Between the tears and her trembling tattooed fingers, Ayla Barna tried to recount the night her 6-year-old daughter died in a house fire.
“I am aware I made a mistake,” she said, trying to fight back her emotions. “I am aware that mistake cost me my child’s life, and I have to live with that forever.”
Barna, 25, said she was borrowing money from a friend and buying cigarettes when the rental home she lived in on Wisconsin Street in Mitchell caught fire. Her three children were left home alone. Two made it out alive due to the help of a neighbor.
Amyah Harley-Lyn Barna, a kindergartner at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary, was upstairs, directly above where the fire started. She died in the home.
“Despite what people are thinking, I was not drinking, I was not doing drugs, I was not partying,” Barna said in a Friday afternoon interview at The Daily Republic’s office. “I wish I could take everything back, but I can’t. And I have to accept that, but that doesn’t mean I do not hurt for her. I love her so much.”
Authorities on Friday said the fire originated from a cigarette lighter. Following investigation, Mitchell police determined the children were alone inside the residence for approximately one hour prior to the fire, which was reported at about 12:17 a.m. Thursday.
Barna grew up near the Twin Cities in Minnesota and has lived in Mitchell since September 2017. She chose the area due to family connections in Dimock, a Hutchinson County town 18 miles south of Mitchell.
She admits she is a methamphetamine addict but became sober five years ago. Mitchell and the area was a fresh start for her and her children. Her oldest daughter, Aaleiah, is 7. Her youngest, Ashton, is 4.
On Wednesday night, she and her kids had dinner and cleaned up the house. She lived in a rental property owned by Mid-Dakota Properties that’s boarded up and waiting for demolition. She said she’s broke and often stressed.
Barna said the two girls were fighting over the TV, so she asked Amyah to go upstairs and watch in a different room. Amyah turned 6 on March 7.
“It didn’t matter if she knew you or met you for the first time,” Barna said. “She was the first one to give you a hug and smile at you. She just lost her first tooth. She couldn’t help but to show everybody.”
Later that night, after Amyah and Ashton had fallen asleep, Barna said she messaged her friend asking to borrow money for a pack of cigarettes. She left, went to a nearby friend’s house where there was a bonfire being held. She grabbed the money, talked to her friend and went to a nearby gas station.
Then she got a phone call alerting her of the fire.
“Even when I did get there and I tried to run in the house, and they wouldn’t let me,” she said, referencing the fire fighters who were already at the scene.
“I saw they were upstairs but they couldn’t find her. They couldn’t find her. I don’t know how long after, but one of them came up to me and he said, ‘I’m really sorry to tell you this. We found Amyah but I’m really sorry to tell you that she’s gone.’”
Authorities on Friday said the surviving children were placed into protective custody, but Barna said they’re with family and she has spoken to her kids since the fire.
At 3 p.m. Saturday, Barna and others are planning a balloon release in Amyah’s honor. She said anyone can attend but she wants peace during the event.
Mitchell police also suggested charges could be filed against “the person who left the children alone inside the residence.” Barna said she’ll accept the charges because “there’s nothing worse that could happen to me at this point.”
“I would never wish harm on my babies and my kids. I have done everything in my life to protect and do good by them. I have worked my ass off to be a good mom compared to the person I used to be. And I’ve failed them. Completely failed them.”
Amyah’s obituary will be printed in a future edition of The Daily Republic. She was born in Coon Rapids, Minn., to Ayla Barna and Shawn Nelson.