DFCS.

For now, family members are putting aside a potential custody battle, focusing on comforting each other, and preparing for Saturday’s funeral.

Latoya Dixon and her three children lived in the Doe Run Apartments in what one resident called the good side of Vidalia, a city with a small-town feel, though known widely for the famous sweet onions. They said the woman, whose nickname is “Tweety,” was private but friendly.

Diamond had many playmates among the cluster of yellow, two-story buildings. Children play on a big blue plastic hippopotamus and green alligator.

Burton was among the family members who rushed to the Vidalia hospital to which Diamond was taken.

“I went up to my grandbaby laying on the table, where they were working on her,” she said. But she rushed out of the room. “I was hysterical.”

Burton also rode in the helicopter that flew Diamond to the Augusta medical center, getting on board just as the police were leading her daughter away.

Jinks, the paternal grandmother, said she regrets not doing more to remove the children. She said she warned her daughter-in-law about the dangers of having the children around strange men, some of whom she suspected used drugs. But when she pressed, she said her daughter-in-law would not allowing her to visit the children for weeks.

“If there was any way. If I could have searched out to find proof” of the drugs, she said. “You can’t do anything without proof.”

Felicia Jones, a cousin who lives in the same apartment complex as Dixon, said Dixon loved her children. The mother enjoyed dressing up Diamond for church. She also liked to load up her kids in her big old car and drive them around.

“It’s a shock. I’m still trying to deal with it,” Jones said.

On Wednesday, family members crowded into Jinks’ Vidalia home. Women sat and talked of their love for the little girl. Men stood in a quiet group outside the front door. Children roamed around, not knowing quite how to act.

Jinks recalled giving Diamond a “learning table” to help her with the alphabet. Diamond recited her ABCs within a few weeks of receiving it.

Wednesday evening, Burton came to Jinks’ house to visit, and to show a T-shirt the family had printed in honor of Diamond. It showed the girl with a big head of curly hair and a calm smile. Several family members say they’ll wear the shirt at the funeral.

The two grandmothers talked of the difficulty in telling the remaining two siblings that their sister had died. They tried to tell the children that their sister had entered a long, deep sleep.

When Harry Jr. heard the news, he asked how long she would sleep. He has been sad since then.

Zoey said little when told about the deep sleep.

“I know,” she said.

Since then, Zoey has been acted as though nothing happened. “That worries me,” Jinks said.

Then the two grandmothers inquired about each another.

“Have you slept?” Jinks asked Burton.

“No,” she replied.

Posted by CHANNI on 04/06 at 09:46 AM in News

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