Teresa Bailey wanted to keep her 2-year-old granddaughter entertained whenever she visited this summer. So a few weeks ago, she set up a storybook playhouse, complete with a small slide, in the driveway of her Kearney home.
In that short time span, Ireland Autumn Jane Ribando spent countless hours playing inside the child-size gray and beige cottage, serving tea to her grandmother, dolls and stuffed animals.
Now the cottage stands as a memorial for the toddler and her baby sister, with candles and flowers mingling with Ireland's favorites: a baby doll in a toy high chair, a sock monkey, butterflies and the mermaid costume her grandmother sewed for her last Halloween.
"I feel like my heart has been ripped out of my chest and stomped on," Bailey said Friday. "That’s how I feel right now."
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On Wednesday, Ireland and her 7-week-old sister, Goodknight Berretta June Ribando, died under mysterious circumstances after their mother, Jenna M. Boedecker, found them unresponsive and not breathing at their home.
Boedecker ran to the home of a neighbor, who called 911.
Paramedics with the Kearney Fire Protection District rushed to the 15600 block of Cameron Road in rural Clay County, where they later pronounced the girls dead.
The cause of deaths has not been determined. Authorities said it may take weeks for the toxicology results to be returned.
But Boedecker faces charges stemming from an argument with her husband about his fidelity, according to authorities: third-degree domestic assault, armed criminal action and first-degree property damage.
She is being held in the Clay County Detention Center on a $75,000 cash only bond. Boedecker is scheduled to appear in court Monday afternoon.
Investigators initially said they didn't suspect foul play. However, on Thursday the Clay County Sheriff's Office summoned the assistance of the Clay County Investigative Squad, made up of experienced criminal investigators from area agencies.
Bailey said she and other family members are in "total disbelief and shock" over the girls' deaths.
"They were beautiful. They were loving and sharing and kind and any other great words that you can put in there," Bailey said as she sobbed. "Ireland was an angel. She was so, so beautiful."
On Wednesday, the family was preparing to spend the Fourth of July at Bailey's sister's home, grilling and shooting off fireworks. Bailey said she had bought Ireland an assortment that included airplanes, snakes and spinning tops.
But sheriff's deputies arrived to tell the girls' father about the deaths. Bailey said her son was too distraught to talk to a reporter. She said authorities have told her little about what happened or how the girls died.
Their funeral services are pending.
Goodknight Berretta was born on Mother's Day, three weeks early.
"She came early and she came quick — 5 pounds, 5 ounces," Bailey said. Bailey had bought her a dress but it was too big. It now hangs from a windowsill of the playhouse.
Ireland loved to play outdoors, digging in the dirt and searching for frogs and butterflies, her grandmother said.
"I country, Grandma. I country, Grandma," Ireland would always tell her.
Ireland loved snacking on ice cream, Jolly Ranchers freezer pops and fruit. She once became angry when Bailey, as a precaution, removed the chicken bone from a drumstick. The 2-year-old cried because she wanted to eat the drumstick like a big girl, her grandmother recalled.
Other times, Bailey said, Ireland climbed into her king size bed and the two snuggled and watched movies.
On Thursday, Bailey, her sister and two of her older grandchildren helped decorate the playhouse in honor of Ireland and Berretta.
On Friday, pillar candles in glass holders flickered along the walkway leading to the playhouse as a bubble machine nearby churned out bubbles — one of Ireland's favorite things, her grandmother said.
A butterfly and stars decorated the door, with a pink stick horse resting nearby. Ireland's stuffed Cat-in-the-Hat sat in a chair at a toy table across from a Cabbage Patch doll in a high chair. Nearby sat a monkey made by Bailey's mother decades earlier from a worn brown sock. Bailey's son played with the toy monkey as a boy, and then it belonged to Ireland.
"Anytime she came over, she had to have to it," Bailey said. "Monkey, monkey, Grandma."
"I was wishing Ireland was here playing with it now."