HARDEE COUNTY, Fla. — Tracey Nix was practicing the piano while her infant granddaughter was dying in the back seat of an SUV.
According to the Hardee County Sheriff's Office complaint affidavit, Tracey, 65, told a detective that after she drove home from lunch with friends on November 22, she "just forgot" about 7-month-old Uriel Schock.
Uriel's mother Kaila Nix, had gone to get her hair done that day and had asked her mom to babysit.
It wasn't until one of Tracey's grandsons arrived, the complaint affidavit said, that "all of a sudden" it "came across her head" that Uriel had been in the SUV all afternoon. Her husband, Nun Ney Nix, immediately began CPR.
Temperatures in Wauchula had reached 90 degrees that day. The Lexus SUV was parked in the yard with the windows rolled up.
Tracey, a former school principal in Hardee County, was charged with aggravated manslaughter. The pretrial hearing is scheduled for March 28.
Uriel's death is prompting her parents, Kaila and Drew Schock, to share their family's story with the ABC Action News I-Team. After identifying their daughter at the hospital, Drew said he remembers standing in the parking lot, trying to grasp what happened.
“To think of the last moments of her life as a mother is gut-wrenching," Kaila said.
"And that it actually just f—ing happened twice. In our lifetime," Drew said.
Twice in less than a year. One family. Two kids. Their deaths — both while in their grandmother Tracey's care.
"Something Happened to Ezra"
Kaila and Drew grew up in Wauchula, a small town in Hardee County with a population of less than 5,000. They reconnected five years ago after what began as a high school friendship. They soon decided to have kids and raise their children where they had roots.
"This was the plan. We were going to have three kids and — you know what I mean, that was our goal," Drew told the I-Team.
"It’s really difficult to know that my mom is the one that, you know, broke his heart, Kaila said, handing Drew a tissue. "You know, my mom, my mom.”
Kaila said her son's story has gotten lost in her daughter's.
Uriel's 16-month-old brother Ezra also died while he was at his grandmother Tracey's home. He drowned in a nearby pond. Drew got the call from Kaila's father three days before Christmas in 2021.
“He goes, 'Something happened to Ezra,'" Drew said, who then called Kaila.
She said she rushed to her parents' home as fast as she could, driving 85 miles an hour on country roads.
“I could see the helicopter landing," Kaila said. “I didn’t look. When there was a stop sign."
Kaila, who was six months pregnant at the time, was in a head-on crash with another driver.
"All of my airbags went off, I don’t remember how I got out, but I got out and started running to my parent’s house and at this point, I don’t have shoes. I’m just running," Kaila said. "That was my desperation to get to my son."
Kaila said during the investigation into her son's death, her doctor told her she needed to make a choice.
"They withheld information from me, per my request, per my doctor’s advice, that any information that would work me up or make me emotionally distressful would be harmful to my unborn child," Kaila said. “And I knew in that moment that as much as I loved him, that she was a real life and she was coming and it would be wrong of me to lose her over him and hurt her and take her."
Kaila said everything happened so fast.
"There wasn’t a moment to get a grip of the death of my son before there was the life of my daughter. And how beautiful is that, her name is Uriel, and it’s a Hebrew name and it means, ‘God is my light’ and she came out so small, she was beautiful and just radiant.”
Kaila and Drew had never seen the incident report detailing how Ezra drowned the afternoon his grandmother Tracey fell asleep.
A detective wrote that a complaint affidavit for child neglect would be filed and forwarded to the State Attorney's Office for further review. Kaila said it wasn't until charges were filed against her mother in the death of her daughter Uriel that she learned they had attempted to file charges in her son Ezra's death.
Kaila told the I-Team she will never forget what a deputy told her.
“I was told unless I believed that my mom held my son’s head under the water and intentionally killed him, that there is nothing else that they can do about my son’s death.”
In a statement, the State Attorney's Office told the I-Team, "In cases involving the accidental drowning of a toddler, Florida appellate courts have stated thataone-time lapseofjudgment would not establish culpable negligenceofthecaretaker. (However, ifthecaretaker was shown to have repeatedlyallowedthetoddleraccess tothewater hazardand not taken steps to prevent, that would establish culpable negligence).Inthe2021incident,there wasinsufficient evidence to establish culpable negligence.The2022incident is factually distinguishableand charges have been filed."
"You couldn't fathom it happening twice"
Kaila and Drew said that after Ezra's death, they "didn't trust (Tracey) at all." And would never let their 4-year-old firstborn child go to their grandparent's home.
"We were anxious, but I loved my mother and I am a daughter that wanted her mom in her life in some capacity, and in that moment, I thought that I could believe in second chances," Kaila said. "When I was told that Ezra’s death was an accident, some sliver child part of me, thought, ‘Ok good, I get to keep this mom. This grandmother. This person.'"
Kaila and Drew were protective.
"The very minor amount of time that she saw my daughter was almost always supervised," Kaila said of her mom.
On Uriel's last day, Kaila said she knew her mom's plans.
"Uri was at a restaurant with other people that I knew and trusted, they were in the friend group and were keeping her safe, and I had supervised many, many, many interactions that this point at my house," Kaila said.
Within hours, someone from the Hardee County Sheriff's Office showed up at her house.
He said, "'Your baby is dead.' And I said, 'I’m sorry, what? I know Ezra’s dead. Why are you here, like what — what is this?' 'No Kaila, your baby is dead.’"
"You couldn't fathom it happening twice," Drew said. "Somebody has to answer for that."
"There's no winners here"
"Because somebody dies doesn’t necessarily mean that somebody has to pay," said William Fletcher, the attorney representing Nix. "This obviously was an accident and the question was — is it culpable negligence?”
Fletcher told the I-Team that Nix will not be making any public statements.
“Tracey loves her daughter and her son-in-law and all of her children and her grandchildren," Fletcher said, adding that she is "totally devastated" by their deaths.
Fletcher said he chose to take on the case because it was so incredible.
"I couldn’t conceive — as a parent when my child was growing up, I always worried. I mean, I was almost obsessed that something would happen. How anybody handles that, I don’t know. And I know that mom here has two children to have to deal with, and I just — I can’t conceive of the pain," Fletcher said.
He continued, "I got a couple grandkids and you feel the same way about your grandkids, so the parents are hurting, but the grandparents are hurting too. So there’s no winners here. Certainly no winners. Everybody, I mean, it’s just total devastation. Terrible situation. And so I met them, saw how good of people they are, they’re very fine people, and decided I’d take it.”
Fletcher told the I-Team he has never dealt with a case like this in any way.
"I know you’ve heard sometimes people have been struck by lightning two different times. And that’s the way I look at this case," he said.
Fletcher said the jury should focus on the facts of this one case.
"Looking at what really happened, as far as Uriel, the baby girl," Fletcher said. "And deciding, is this culpable negligence?”
"I want justice for my son"
Fletcher said if found guilty, Tracey could be sentenced to between 12-30 years in prison.
"If I’m objective — she needs to go to prison. As her daughter, it kills me to say it. As their mother, I demand it," Kaila said. "I will fight for them."
Drew said the whole reason they're sharing their story is that they want justice.
"I want justice for my son. I want justice because he didn’t get that. And now I got to sit here and expose this. That way, I don’t let what happened to my son happen with my daughter. And just get off scot-free because I couldn’t live with that as a parent," Drew said.
Kaila said she would want Ezra and Uriel to know that they loved them and "that we’re sorry. Because they were beautiful children and they were taken by someone that we believed was worthy of trust.”
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