James Carpenter Jr. stopped in to check in on his kids Thursday evening as he always does during his security job at the apartment building where he lives. He went to his room to iron a uniform and left his 4-year-old daughter, India Carpenter, on a highchair, eating spaghetti with her older brother. Their grandmother was in the kitchen.
Suddenly, Carpenter said yesterday, he heard his older children -- 12, 11 and 5 -- yelling that India had fallen down. He assumed she had fallen off her highchair at the dining table, so he told them to help her up.
That's when they informed him that India had fallen out the window.
Carpenter, 34, said India, who suffered from autism, opened a window that was barely cracked, climbed onto the ledge and fell out of her family's 10th-floor apartment in White Oak Towers on Thursday night. Before the fatal fall, people at the Silver Spring apartment building's pool and neighbors nearby pleaded with India to get off the window ledge and get back inside, police said.
Emergency personnel responded around 8 p.m. The child was declared dead at the scene. Police say they're still looking into the incident.
At the time of the fall, India's mother Nicola Carpenter, 37, was shopping at a Giant grocery store five minutes away. When she returned, the entrance to the apartment building's parking lot was blocked and she says her "mother's intuition" kicked in -- she feared the worst.
Then she saw her husband in the distance, crying.
Because of her autism, 4-year-old India thought like an 18-month-old, her mother said, so the pleas from strangers to get off the ledge couldn't get through to her. India had a tendency to climb on objects around the house, her parents said.
"She had no fear of climbing," James Carpenter recalled. "She would climb up on her highchair to get something off the top of the refrigerator."
The window through which India fell was unlocked and barely open, James Carpenter said. It did not have a screen, despite a recent request for the maintenance staff to install one, Nicola Carpenter said.
Administrators at Kay Management Co., the building manager, did not return calls for comment yesterday.
For now, the family is not wondering what might have happened if a screen had been in place, James Carpenter said.
"Right now I just want to bury my daughter," he said. "Everything else, the reasons why and the how-comes and the 'shoulda-coulda-woulda' will come afterward."
Nicola Carpenter was visited by workers from Child Welfare Services' Protective Services division yesterday. They left behind a card and hope to speak with the family about the incident. The visit was normal protocol, said Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services.
The family is preparing funeral arrangements. Contributions to help with expenses can be made to the India Luzelia Carpenter Memorial Fund at any Chevy Chase Bank, James Carpenter said.
India's parents say her short life was full of cheer.
"I think I can honestly say that she knew she was loved in her own way," Nicola Carpenter said.
"She was happy, man, in her own world she was happy, and in our own world we were happy to have her," James Carpenter said. "We were blessed. Autism or not."
Staff researcher Karl Evanzz contributed to this report.