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'A new light': Grieving family honors infant who died in foster care

Bella tragically died in foster care last July
Posted at 7:59 AM, Jul 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-26 09:13:41-04

BRYAN, Texas — Immediately after being born in late 2020, baby Bella was taken from her birth parents, at least one of which was battling meth addiction.

She was then placed in the care of a College Station couple, Mike and Becca Russell.

“I was smoking a lot of weed to cope with the loss of my dad," explained Dan Phillips of Bryan, Bella's biological father.

"... It just became, like, a thing. I went from smoking weed to smoking meth.”

Phillips had struggled for years after finishing a career with the Marine Corps.

As his drug addiction developed, he felt pain and anger when several of his children were taken away by child protective services.

Phillips also felt animosity towards his kids’ foster families.

“I didn’t want to talk to them," he said.

"You know, just along with CPS I felt like the foster family was against me as well.”

Things changed with the Russells.

Bella tragically died in foster care last July after experiencing complications from an RSV infection.

In grief, Phillips, who had been in a state of sobriety, immediately relapsed.

The bereaved dad, who hadn't seen his daughter since the day of her birth, met the Russells for the first time in person at Bella’s funeral.

From there, a relationship formed.

“After her passing, we’ve even gotten closer," said Mike Russell, Bella’s foster dad.

"Dan is an amazing guy. He’s done a 180, and I can’t speak well enough of him.”

The Russells helped Phillips find a motel to stay in for a short time before connecting him to SOS Ministries in Bryan, where Phillips has been receiving support in his addiction recovery, Christian ministry, and the opportunity to volunteer and gain leadership skills.

“Instead of taking the tragedy of Bella’s passing and going in a negative direction, he took it and went in a hugely positive direction," said Becca Russell.

Becca Russell’s employer, a foster child supportive Christian nonprofit ‘BCS Together,’ organized this Monday’s event, 'Bella's BEE-T the Heat,' in Bella’s honor.

At this event, the public was invited to enjoy outdoor summer fun while donating shoes and Bibles to the charity’s foster care closet.

This closet provides clothing, diapers, books, toys, formula and other necessities to foster families and to individuals with custodial care of their own extended family members in the child welfare system.

“When a foster family takes in a placement, it’s very unexpected, said Reilly King, communications director with BCS Together.

"Usually within a couple of hours, the child is in their care. And it’s a big expense.”

For Bella’s bio dad, it’s relationships like this that are life-affirming.

Now, with SOS Ministries and support from people like the Russells, he says he is finding healing and faith as he processes Bella’s passing – and as he spends precious moments with his other children.

“There were a lot of things I tried to avoid while out in the world," Phillips told KRHD. "Now that I’m with [SOS Ministries] and got saved, a lot of things have opened up.”

To learn more about BCS Together or to get involved with their projects, visit: BCS Together.

To learn more about SOS Ministries, visit: Save Our Streets Ministries.