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A broken life: The brief and tragic story of Kelsey Smith-Briggs

MEEKER - Kelsey Smith-Briggs was born into a broken home.

Her parents already were divorced and bitter. Each struggled with money problems.

In death, the 2-year-old Meeker girl with the pretty smile has become a symbol to many that something is wrong with how the state protects abused children.

Her care was being supervised by a judge and the Department of Human Services when she died Oct. 11, allegedly from a stomach blow.

Her stepfather, Michael Lee Porter, 25, is charged with first-degree murder. Her mother, Raye Dawn Porter, 26, is under investigation.

Televised home-video images of her trying to walk and play with casts on two broken legs haunt Oklahomans. Her death came four months after the judge returned her to her mother, against a DHS recommendation. The judge ruled her abuser was unknown.

But before the legal wrangling, the broken bones and bruises, Kelsey was just another child torn between mom and dad.

This is her story.

Tumultuous marriage
Lance Briggs and his future wife, then Raye Dawn Smith, went to Meeker High School together.

He played football. She was on the pompom squad. She was a homecoming queen candidate. Lance was her escort.

They began dating after high school. She became pregnant but had a miscarriage days before their wedding, former relatives and attorneys say.

A judge married them on the porch of her parents' house near Meeker on July 15, 2000 -- a day too hot to be outdoors. Raye Dawn wore a white satin dress, and everyone just kind of melted in the heat, one guest recalled.

It was a sign of things to come.

"They battled all the time," Lance Briggs' mother told The Oklahoman.

"They had a terrible marriage for two years," Kathie Briggs said. "They both drank. They partied too much. They did all the wrong things."

They hadn't been married a year when things got worse.

In May 2001, Raye Dawn Briggs told Meeker police her husband slammed her against a wall, his forearm to her throat. She said they began arguing because she had not super-sized his value meal from McDonald's, according to a police report. A police officer wrote that he saw injuries on her neck and collarbone.

Lance was arrested, charged with a misdemeanor and eventually pleaded no contest. He was put on probation and took anger-management classes.

Kathie Briggs claims Raye Dawn later said she lied.

"He had taken the keys away from her because she wanted to go out. She got upset. She filed a police report and said that he had tried to choke her," Kathie Briggs said.

Raye Dawn tried to get the charge dropped but was told "she would be in trouble for falsifying a police report," so she let it stand, Kathie Briggs said.

There were other conflicts and calls to the police before and after Raye Dawn filed for divorce May 30, 2002.

She alleged Lance broke into her home and destroyed a porcelain doll and other things when she refused to reconcile.

On July 31, 2002, the divorce was official.

The divorce decree stated Raye Dawn Briggs "is not now pregnant."

But she was.

Birth and remarriage
Kelsey was born five months later -- on Dec. 28, 2002.

Shortly afterward, Lance Briggs asked for a DNA test to determine whether the girl was his. The results came in April 2003 -- 99.99 percent probability, according to court records.

For a while, Kelsey had a childhood typical of children split between divorced parents who don't get along.

"The hatred between them became unbelievable," said Debbie Hammons, a relative. "It was just unreasonable at times."

Kelsey's mother had custody. Her father had visits. She spent time with grandparents on both sides.

Raye Dawn Smith moved in with her mom and ailing dad. She received state welfare assistance for a time, records show. She worked with the elderly and at a manufacturing business and other places. She took classes at Seminole State College.

Kelsey's dad fell for his best friend's sister, Ashley Lytle. They married June 14, 2003. He was 26. She was 19.

"They moved their wedding date up just so Kelsey could spend the night with them," Kathie Briggs said.

The ceremony was at First Christian Church in Meeker. Kelsey was a star, dressed like the bride in a white dress and tiara.

Lance and his new bride lived in Shawnee. Ashley bonded quickly with Kelsey.

Lance Briggs worked at a Shawnee manufacturing plant, Indaco Metals. He filed for bankruptcy in November 2003.

He got into the U.S. Army Reserve and was called to active duty in September 2004. He was bound for Iraq, after more training.

Lance Briggs' parents went to court, getting a judge to assure they still could visit Kelsey while he was away. Meeker police later said they were told Kelsey's mom and Kathie Briggs would meet at a gas station to make the exchange.

Kathie Briggs said she would read Kelsey the book, "Daddy, You're My Hero!" Kelsey would sometimes say, "Daddy, soldier."

'She was just a go-getter'
Raye Dawn Smith moved into an apartment in Meeker after her father died in 2004.

Then she met Mike Porter, president of his family's magnet plant in Meeker. It was Oct. 15, 2004, at a Shawnee bar, Hot Rods. They danced that night and began dating.

Despite all the turmoil in her first two years, Kelsey was good-natured.

She won Miss Personality at a Shawnee baby pageant.

She loved the movies "Brother Bear," "Shrek" and "Monsters Inc." She was fond of her Cabbage Patch Kids doll. Twirling her fingers in the doll's hair seemed to help her fall asleep.

She and her mom liked to dance and do the cha-cha. They often napped together.

One of her dad's favorite memories is pushing her in her swing. "She loved her swing," Lance Briggs said.

"She was just a go-getter," said Julie Sebastian, the owner of a now-closed day care, Miss Julie's Giggles-N-Grins. "Whenever she first started, she was a little bitty thing, little tiny, she was so cute.

"She was a happy child," said Sebastian, who ran the business out of her Meeker home. "She would play. ... She would hang in there with the older kids. She would do everything they did. Outgoing, smart. She said what she wanted."

Then came January 2005. "Everything was fine. Kelsey was happy. It was like everyone was happy," Sebastian said. "And that's when everything started."

COMING MONDAY: Kelsey gets hurt again and again, and the Department of Human Services gets involved.

The first of three parts: Born into trouble
Kelsey Smith-Briggs could light up a room with her smile. Her parents knew each other at Meeker High School, but their marriage was a mistake. Kelsey was born five months after their divorce, another child torn between mom and dad.

To report child abuse or neglect
Call (800) 522-3511. The hot line is operated by Oklahoma Department of Human Services social workers.

The final months of Kelsey Smith-Briggs' life
Jan. 9, 2005: Kelsey suffers a broken collarbone and bruises while in the care of her mom, Raye Dawn Smith.

Jan. 24: Kelsey is moved to her paternal grandmother, Kathie Briggs.

April: Kelsey is still in Briggs' care but visits her mom regularly. She breaks both shins.

April 18: Raye Dawn Smith marries Michael Lee Porter.

May 3: Kelsey is placed in state Department of Human Services custody because of the broken legs. She is moved to her maternal grandmother, Gayla Smith.

June 15: Lincoln County Associate District Judge Craig Key rules that who abused Kelsey is unknown. The judge returns Kelsey to her mother.

Aug. 19: Kelsey is hurt in a car accident.

Oct. 11: Kelsey dies, allegedly after her stepfather, Michael Porter, strikes her in the stomach at their home near Meeker.

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