Monica Eddins of Ellerbe said she is full of questions about the death of her 4-year-old daughter.
According to the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, Reba Lynn Marie Ryan was found dead last Friday at her residence in Ellerbe, and authorities have charged 39-year-old Julius Juan Lilly with first degree murder and felony child abuse with serious bodily injury.
Sheriff James Clemmons Jr. confirmed earlier this week that Lilly was a “live-in boyfriend” of Eddins.
A week after the incident, the mother is still full of questions, as she recalls the special attributes of her little girl.
“(Reba) loved being outside and loved animals,” Eddins said on Friday. “She didn’t ever meet a stranger. She was very active and everything — she was very smart.”
Eddins added that her daughter also enjoyed playing “spoons,” an activity her grandfather taught her to do.
“Her grandpa had her playing spoons since she was old enough to hold them,” she said. “(Reba) loved her country music. She loved to sing — she had a beautiful voice. She said when she got older that’s what she wanted to do, she wanted to sing.”
Eddins said she is still struggling to comprehend the news she received last Friday.
“I was at work,” she said. “Everybody was asleep, and I got a phone call from (Lilly) at 7:35 a.m. I couldn’t answer my cell phone, so he called the store phone … ,”
Eddins, a manager at a gas station and convenience store in Ellerbe, said Lilly was looking for an acquaintance of theirs, a woman who was dating his cousin. The woman was also an assistant manager at the store, but was not there.
“I asked if everything was OK,” Eddins said. “I asked if Reba was still asleep and he said yes. Nothing sounded like anything was wrong, so I said ‘OK, I love you,’ and we said goodbye.”
A short time later, Eddins said she received a phone call from the same number — this time from her assistant manager, the woman Lilly had asked for earlier, who was now at Eddins’ residence.
“She was hysterical, crying and screaming,” Eddins said. “She was saying ‘you need to shut the store down and get over here — Reba’s not breathing.’
“When I got over there and asked (Lilly) what happened, he said he guessed he whooped (Reba) too hard. The paramedics were right behind me,” Eddins said.
According to the North Carolina Department of Correction, Lilly has been convicted of crimes in Stanly and Montgomery counties and spent time in state prison. Lilly’s record includes convictions of assault on a female, wanton injury to personal property, misdemeanor breaking and entering and communicating threats in Montgomery County.
When asked about her knowledge of Lilly’s criminal past, Eddins said she knew of only a couple of incidents.
“We’d talked about it,” she said. “I would even ask his family and friends, and they never told me about all the stuff I just found out about … I don’t know what happened (last Friday). I won’t know what happened until he tells me what happened because of me not being there. I’m completely confused.
“I feel like I was living with a stranger. I’d known him for over a year and had been living with him since December.”
Eddins said she and Lilly just had a son together, and that Lilly had never shown violent behavior before.
“I just don’t get it,” she said. “I’ve asked if I can talk to him face-to-face because I want answers. That way my heart could feel a little better. I could have some closure. What could my 4-year-old have done to a six-foot-four man to make him do what he has done? I want to know why.”
The heartbroken mother said that no matter what answer she receives, she knows it will not justify her loss.
“(Reba) had just learned how to write her name by herself, and how to tie her shoes by herself, because she was ready to start school,” Eddins said. “I can’t give up because I do have another child. Everybody expects me to be moping around because it hurts, it really hurts inside … but I have to keep going for my little boy. That’s the only reason I wake up every morning.”
Eddins said she has also tried to find comfort in the past few days.
“I’m trying to make peace with it,” she said. “Me and my preacher are talking. I know I was there for (Reba) every day, and that’s why I think my heart doesn’t hurt as bad … ,”
She elaborated on her feelings toward the accused killer.
“After what he took from me, I don’t wish death on him,” she said. “I don’t — because I want God to take him when it’s his time to go. And I want him to go before God and let God judge him. I don’t want to put the hurt on his family that he put on mine. I know he still has other kids. I want them to be able to see him. I don’t want to take him from them, because I know how bad this hurts.”
On Friday, Lilly remained incarcerated at the Richmond County Jail under no bond.
— Staff Writer Mallory Brown can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 18, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org