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Family friend: ‘This has been a nightmare’

(Courtesy of Mandy Edwards)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

They say hindsight is 20/20.

That’s how Mandy Edwards feels as she looks back on the past decade.

As a longtime friend of Brandon Reynolds – and frequent babysitter to the 5-year-old daughter he is accused of beating to death – she said she no longer knows what was real.

“Sarah seemed like she was always being taken care of, so I never questioned anything,” Edwards said of Sarah Dubois-Gilbeau. “This has been a nightmare … I don’t understand at all.”

Reynolds is accused of beating Sarah with a green water shoe after she refused to do her homework on Thursday evening. He didn’t call for help until hours later, and the girl was pronounced dead at a hospital early Friday morning. Reynolds is behind bars charged with child abuse resulting in death.

On paper, there were no warning signs. Reynolds has no criminal history in New Mexico and no abusive history with the Children, Youth and Families Department.

Instead, court records show a judge awarded Reynolds full custody of Sarah after her mother, Chantel Smith, tested positive for THC while breastfeeding. The child also tested positive for THC at birth.

Reynolds filed a petition for a restraining order against Smith soon after, when Sarah was 3 weeks old. In it, he alleged that Smith was abusive toward him.

During the custody battle, Smith wrote that Reynolds had PTSD, “which causes him to not be able to handle or care for a child properly.”

“He also has a history of abandoning the mother and that may follow through with the child,” she argued in court documents.

Despite all the issues between the two over the years, Smith said she never imagined Reynolds would hurt their child.

“Never laid a hand on me, not once. … If he did get angry he would shut down. Not speak and walk away,” she told the Journal. “I watched them do homework together at my house and he was so patient.”

Smith, who lives in California, said Reynolds spoke to Sarah with respect, even when he was being stern.

“This is truly puzzling to me,” she said. But Smith said her daughter was autistic, and Reynolds “refused to accept” it.

“Now I have to go to New Mexico to bury my sweet little innocent 5 year old child,” she wrote on a GoFundMe page. “A burial she did not ask for, for a beating she didn’t deserve, by someone who was supposed to protect her from the monsters. I was hoping to have more time with her.”

Like Smith, Edwards said the allegation that Reynolds killed his daughter doesn’t match up with the man she has known since the two met 10 years ago at Central New Mexico Community College. The two had raised children and grown up together.

“My kids always called him the teddy bear,” she said. “Never once did I see an outburst.”

Edwards said the Reynolds she knew was a funny, calm and loving person. A good father and role model for the kids.

(Courtesy of Chantel Smith)

Despite all the issues between the two over the years, Smith said she never imagined Reynolds would hurt their child.

He would play volleyball with her daughters and tag with her son, she said. And when her son later died, Reynolds came to the funeral with a hat to bury with him.

While their children were like siblings, she said, Reynolds raised Sarah in his own way. The girl never went to day care or socialized with children outside Edward’s kids and the neighbors.

As time went on, Sarah talked less and less and often had trouble speaking, Edwards said.

“She would say little words here and there, but she didn’t carry on conversation like a normal 5-year-old would,” she said. “Kids need that socialization.”

Edwards said she never saw any abuse. No bruises. And she heard no yelling.

Reynolds seemed to want the best for Sarah, and he would often complain about the complex they lived in.

“He just wished he could take her away,” she said. “Give her somewhere where she could actually be a kid and run around and play. Not have to be worried about all the bad.”

Looking back, she said there were little signs here and there. Most involved Sarah’s behavior and Reynolds’ relationship with the girl’s mother.

“Every time I had Sarah I had to have the restraining order,” Edwards said.

She said Sarah stayed with her often over the years, sometimes for a week or longer. Reynolds would tell her he was in the hospital, or had to work nights for Uber, and pack Sarah a bag with food and clothes.

When it was time to go home, Sarah would wrap her arms around Edwards’ neck and not let go.

“Now, I’m like she was holding on probably because she felt safe with us, because she knew we would never hurt her,” she said.

Then, last August Edwards said Reynolds told her he was going to send Sarah out to California to live with her mom and start school.

“He made her sound like she was this best mom now and everything was great and the past is in the past,” she said.

Edwards said Chantel is the one who started homeschooling Sarah and the two women started talking. Smith would send videos of Sarah to her.

“Taking away everything he ever said, she seems like a very loving parent and wants the best for her kids … very dedicated,” she said.

But in October, Edwards said Reynolds told her “things weren’t right,” alleging Smith wasn’t treating Sarah right and was “putting things in her head.”

She said Smith was telling her a different story; that Sarah was showing signs of abuse and “things that are not normal of a 5-year-old.”

“I’m hearing from Brandon that she’s not in a good situation, I’m hearing from Chantel that something happened while she was living out here,” Edwards added. “I always trusted Brandon because that’s who I knew.”

She said it came to a head in March when Reynolds went back to California.

“He’s like ‘I got to get her, I got to bring her back,'” she said. “And he brought her back. …”

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